One of the best parts of my job is that I end up trying all sorts of odd little games, and that when one of them really stands out I have the ability to share it with my readers. Tales from Space: About a Blob, a new PlayStation Network platformer available for download through the PlayStation Network as of Tuesday, is one of those games.
Made by Toronto-based DrinkBox Studios (with a bit of support from Telefilm Canada and Ontario Media Development), it's a 2-D platformer with a campy '50s sci-fi vibe—think bespectacled scientists, long-finned flying cars, and lots of sensational text headlines.
Then there's the titular blob. He's a gelatinous, shapeless splodge with a surprising amount of personality, thanks to a pair of googly eyes that effectively convey whatever emotion he happens to be feeling, whether it's looking up at a far off platform with trepidation, or glancing from side to side with squinty-eyed determination after having been repeatedly captured.
He starts out as a little spot of goop in a lab before escaping and absorbing things like screws and erasers to grow in size. As he moves over the tops of desks and tables we can see scientists milling around in the background, unaware he's on the loose. Before long he's soaking up larger items, including balls, boxes, and even people, growing in strength and ability all the time—that is, until he's captured and shrunk again.
The immensely gratifying conclusion, which sees our gelatinous hero cleverly evading capture, quickly growing to monstrous proportions, and gaining frightening absorption capabilities (watch carefully or you'll miss seeing him sop up the CN Tower), is everything I was hoping for.
But there's more to the game than simply satisfying our blob's voracious appetite. As we progress we begin to encounter physics-based puzzles that require us to navigate through tumblers, push over gates, and spew out partially absorbed objects onto weight-sensing plates and buttons.
Eventually our blob becomes electrically charged and magnetized, giving the player the ability to power up and drain various machines and attract and repel metal objects. When I reached an area that required me to gingerly tap my controller's triggers to defy gravity and float through a metal passage lined with spikes using nothing but the power of polarity I knew I was experiencing something special.
And it's not just clever puzzles and mechanics that make the game so memorable—though these things certainly play a key part. Charm is a factor as well. The whimsical score, which reminded me of Tipsy (an experimental lounge band from the '90s), set a perfect tone, and the environments are littered with clever little jokes, most in the form of genuinely funny gags posted on signs and billboards.
In fact, the game's wit made me feel like I was getting to know the developers as I was playing. Their clear adoration of classic science fiction made them kindred spirits from the start, and I felt like personal stories were seeping through here and there. When I saw a bottle of glue labelled "Glue (not mayo)" I imagined some poor soul at DrinkBox once making that very mistake and deciding to communicate it through the game.
Of course, as with most indie games, you can spot the occasional budgetary seam. Objects, though stylishly rendered, repeat just a little too often for comfort. You'll find yourself absorbing the same tanks, helicopters, and boxes of ammunition a bit too frequently. Plus, the cut scenes between levels would have benefited from a little auditory spice. They sport no dialogue or sound effects; just music.
Also, the boss battles, while clever, aren't as well balanced as one might hope. One fight in particular is extremely hard to start before suddenly turning into a cakewalk. That's my way of saying don't get too worried if you find you've lost almost all your health and your foe is only half dead.
But I'm not complaining too loudly. I don't know if Tales from Space: About a Blob will go on to experience the sort of success enjoyed by other indie hits in recent years— Braid, World of Goo, 'Splosion Man, Everyday Shooter, Flower, Limbo, and Super Meat Boy are a few examples that leap to mind—but it certainly deserves it. It has set the bar high for downloadable console gaming in 2011.
Tales from Space: About a Blob
Platform: PlayStation 3
Developer/Publisher: DrinkBox Studios