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Friday, September 28, 2012

(P)Review: Don't Blow It!

So, at BostonFIG I wasn't able to escape much - there were only a few minutes I had to myself, and I used almost all of them for routine biological maintenance. But I was fortunate enough to be able to get a chance to sit down with Don't Blow It!, a production of DinoMage games, and by extension of an excellent fellow named Jonathan Dearborn.

Explosives feature prominently.
The game was first pitched to me as a multiplayer cooperative platformer, which . . . hadn't occurred to me as a possibility before. The game supports up to 4 people; each one's controls are essentially move, grab, and jump (two people played with NES controllers), and the interesting part comes in getting the players to work together. Players can stack, throw one another, open gates for one another, and so on.

All I know about the story so far is that every character is a highly trained acrobat, and also incredibly strong.
So, that's where you start. The puzzles we saw at the demo did require some thinking, but the major game of it was coordination; of course you need to stack boxes to get out of the pit, but the trouble is getting the boxes on top of one another, making sure that's what people are doing, not getting trapped under a mountain of boxes and sobbing helplessly while waiting for someone, anyone, to come release you (this happened to me at least once), and so on. There are also hats that let you do different things, though I didn't get a chance to play with all of them.

I wore the beanie, and it let me jump higher. For a moment, I lived Calvin's dream.
All this leads to a lot of shouting, which is the crux of any single-screen multiplayer experience. I'm only half-joking here. It's loads of fun to see different parts of people's personalities come out, seeing who doesn't get the puzzle and is just messing with the fun hats, who gets it immediately and tries to take charge, who gets it immediately and messes with the fun hats anyway just to piss off the person trying to organize things. It's a game that exposes a lot of silliness in people, kind of like playing Super Smash Bros. with all the items turned up to maximum frequency: you don't always feel in control of what's going on, but that's a big part of the fun.

So, to turn the confusion and fun into frenzy, there's a bomb. At least, there was in the level I played, though presumably there will be other bombs.

I can see my Uncle Steve giving me a bomb for my birthday, and I can see giving it to my brother as well.
The timer goes up on the screen and suddenly it's everyone's responsibility to clear obstacles for and create a path for the bomb to go through until it can be deposited somewhere safe. Which actually happened in the game I played; people opened gates made new stacks of boxes to backtrack to the bin where we were trying to drop the bomb, which we took turns carrying. Other games weren't so lucky; I saw a few people miss the deadline by a hair and end up with a game over.

I've been told that the art will change (they're still looking for an artist - for info, email  jonnyd@dinomage.com). Jon has suggested that the game will get even cuter (!!!) with a more refined style. The game experience will also become less general, with the ability to take on more easygoing puzzles or ones that have been tailored to those of us who have been puzzle-platforming for years. That said, what was on show at BostonFIG was an incredibly solid concept: get a group of people to try to collaborate using simple controls, give them some cool toys, and then throw in some timed chaos. I saw a lot of people go through that booth, and a lot of people laughing. The formula certainly fills a need - like I said, cooperative multiplayer puzzle-platformers is a new concept as far as I've seen - and more than that, it's a lot of fun. It's accessible to new players, it's challenging even for those who are used to this kind of puzzle-solving, and it gets a group of people in the same place to start yelling at each other. Games like this are why we will always have local multiplayer, and I'm definitely looking forward to this one.

Website: dontblowitgame.com

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