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Game Review

Back in the fall of '05, film director, producer and family man Steven Spielberg announced that he had signed a deal with EA Games. He said he was determined to "develop a game that I could see other parents and their children playing together." That determination has now birthed Boom Blox, the first of a trilogy of promised family video games on the Wii.

Now, if you're pondering Spielberg's diverse filmography and wondering how War of the Worlds-style laser blasts, razor-sharp Jurassic Park-like dino teeth or corpse-littered tombs à la Indiana Jones might impact Junior's sleeping patterns, you can relax. That's not the cinematic path he trod this time around. In fact, he turned the camera lens away from his trademark twisty storytelling and sweeping visuals, zooming in, instead, on a menagerie of blocky characters and a toy chest full of Jenga-like puzzles.

Stack 'Em Up and Knock 'Em Down
The idea behind the cute little puzzle game is simple—but not so simple that parents and older siblings will be dozing off and drooling on the couch pillows. Players are challenged to rearrange, pull apart or systematically demolish a series of stacked and strategically placed blocks. There are point blocks, ice blocks, exploding chemical blocks, jingle blocks, cloud blocks and fireworks blocks all mixed in to keep things fresh. You manipulate the blocky puzzle formations with a virtual hand and by shooting projectiles or tossing balls and mini bombs at them.

All those different grabbing, chucking and exploding mechanics are what make things fun. Boom Blox was created specifically for the Wii and uses the console's motion-sensitive controllers to great effect. The game perceives the velocity of your arm-swinging movements and translates them perfectly into the physics of play. For instance, a soft wrist-flick tosses a ball lightly and gingerly nudges a block you're aiming at, whereas a quick yank can carry off a magician's tablecloth pull with panache.

All told, there are over 300 puzzles to solve and several different game modes to explore. The solo adventure mode is the story-driven side of the game and will be a winner for younger gamers. It introduces them to a rhyming tale that bids them aid a variety of children's block-critters through medieval lands, a steamy jungle, the Wild West and a Halloween night. They'll help Boots McBeaverton discover gold by strategically placing or shooting bomb blocks. And they'll pull apart overlapping obstacles so Gorilla Gert can get back together with her baby Gert charges. There is some shooting gallery-style trigger-pulling and some skeleton and monkey/devil characters that are the worst of the villains, but it's all relatively moppet-friendly and sweet.

Pile Everybody Up in the Same Room
Some dads might find the story mode a little too cloying, but once they hit the party mode their competitive side will kick in. Up to four players can pass a Wii Remote around for competitive or cooperative play. This section of pulling, bonking and blowing up puzzles is perfectly suited for a family game night.

And if you've got a creative soul in the family who loves to put together his or her own puzzles, there's a special mode for that as well. As players go through the game they're rewarded with characters, backdrops and set pieces that can be combined to make homemade levels. And after the family has tested its logic skills, the puzzle can even be sent by WiiConnect to challenge other puzzle-lovin' friends who have the title in their gaming library.

When releasing the game, the Academy Award-winning creator talked a bit about why he wanted to make something like Boom Blox. "There are games that are taboo. And I won't have them [in my house]. I don't want my kids saying, 'How come Dad is playing that and we can't?'" Spielberg said. "Some games are so over-the-top violent and so extraordinarily interactive that I am even afraid of them." As an antidote to that, he says, "Boom Blox plays on the enjoyment of building and knocking down blocks, something that can appeal innately to kids and adults of all ages." He's spot on. This game goes no deeper than multi-colored block-demolishing topsy-turvydom and simple tales with happy endings. And that's just fine for my family game room.

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Episode Reviews

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