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BlastWorks: Build, Trade, Destroy

Score: 88%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Majesco
Developer: Budcat Creations
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: Shooter/ Arcade/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

I like shooters. I like vector graphics. The two go together for me like other fond memories of my childhood, including but not limited to: Big Wheels, Star Wars, and The Bionic Man. It would be easy to look at the screenshots and imagine Blast Works: Build, Trade & Destroy as just another retro, arcade classic wannabe. It's definitely not. This is a game that draws inspiration from the old days, but has plenty of new ideas. The best aspect of the game is the newest idea of all, which is user-generated content and online communities. But we'll get to that...

The style here is more line-art than vector, since vector was never this good-looking. Some objects in the game have a skeletal structure and look like the mesh model that a designer might later develop with textures, colors, and other details. There isn't a need for this detail in the game, but you'll find as you access user-generated content that there are plenty of interesting uses of the editing tool that go beyond the basics of just a wireframe. The backgrounds and level design mirror the spare look of the enemy ships, all of it coming together in a chorus of converging lines. For such a lack of visual finery, Blast Works: Build, Trade & Destroy often fills the screen with color and action. If there were more detail, it might just become a smudge or blur. Things move so fast that you won't spend much time obsessing over the small stuff. There are distinct sounds that cue when you earn extra ships or when you meld with a part of a destroyed ship, but the music isn't memorable in any way.

The visual feat that really defines Blast Works: Build, Trade & Destroy is the editor. Managing to produce a full-featured editor for a console is impressive, and conforming to the limited control options for the Wii-mote is even more impressive. Not all the tools and options make sense at first, since the trade-off for cramming a lot of tools into a small space was dropping descriptive text. It would have been nice to include in the actual game a live demo of the editing tool, rather than rely on the manual. There is so much to do in editing every aspect of Blast Works: Build, Trade & Destroy and making your custom levels; it's a shame that for lack of some embedded training or tutorial on the tool, it may not be fully appreciated by some gamers.


Gameplay:

Missing out on the editor is a crime, but the first order of business after peeling the plastic off this baby is to dive in and enjoy the arcade shooter action. Unlike traditional side-scrolling shooters, there is a twist here in that your ship will go kablooey with just one hit. Like a hermit crab, you'll need to grab yourself a protective shell. Luckily you have a special ability to graft enemy ships and parts of enemy ships onto you after they are destroyed. Imagine a cross between Geometry Wars and Katamari Damacy and you're on your way to figuring out how this thing plays. Your ship looks like it is collecting garbage; with the two player co-op that's available in Campaign Mode, you will get some outrageous combinations on your screen at the same time. After you grab an enemy ship's part, you'll often score some additional firepower along with protection. Coming under enemy fire will cause the protection to fall away, much like a typical shield in any shooter. You don't become invincible. You can shrink down to your original size to avoid some enemy fire and spring all that extra weaponry on them at the last minute. Strategies are many and there isn't a right or wrong approach. You can even approach this like a typical shooter and reject the whole mechanic that has to do with adding onto your ship.

The Campaign Mode is nice, but there are also options to play stock or custom levels against three other players. The reason to score well and keep playing Campaign is that you'll open up additional games inspired by Kento Cho, such as rRootage, Torus Trooper, and Gunroar. A similar aesthetic shows up in these games, but they are more along traditional lines than Blast Works: Build, Trade & Destroy, which was inspired by Cho's creation, TUMIKI Fighters. Obtaining custom content is as easy as visiting the site devoted to custom Blast Works enemies, ships, levels, and bullets: here. Create a free account on the site that includes your Wii code and you can download content in a "shopping cart" format online, then launch the game and find your custom content waiting for you in the download section. The variety of custom content is too extensive to address in this review, but suffice it to say that you can create an entire game-within-game experience as you build your own creations and download those created by other folks. It's exciting stuff.


Difficulty:

Coming from traditional shooting games, Blast Works: Build, Trade & Destroy is a big change. The importance of timing and the need for good reflexes is still here, but the do-or-die aspect of playing with no shielding on your ship is a good motivator to play the way the game is designed to be played. Collecting ship parts isn't all that hard, but it sucks when you end up at a boss with no "armor." Shooter fans will recognize this quandary; whether it was shields, power-ups, or other perks gathered during the level, if you die right before the boss, you are going to have a hard time. Blast Works: Build, Trade & Destroy is no exception; luckily the bosses are like any other ship in that they break into pieces you can use as cover. Once the boss is defeated, you can't add them to your ship going into the next level. There aren't any carry-over items between levels, making it a hero-to-zero scenario that some may find annoying. Although this does make the first few seconds of every new level somewhat harrowing, there's excitement in not knowing how the new enemies will look and how they'll be attacking. I can't think of many great side-scrolling arcade games that people would define as easy, so if you're not looking for a challenge, you've probably chosen the wrong genre.

Game Mechanics:

The distinctive style of this game is generated by manipulating simple shapes and shades. Everything is exposed in the editors, to the extent that you can change the background of a level, the ships appearing in it, and the bullets they use to attack. The variety of these options and the unique ability of the ship you pilot makes Blast Works: Build, Trade & Destroy more than just another retro shooting game. The comparison I'd make is to the onslaught of user-generated content around the Web. Folks are more interested in reading what their neighbor has to say than renewing their newspaper subscription. Other folks enjoy blogging about what's happening in their lives, their communities, their workplace... even though they aren't professional journalists, they feel they can crank out some good content. There were a lot of skeptics on this point that have had to eat their hats, and the success of Blast Works: Build, Trade & Destroy (measured by the amount of custom content on the site) seems to indicate that people want to participate in their games from a development perspective. Watching the editors in action, it is easy to feel like you are making a game, which is basically true. Sure, it required hardcore coding to create the editor, but snubbing the users' creative process as something other than game design is like saying that people creating blogs are not really developing Web sites because another person had to create the blogging software. Those arguments get thinner every year...

Fans of side-scrolling action games can be confident that they'll get their money's worth in Blast Works: Build, Trade & Destroy, even if they never touch the editor. It's a great game with a bonus - if you want to contribute and be part of the community, you have plenty of opportunities. It would not surprise me if this game or others like it reach the level that something like Starcraft achieved, where gamers are playing and enjoying it long beyond the date that it became technologically obsolete.


-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

Sony PlayStation 3 Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit Nintendo DS Tamagotchi Connection: Corner Shop 3

 
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