Nostalgia is a powerful force. It makes videogame developers tinker with recreating or re-imagining the magic forged on modest 8-bit cartridges decades ago, integrating technological advances to make outdated games “better,” or to reintroduce them to a wider audience. But that same yearning makes devotees buy what’s essentially their favorite old game again with a new coat of paint. Every console generation has had a debutante’s unveiling of Mario and Master Chief’s latest adventures—hell, 2009 alone has seen Bionic Commando and Punch-Out again hitting shelves. A Boy And His Blob, a 1989 Nintendo game designed by Pitfall!’s David Crane, rarely gets mentioned in the same breath as those other hallowed franchises still tugging on heartstrings to unfold wallets, but it’s the latest to be remade for contemporary gamers.
A Boy And His Blob is an homage to its originator, akin to a tribute album: Fans of the original will again appreciate controlling a backpack-toting little boy and feeding jellybeans to his shape-shifting buddy Blob, but everything else about this new version of the platformer/puzzle game will be largely unrecognizable. Those blocky old sprites have transformed into pure cuteness: Enemy blobs hold hands and skip merrily about the landscape, and there’s a button specifically designated for hugging Blob. Its only use is illustrating what’s more adorable than a puppy squeezing some toilet paper.
The new look resembles that of a Saturday-morning cartoon show, as does the plot: Boy and Blob must band together to take down the evil emperor threatening Blobolonia. To do so, you navigate 40 obstacle-filled levels (instead of the original’s sprawling, overarching map) by transforming Blob into a handful of different tools corresponding to different jellybean flavors. Unfortunately, these levels are all too brief, and the trial-and-error guesswork is nonexistent, since signs indicating exactly what to do are posted through most of the game. More of the unforgiving 8-bit logic has been cleared away, too, granting you an unlimited number of jellybeans, and only outfitting you with the ones necessary for every level. Without that sense of urgency or exploration, most of the levels feel completely interchangeable, no matter how charming they are. Additional, more challenging levels can be unlocked, but those also prove too short—and the imprecise controls can kill you even when you know exactly what you’re supposed to do. That frustration of knowing what’s needed but being unable to pull it off is much like the well-intentioned developer trying to reproduce this game’s source material, but falling short.