Review – A Boy and his Blob Retro Collection
The essential magic of advertisers being able to trick children in the 80s and 90s cannot be overstated. Growing up in an age before the Internet being ubiquitous and the television as the great Entertainer, you saw commercials for toys and products that seemed to do anything. A series of dogs called the Pooch Patrol seemed to suggest these stuffed animals could actually scare off intruders in the home, causing my desire to both get one AND frighten off a bad guy increase tenfold. Comparatively, video game commercials didn’t have to show a ton of pesky footage to accentuate how great a game was: they could just have a real dude having some kind of improv-based seizure and that would sell you on the game.
A Boy and his Blob was one of those titles that I read about in Nintendo Power that fascinated me to no end and gave me dreams of grandeur. So I have an alien friend, who is a blob, and he can turn into ANYTHING as long as I give him the right jellybeans? That’s amazing! Woah, he can be an umbrella, a hole, a ladder, anything! Surely there aren’t a limited number of jellybean flavors and abilities baked onto this 128KB cartridge, the possibilities must be endless and I will love this game forever! Ah, to be young, naive, but still have parents smart enough to rent a game from the local video store instead of buying it because they understood their boy at a fairly early age.
Ziggurat understands that there are those of us out there who hold certain gaming experiences in absolute reverence, and that becomes incredibly apparent with the release of A Boy and his Blob Retro Collection. This set of games is actually four, if you are adventurous enough. The first, A Boy and his Blob: Trouble on Blobolonia, is the NES romp many of us know, while The Rescue of Princess Blobette is the lesser known Gameboy release. There are also the Japanese versions of the games, which are fascinating unto themselves for a number of reasons that we’ll get into later. Obviously missing is the WayForward version, which already received a Switch release a couple years back.
For those unaware, both classic A Boy and his Blob games are, at their essence, puzzle games disguised as adventure games. For the most part, each jelly bean has a specific use: locked doors will need the lime key because key lime pie (hold for laughter), vanilla makes an umbrella that prevents fall death and falling objects, and more that I choose not to list here. The boy has a robust but finite number of jelly beans, so figuring out what needs to happen requires trial and error with very limiting factors. Along the way you’ll pick up treasure to eventually buy vitamins that’ll be used to fight the final and only boss. There’s also some additional jellybeans to replenish your stock and (most importantly) give you extra lives.
Due to the age and timeframe around when Trouble on Blobolonia was crafted, there are certain allowances that need to be made. Naturally, the pixel artwork is quaint but can make exact placement of characters and objects confusing. You’ll end up setting up a ladder too far away, or get hit by a jumping worm that you were pretty sure was outside of your contact zone. Additionally, there are game over flags set for when you do something obvious (like drown because your cola bubble popped), but running out of a particular, important jellybean just makes you exist in limbo, which is its own flavor of frustrating. The likelihood of doing something dreadful and ending up in a no win situation is high because, well, that’s how the games play.
The Gameboy sequel, The Rescue of Princess Blobette, is more of the same but in a monochromatic package. This time the aforementioned duo is trying to rescue a princess from within her castle, giving way to a similar set of beans and a smaller map to cover. This actually works out really well for players coming into the game for the first time: it’s a little tighter, a lot shorter and still demands you figure things out. Unlike the NES version, you cannot even start the game until you figure out a short puzzle involving a trampoline and traversing between screens, and this gives you much better expectations than the open road of Blobolonia which appears to have endless possibilities but is actually quite limited. It allows players to enjoy the novel concept of the game (working out appropriate bean/problem pairings) without then getting exhausted by the repetition of it all.
Let’s be clear: it’s repetitive. As much as there are a huge number of jellybeans available, you are constantly needing to use the umbrella/ladder combination over and over, with the NES needing you to make multiple holes while the Gameboy wants a ton of trampoline action. It’s fun the first few times, but it’s also something that has a patience curve to it. Not using the ladder in the exact right spot means missing the ledge and needing to bean the blob again. Misjudging where the trampoline should be can lead to falling to your death across multiple screens. Once you know where you need to be, that’s really it: there aren’t multiple playthroughs intended for either game, so it becomes a memorization issue. Can you remember exactly WHERE the apple jelly bean needs to be used? Of course you do, because you almost NEVER use it.
Also, that repetition is entirely reliant on your own ambitions. In both Trouble on Blobolonia and Rescue of Princess Blobette, treasure is a collectable with a counter at the very top for how much is left. The NES game at least has a purpose: that treasure is converted into vitamins necessary(?) to deal with enemies on the Blob’s home world. For the Gameboy, you can beat the whole damn game without touching the treasure: all you need is the two bags of jellybeans and the race is on. Since we live in a world of achievements and secrets, the drive to get treasure that can absolutely get you killed in a game that loves to punish you feels very uninspiring. It’s like if a school cafeteria offered salisbury steak or a One Chip Challenge meal. You only do the latter if you hate yourself.
As an archival piece, A Boy and his Blob Retro Collection is a quaint package but feels like it’s missing some bells and whistles. For one, while you are able to save anywhere and turn on CRT filters, it’s missing a very important rewind feature that’s been prevalent in other NES ports. While you might be able to argue that there is a new save feature, it’s incredibly weak and useless: you have one save slot per game and saving automatically quits, so it’s not even like you can quickload in the event of a disaster. Additionally, there aren’t any production notes! Though this might not be a big deal to many, I would have loved to see some mentions of the creation of it all, any scrapped beans that didn’t make the cut, and, most importantly, the Japanese port.
Usually the ports show how things changed when they came over to the West, but, given that these Blob titles were originally American, the Japanese localization is FASCINATING. For one, the Japanese developers thought the boy character was ugly and redid him as a chubby cousin of Ninten from Earthbound: Beginnings. The puns also didn’t work well in Japanese, so all the jellybeans are renamed. The ketchup bean (used to make the Blob “catch up”) is a coffee bean, which, alright, fair enough. Strawberry, which makes a bridge, is now a pear, because nashi (pear) sounds like hashi (bridge). The tangerine/trampoline bean is gone, replaced by pudding, because pudding bounces. It’s a great glimpse into the logical progression of a group of people who already are baffled by this game’s existence and figured taking it one step further wasn’t a big deal.
There is a lot to appreciate in this wonderfully weird set of games. Your protagonist cannot jump or climb and has no responsibilities other than dispensing jelly beans. The soundtrack is chippy and chipper and clearly wants to give a Goonies meets E.T. vibe to the entire game. The concept is incredibly novel, even if not wonderfully executed, and the name is catchy and memorable. Even now, I’m more apt to spout off A Boy and his Blob over more entertaining games, like Bart vs. The World, simply because the name rolls off the tongue (see also: Snake, Rattle and Roll). But they ultimately aren’t fantastic games, and they don’t have the longevity needed for them to achieve a cult status that something like the original The Legend of Zelda or Super Mario Bros. 3 possesses.
A Boy and his Blob Retro Collection strikes me as on the same level as a parking lot carnival. When you’re young, it’s exciting and fun because your parents aren’t taking you anywhere else and there’s sugar involved. When you get older, you see the seams and the shortcomings and honestly wonder if it’s worth your time. The answer lies in how important nostalgia is for your gaming excitement. If you love reliving the exact same kind of game you played as a kid, then pound some funnel cake and come have a great time. If you’re just seeing what all the fuss is about, then I’m afraid you’ll be quite disappointed.
Pixel graphics have aged well in terms of the Switch port and the CRT filters when needed. NES version is crisp and colorful, while the Game Boy title is scaled appropriately. Murky monster sprites means unfair collision deaths, but that is par for the course on this age of game.
Jellybean usage needs to be precise. Some hitboxes are vauge and can lead to deaths unfairly. Fail states exist everywhere and the Game Boy version in particular suffers from some bugs. Obtuse puns can result in forgetting what to use when. Memorization of layout is key, not necessarily understanding game mechanics or strategy.
Chiptuned to the 9s and full of adventure and pomp, the dual soundtracks are fantastic (the Game Boy version a bit stronger) but very limited in terms of tracks and repeition. Not enough music, and a lot of recycled sound effects.
Peaks and valleys of frustration and boredom with some amusement inbetween to buffer the extremes. A cool concept that clearly didn’t work but was still ambitious. Weird release because it’s clearly for collectors, but the physical has been sold out for months.
Final Verdict: 5.0
A Boy and his Blob Retro Collection is available now on PS4, PS5, PC and Switch.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of A Boy and his Blob Retro Collection was provided by the publisher.