Friday, May 23, 2008

Boom Blox: It's Incredibly Satisfying to Blow Stuff Up

boom-blox-wii-ea-games-steven-spielbergMy girls and I were recently invited to EA Games to try out some new video games. As you can imagine, my two tweens thought they had died and gone to heaven - a darkened room with big plasma screens, comfy couches and an afternoon playing Wii? It was like the proverbial kid in a candy store, or me in a Starbucks with a loaded gift card and a 20-oz mug.

One of their featured products was a new game called Boom Blox that was created in collaboration with Steven Spielberg. My girls dove right in, but when they wandered away after a few minutes I took that as a sign they weren't interested. They later told me they were just stepping aside to let the younger kids play, but I wasn't convinced and when our own copy of Boom Blox arrived in the mail I wasn't expecting them to be too enthusiastic. I was waiting to discover it stuffed into the dreaded basket of unwanted toys, right next to the Rubiks Cube and that Slinky I bought them. (Yes, a Slinky. Hey, the commercial said it walked down stairs, and I believed them.)

But I was wrong. They tore into the game, and didn't stop playing for at least two hours. I know that's un-PC, that we're supposed to limit our kids' video game playing to one hour at a time because of childhood obesity, blah blah blah - but if it makes you feel any better I hadn't fed them for three days and they were moving pretty much the entire time they were playing the game, even if it was just to jump up, scream and give each other a high five. And I'm sure you've heard fifteen high-fives are equal to seventeen minutes on an elliptical trainer.

I have to admit that beyond watching them play and wielding the Wii controller for a few minutes, I didn't play the game too extensively, but I got that the main object of the game is this: to destroy and knock down block structures or characters using a variety of methods. There is an interesting block-shaped cast of characters in the game, everything from a crazy Tiki-looking thing to a chicken that lays bombs instead of eggs. You can aim a target and throw items, use a hand tool to grab an item and swing it around, or use a laser to blast and explode things.

Remember when you used to stand up all those dominoes in a line, and how good it felt to give the first one a little push and watch all of them fall over? This is about twenty times more satisfying, and you don't have to pay your little brother to set it back up.

I'm not sure why, but there's something really cathartic about toppling towers, or taking aim at a bunch of blocks and watching them explode. For me, maybe it's getting out that aggression I felt when that other mom made a snide remark about my hair earlier, or imagining that block I'm taking aim at is actually that blue Ford Explorer that cut me off in traffic that day . (Lic#345ZWE. North on the 101, 10:32am, guy with dark shirt and mullet.)

Where was I? Oh yeah, exploding stuff!

Whatever it is, my girls love it, and have the same reaction; when I asked them what they liked best about the game they said, "Blowing stuff up! And knocking things down! Oh, and destroying everything!" And this coming from my tree-hugging, passive 12-year-old who won't even let me kill an ant without first telling it to "go to the light."

But the true test was when they took the game to their friends' house, two sisters ages 12 and 13. It's difficult to find anything the four of them like to do for any length of time, Wii game or not. But Boom Blox was a hit, apparently because of the variety of games and levels they were able to navigate through, and while being exciting and fast-paced, it's not overly-aggressive or violent. And the fact that it seemed to appeal to my 10-year old as well as the 13-year old was a big advantage. Also, they liked the fact that they didn't always have to play against each other, but could play together as a team. They are girls after all, and still warm and fuzzy even when they're causing maximum annihilation.

I'd say Boom Blox would be a good addition to your Wii game collection, and especially if you have a wide age range of kids who want to play at the same time. They've been playing it for a couple of weeks now and have yet to explore all of the areas of gameplay, which is more than I can say for some games which seem to have an incredibly short shelf life. I could even see it being a welcome stress-relieving activity for that weary group of moms you're hosting at your house. Especially if one of them got cut off in traffic that day...


Another game we tried while we were there but hasn't been released is Hasbro Family Game Night. This was my hands-down favorite, since it was all about the old-school games: Boggle, Sorry! Connect Four, Battleship and Yahtzee, all adapted for the Wii. If you're like me and have had trouble introducing some of the older board games to the jaded younger set (what good is it if it doesn't light up and whistle?) then you'll appreciate being able to play these on the Wii with your kids. (And one added bonus - have you noticed how much less room a video game takes up than a board game?)

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