A Boy And His Blob: Trouble On Blobolonia
Every once in a while, there's a game you remember because it was in the right place at the right time. Maybe your grandmother bought you some random game that she thought looked good because she couldn't remember what game you actually wanted. Maybe the same thing happened to your best friend and he invited you over to help him decide if it was any good. Or maybe, just maybe, you frequented a video store with a half-assed rental section. That's what happened to me.
I lived down the street from a mom and pop video store that seemed to specialize in offering up second-rate Nintendo games for rental. The store itself was rather small and they only had two shelves, each perhaps five feet tall at the most, with video games on them. To make matters worse, there wasn't an A-list game in the store. I think only real big games they ever had were Adventure Island 2 and Chip n' Dale: Rescue Rangers, the rest of their shelves were filled with crap like Hogan's Alley, Mickey Mousecapade and games that no one had really heard of like Journey to Silius. In a way, this was kind of a genius move. There was really no point in offering games like Castlevania and Super Mario Bros. 2 for rental because everyone already had them. If for some bizarre reason you didn't fucking own Contra, you probably at least knew someone who would lend it to you. So in order for to run a successful video game rental business, it was necessary for the owners to limit their inventory to games that weren't really worth owning. A rented NES game was something that would keep you busy on a rainy Saturday afternoon, but it wasn't something that you were going to miss when Tuesday morning came around and it was time to return the game. Occasionally, one of those rented games would turn out to be pretty cool. Kickle Cubicle and Adventures of Lolo were both games that I was rather unhappy to bring back. Another game that I used to enjoy rather intensely was David Crane's A Boy And His Blob. I don't think this was a particularly popular NES game, but in my neighborhood it was one of the most popular rentals: pretty much everyone I knew with an NES had played it. Whatever its commercial success was, A Boy And His Blob is a rather unique but fairly flawed game that left a lasting impression on me.
The plot of the game is rather simple. You play as a boy who must help his blob friend defeat the evil candy-craving emperor who has taken over his home planet of Blobolonia. To accomplish this, you will need to obtain the one item that can stop the emperor's vile army of junk food: vitamins! It's a silly premise, but it's not markedly more ridiculous than true NES classics like Bubble Bobble or Ninja Gaiden. Unfortunately, where as those games were released by professional companies who knew a thing or two about marketing, A Boy And His Blob was released by Absolute Entertainment, a company with a hilariously delusional name that developed a handful of largely unmemorable games before disappearing forever sometime in 1995. Other Absolute Entertainment titles include Pete Rose Baseball, a video game based on Home Improvement, and an adaptation of the 1992 movie Robin Williams movie Toys. In addition to its dubious licensing choices, Absolute Entertainment had no idea how to sell a game. Look at the box art for A Boy And His Blob. Now let's compare it to the box art for the equally mediocre Ghosts 'n Goblins by gaming giant Capcom. Which one looks more enticing? If you picked A Boy And His Blob, you might need serious psychiatric help. I recently showed these pictures to my Gramma and asked her which game looked like a better gift for a prepubescent boy. She picked Ghosts 'n Goblins without much deliberation. Thankfully, she never bought me either of these games during the heyday of NES; she was always very good about getting me games that I specifically asked for. As if the box art wasn't bad enough, the instruction manual does a rather unconvincing job of making the game sound entertaining. Here's an excerpt:
Likes them? The boy's Blob loves them! Jellybeans, that is. In every flavor under the subway. Like Vanilla. Apple. Tangerine. Cinnamon. Cola. Coconut. And more.
Like many boys in the twenty-first century, the boy has a buddy from outer space. This one's from Blobolonia - a place where an evil emperor makes everyone eat only marshmallows and chocolate. In fact, for the emperor, healthy things like vitamins are poisonous.
Blob (his full name is Blobert) came to Earth looking for someone to help him defeat the evil emperor. That's how he met the boy.
To defeat the evil emperor they boy and Blob will need a goodly supply of vitamins. And to get the vitamins, they'll need money. To get money, they'll search the underground caverns for hidden treasures and diamond stones.
His full name is BLOBERT!? I don't mind puns, but this one is horrible even by the lowest of standards. The narrative also leaves something to be desired, like proper structure and intrigue. What the fuck is up with that second paragraph? A period is NOT a comma. I'm all for taking artistic liberties with grammar and syntax, but only when it actually adds something to the writing. To whoever wrote this booklet, I say this: You. Are. Not. James! Joyce! Fortunately, I was spared the excruciating pain of reading this tripe when I rented this game back during the 1989-90 school year. In those days, most rental places couldn't be bothered to give you the game manual or even a photo copy of it. Instead, there were special rental cases that had stickers with the basic game controls, the main objective, and a half-assed tip or two stuck on them. For example, the rental case for Mickey Mousecapades told you that there was an invincibility power-up hidden right before the end boss, which meant all you had to do to win was touch her. Goddam, that game sucked. I don't recall the A Boy And His Blob case imparting any particularly useful information, but it might have explained how to beat the evil Blobolonian emperor. As we'll see later, that's not exactly a hot tip. Despite the super gay description and packaging that Absolute created for their game, it's not entirely horrible. At its heart, it is a rather fun puzzle game that requires a lot of trial and error to successfully complete. It's not as challenging as King's Quest, as weird as Maniac Mansion, or as outright fun as Monkey Island, but it is a lot less tedious than Lemmings. I think that's enough background for now, it's time to examine the game itself.
The Boy is the character you directly control and he is almost entirely useless. He can't swim, he can't stop without skidding, he's violently allergic to spider webs, and most falls will kill him. In order to advance through the game, The Boy must rely on his mighty morphin' blob friend. By feeding the blob different flavored jellybeans, Boy can make his friend transform into various useful shapes. I have listed all fourteen jellybean flavors and their effects below.
LICORICE = LADDER
Feeding Blob a licorice jellybean turns him into a ladder. This is good for reaching slightly higher places. Duh. One of the really annoying things about this game is that it doesn't tell you what a jellybean does until you actually use it. It can be a pain in the ass to remember what every bean does, but there is a method to it. Every bean has some sort of mnemonic device to help you remember what it does. In this case, the device is alliteration. Licorice and ladder both start with the same letter. Can you guess what letter it is? Did you say the letter L? Good for you!
STRAWBERRY = BRIDGE
Strawberry jellybeans turn Blobert into a bridge. Why? I don't fucking know. This is the only jellybean that doesn't have an easy correlation between what it is and what it does. The only explanation that I can come up with it that it's a reference to the historic Strawberry Mansion Bridge located in Philadelphia and built in 1897. This is a somewhat obscure link and it would be pretty stupid if the game's designer, David Crane, expected kids would know what the fuck he was talking about. Since I can find no evidence that David Crane has ever been to Philadelphia, or even knows what it is, I propose that this flavor/ability match-up is entirely random.
COCONUT = COCONUT
Coconut jellybeans turn the blob into a coconut. Simple, eh? This ability allows you to use Blob to scout out what lies ahead so that you don't accidentally blunder your way into falling rocks or albino snakes. Once the blob has transformed, Boy can pick him up and roll him in either direction. The game will then track Blob's progress until he hits something. This ability can be dangerous to use. Boy is utterly helpless without Blob and depending on where he lands and what jellybeans you have left, you might have to forfeit a life to retrieve him.
COLA = BUBBLE
Soda is carbonated, so the cola jellybean turns Fatty McWhite into a bubble. This allows Boy to explore underwater areas, which you probably don't really want to do because these areas are populated with pointy rocks that have slightly unfair collision detection. You can beat the game without going underwater, so why bother?
CINNAMON = BLOWTORCH
Cinnamon is red and kinda spicy, like fire. For this rather flimsy reason, cinnamon jellybeans make Blob change into a blowtorch. The blowtorch can be used to burn away the lone spiderweb you encounter in the game.
APPLE = JACK
Get it, Apple Jacks? That's so clever. This ability comes in useful at two crucial points in the game. I'll tell you about them later.
LIME = KEY
Key limes are limes that come from the Florida keys. As a play on this, lime jellybeans turn Blobert into a key. This is one of two jellybeans that Boy does not have at the beginning of the game. Instead, he finds them in a magic bag located in deadly caverns below the subway. Learning what this jellybean does can lose you the game. You see, Boy only gets two lime jellybeans and you will need one of them to finish the game. So if you accidentally or purposefully use both your lime jellybeans before that point, then you are completely fucked. The best part is that you won't actually discover you are fucked until you are 98% of the way through the game.
VANILLA = UMBRELLA
Vanilla and umbrella are almost homophones... but they're not. When you need to remember something, nothing works quite as well as a forced rhyme. The umbrella is used to help the boy daintily drift down large pits. It can also be used to shield him from lightweight rocks that might otherwise crush his paper thin bones.
TANGERINE = TRAMPOLINE
Unlike the last pairing, these two words actually rhyme. They also both start with T, so there's the alliteration factor going on too. The blob trampoline can be used to bounce the boy up to ledges that a ladder isn't tall enough to reach. It can also be used to send him back up to places he drifted down from with the umbrella.
ROOT BEER = ROCKET
I failed to mention this earlier, but A Boy And His Blob is an exciting interplanetary adventure. The first half of the game takes place on Earth, a planet in the Milky Way galaxy where it is perpetually night and you must drill holes in the ground if you want to take the subway. The second half of the game takes place on the distant planet of Blobolonia where it's always daytime and candy is very, very bad for you. In order to travel between these two worlds, Boy must take a rocket ship. Unfortunately, he doesn't get to ride in one of those state-of-the-art NASA rockets. Instead, the boy feeds his friend a root beer jellybean and turns him into a bottle rocket. Then without any regard for the lack of heat and oxygen in outer space, he jumps on his buddy's back and zooms off to Blobolonia. Within a matter of seconds, he has safely arrived on Blob's home planet. Let's review what hurts the boy and what doesn't:
HONEY = HUMMINGBIRD
Bees gather nectar and turn it into honey. Hummingbirds eat nectar. It is because of this rather tenuous link that honey jellybeans turn Blob into a hummingbird. Ironically enough, honey is deadly to hummingbirds. This jellybean is good for retrieving Blob from lower levels, like when you just used him as a trampoline to bounce three screens up.
KETCHUP = ???
Out of all the different jellybeans that you get, ketchup is by far the weirdest. It is also pretty gross. Would you eat a ketchup jellybean? Fuck no, you would not. Neither will the blob. If you try and feed him one, he just pouts like a little bitch and watches it fall to the ground. However, this jellybean is far from useless. If you throw it onto a spot where the blob ISN'T already standing, he will appear there. So if you're in a hurry or just impatient, you can use this bean to make Blobert catch up. Ugh. That pun is so preschool. Unfortunately, you only start the game with six of these jellybeans, so you can't really rely too heavily on them.
PUNCH = HOLE
If you ever feel the need to drop through the floor and into the unknown, you can punch a hole in it. For some reason, you can't use this move to travel horizontally. Anytime I ever punched a hole in a something, it was a wall. It was also in a dorm, so I didn't feel too bad because dorms aren't real buildings. I don't recommend it all. It fucking hurts and if an RA sees it, she will yell at you for like twenty minutes. You will need to use this ability to enter the treasure caves under your hometown's subway system, but this move is a pain in the ass to deal with. Until you are familiar with game's layout, most of your attempts to use the hole will result in you falling to your death. Here's an important tip: if you land safely after using the punch jellybean, MOVE BEFORE WHISTLING FOR THE BLOB. If you are standing under the blob when you call him, he will drop down as a hole and send you through the floor yet again to almost certain death.
ORANGE = VITABLASTER
Oranges are a good source of vitamins, so orange jellybeans turn the blob into The Vitablaster™, a gun that will give your enemies lethal doses of vitamins A, B, and C. Depending on your level of ingenuity, The Vitablaster will either be crucial or totally unnecessary in your exploits on Blobolonia. Personally, I try to avoid using it. It is a gun, and guns are generally cool, but it looks rather phallic. I have too much pride to waste my time waving a giant dick at toxic Hershey kisses.
SECRET = USELESS
If you feed Blob a honey jellybean and then throw a ketchup jellybean before he finishes morphing, he'll turn into a brick wall. What does this accomplish? Absolutely nothing, but it made it into Nintendo Power one time. Despite the fact that he's a fucking brick wall, Blob will still not be able to protect you from any evil popcorn or subway serpents that come towards you.
The instruction booklet lists another flavor, grape, which never made it into the game. Either it's a typo or it's a fifteenth jellybean that was never implemented. Blobert already has more than enough abilities to keep The Boy alive, so I can't even begin to imagine what it might have done. Grapevine? Grape gun? Grape tape? Grape rape? I guess we'll never know, unless David Crane answers any of the threatening letters I sent him. If he happens to see the site, I don't think he will.
The vast majority of the game takes place in a bizarre subterranean world that lies hidden below the subway. This world is filled with falling rocks, bouncing white caterpillars, and 50 foot drops as well as diamonds and pirate treasure. This treasure is a critical part of Blob's plan to save his planet from tyranny. In the 21st century where this game takes place, vitamins have apparently risen to astronomical prices. Whereas you could buy a considerable amount of vitamins for $1000 in the 1980s, it will barely get you one pill in the year 20XX. Things have gotten so bad that health stores will only accept priceless artifacts in exchange for their vitamin pills, even though the same nutrients can be found in most natural food products. Armed only with their great courage and borderline copyright infringement (remember the title screen?), Boy and Blob go on an Indiana Jones-like quest to find priceless artifacts. The difference is, these bastards have no intention of putting their discoveries into museums.
As you attempt to track down treasures, you will need to solve elementary puzzles. For example, a gap can be crossed with a bridge and a umbrella can protect you from raining rocks. The puzzles themselves are not difficult, but they are punctuated by intentionally clumsy controls. The Boy can run if necessary, but it is rarely prudent to do so. After all, he cannot stop short and you never know what lies ahead. Even when you do, running can cost you. For example, let's say that you know falling rocks are waiting for you the next screen. You can't simply grab the umbrella and make a mad dash across the screen. When Boy runs, his feet stick out from under the umbrella and can be hit by the rocks. Since one hit kills you, this is not good. Part of the fun of this game is learning to make the best out of bad controls. It is part of its genius, but it is also one of its biggest flaws. The game's designer, David Crane, is most famous for creating the Atari smash hit Pitfall. In a lot of ways, this game is a more advanced version of pitfall. Instead of using clunky controls to jump over logs and swing on vines, you're using slightly less clunky controls to perform slightly more complex tasks.
In all truth, it doesn't really matter how many of the 22 treasures you collect. The treasures are just a distraction from your main goal: getting back out of the damn caverns. There is only one way out of this subterranean world, through a manhole, and there is a conveniently placed bag of jellybeans right by it. Inside this bag you will find the lime and orange jellybeans, as well as more of the ones you already have. You don't really need anymore cinnamon jellybeans, but I guess it's nice to know you can fuck around with fire if you get bored of trying to win. Although you now have orange jellybeans, they don't actually do anything unless you have a goodly supply of vitamins to fire at things. But where, oh where, can a boy and an androgynous mass of white goo get vitamins at 1 o'clock in the morning? And more importantly, what kind of parents let their son go treasure hunting with an alien in the middle of the night? We never get an answer to the latter question, but the former one is simple enough: there's a health store right down the street from Boy's house. And now that you've escaped from the sewers, the store is now magically open. And wouldn't you know it, Health Foods just happens to accept giant blue gems and solid gold swords as payment. Unfortunately, the exchange rate is complete shit. Luckily for the store's owner, our second-rate heroes are either completely desperate or legally retarded, because they decide to pay the outrageous MSRPs for the pills they need. With sufficient Vitablaster ammo now at their disposable, White and Whiter set off for Blobolonia.
Finally, the time has come to overthrow the evil emperor of Blobolonia and bring democracy to the planet. If not democracy, Boy and Blob will at least install a monarch who is more sympathetic to the U.S. agenda. Predictably, the emperor is expecting you. In order to get to him, you will need to fight your way past deadly bouncing marshmallows, a cherry bomb orchard, bloodthirsty popcorn, giant teeth, and a deadly candy factory filled with Hershey kisses and even more marshmallows. If you have a lot of ammo to waste, you can zap the hell out of most of these enemies. If you don't, it doesn't really matter. The marshmallows, popcorn, and teeth move in easily recognizable patterns and can be dodged. The conveyor belts have hidden on/off switches that can be reached by using the trampoline and boiling cauldron of chocolate kisses has a switch that can be reached using the hole. Your most deadly foe, the cherry bombs, can be totally avoided as well. Turn the blob into a coconut, get a running start, and throw him. The blob will roll past the bombs, triggering them as he does so. As long as you are at least two or three screens way, you will be safely outside the blast radius. Of course, this is taking the easy way out. If you want to actually have some fun, use the damn Vitablaster. After you beat the evil yet delicious junk food, you're off to see the wizard! Or kill the emperor, either way.
Beyond this oversized keyhole, you will encounter the evil tyrant who has seized control of Blobolonia. I hope you still have at least one lime jellybean, because otherwise you're screwed. Yes, the keyhole is easily big enough to crawl through, but Boy isn't that smart. If he was, he certainly wouldn't have agreed to go on an intergalactic counter-insurgency mission. Make your way through the door and you will finally meet the evil emperor face to face. Sweet Jesus! It's George Wendt! Despite weighing about 900lbs, George Wendt is a fast fucker. He somehow managed to imprison Blobert without you noticing. Not only that, he has placed a rock in your way and you're too fucking stupid to climb over it! What's a boy to do? Let's see... the emperor's only known weakness is vitamins and he's left a jar of them hanging precariously over Blob's cage. If only you had some sort of jellybean that could turn the blob into a portable device used for raising heavy objects by means of force applied with a lever, screw, or hydraulic press. Oh wait, you do. Knock of the pills with your apple jack and kill Norm. As he's dying, be sure to mutter something about how Hostage For A Day sucked.
After you defeat the evil emperor, you cede control of the planet back to its rightful ruler, the Michelin Man. Blobolonia rejoices. Boy is eager to return home, but he is stuck on Blobolonia forever. After being lauded by his countrymen, Blobert turns into a total dickwad. He decided that he's too important to transform into shit anymore and totally fucks over Boy. Boy spends the rest of his days signing autographs and watching hardcore blob porn. You know what the worst thing about blob porn is? You can't tell if there's been a money shot.
This game was a lot of fun when I was nine, but now it seems rather lacking. When I play A Boy And His Blob, I see a game that doesn't seem to embody the blind ambition and artistic vision that went into making it. The game offers up a complex game mechanic to solve simple puzzles; it's all smoke and no fire. The backgrounds on Blobolonia and the various underground rock formations are all lovingly rendered, but the boy looks like he should be in an Atari 2600 game, not a 1989 NES game. The rather plain jellybean menu and score table that border the top and bottom of the screen also leave much to be desired. Finally, it is quite perplexing that a game that seems to be pro-vitamin and anti-candy would put jellybeans in such a positive light. Perhaps time and budget constraints prevented this game from being all it could be. Or perhaps by 1989 video game technology had surpassed David Crane's ability to use it effectively. There is a third option, one that most people don't like to talk about. It is highly possible that A Boy And His Blob was simply Reagan Era propaganda. Let's look at the facts:
1. Like President Reagan himself, this game has nothing negative to say about jellybeans.
2. The Boy travels to Blobolonia to fight a secret war against an unfavorable dictator. This is a lot like the Iran Contra scandal.
3. Most people will never fully understand what the hell happened in the game. Again, this is strikingly similar to the Iran Contra scandal.
4. The boy's involvement in the Blobolonia counter-insurgency measure are technically illegal but morally correct.
5. In 1989, the White House denied any prior knowledge of the Blobolonia tactical initiatives but did not abdicate accountability.
So there you have it, substantial evidence that CIA might be trying to brainwash you with video games. I admit that it's inconclusive, but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't become wildly paranoid about the secret agendas of video game manufacturers. I'm just kidding. Now go play Conflict: Vietnam and Splinter Cell like a good little soldier, an ROTC officer will be contacting you shortly. Good luck.
Posted by: Syd Lexia