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Sean Pettibone


Blast Works (Wii) 

Blast Works is a fairly interesting side-scrolling shooter that has some interesting play mechanics and a winning, cute design. It allows you to collect enemies and add to your firepower, which gives it a completely unique feel. Based on this alone, the title would be worth buying, but its extensive level editing feature adds plenty of replay value by allowing players to design, play and share their own levels. This title represents is an impressive example of a smartly implemented approach to user-generated content that makes this largely unheralded Wii release worth picking up for gamers who want to do more than just play the game.

Loosely based and expanding on the flash game Tukimi Fighters, Majesco's Blast Works offers an innovate take on the traditional side-scrolling shooter genre. There are two basic modes of play in the standard mode. In the Campaign mode, you can go as long as you want with unlimited continues and can use this to unlock additional games as well. Blast Works is fun enough as a single player game, but you can play co-operatively with up to four players at the same time as well, which makes for some frenetic shooting fun, that feels perfectly suited to the Wii's casual style of play. Classic 2D shooter (or 'shmup') fans will find plenty of innovative gameplay in this package, though there are some familiar parameters at first glance. As you begin the game, things seem somewhat usual, as you guide your ship through a series of levels, shooting anything that gets in your way while avoiding swarms of enemies and bullets. The extensive levels typically end with an elaborate boss battle. This is where most of the similarities end. Instead of a traditional power-up and shield system, Blast Works implements a unique play mechanic that sets it apart from traditional shooters. When you shoot an enemy ship or object, instead of merely disappearing, they spin around and you can use your ship to catch them. Once they've been added to your ship, they'll fire in the direction that they were caught, giving you more bullets.

One of the key strategies in Blast Wind is to catch the opposing ships at the right angle so that they're useful. You can very quickly create a very large ship that can obliterate anything on the screen. This is also important from a score point of view, since the more ships you have, the larger each incremental score increase is. While your main ship is somewhat small and weak, you can use the other collected objects as shields to protect you from enemy fire. However, these ships are somewhat easy to knock off of your collection, and if a bullet hits your smaller main ships, the attached ones will all fall away. The basic mechanics and maneuvers of the game are somewhat familiar, but this Katamari style of building up your ship gives Blast Works a very unique and surprisingly challenging feel. It's visual presentation is also very cool with a minimalist, brightly colored approach to its design that uses stylish wireframe models to give the entire game a trendy geometric feel. The levels themselves look quite interesting as well, and there's a nice variety of enemies and environments to look at. With five challenging levels in all, most players should have plenty to do in the main game. Of course, this design isn't just for aesthetics and it comes together nicely with the other half of the package. Ironically, despite its many innovations, Blast Works' controls are cumbersome when using the usual wiimote and nunchuck configuration, but it plays much better with the classic controller, which allows for more precise movement and more traditional controls. This is to be expected given its traditional 2D play fields, but still feels a little bit odd that more effort wasn't made to take advantage of the wii-mote's unique abilities.

While the main game in Blast Works is enjoyable and impressive in its own right, this is only half of what makes this such an interesting title. Blast Works' most impressive feature easily is the easy to use and surprisingly powerful editing tool included in the package. This allows you to create your own unique levels and designs and offers surprisingly flexible design choices, giving you plenty of design breathing room. This is a great tool that lets you create your own unique shooter and share it with other players via wi-fi connectivity. Its menu is very easy to navigate using the wiimote as a pointer, and its divided into several main sections covering basic shapes, ships, bullets, background and behavior. These are represented as icons on the side of the main window, which you can switch between. You have a basic selection of shapes and objects to use as a default, and can also download additional items online. Each of these can be edited and changed to your liking, and you can scroll in and out on each object to give you the maximum amount of detail. 

You start by either creating your own or selecting one of the pre-made parts that you can then use in your level. You can assign behavior to each object and make it more or less aggressive. Then, you move onto each element including designing the bullet motions and attack patterns, which can be a task when you want to balance out each level, making it harder or easier. After this has been set up, you can to place each object on the level, adjusting their position for each stage. You can design the color scheme and add decorative objects as well as other barriers such as mountains or towers. You can zoom in and out and design each part of the level and make something you like. After you're done creating your level, you can tweak and test it out in the preview mode. Blast Works allows you to save at any point in this process so your work won't get lost. As you create each level, you can tweak and change any element you want as you go along. While the process might seem daunting at first, you can use the included user-created levels as templates to get started faster and give you ideas. Once you have completed the level design process, you can then save it and play it yourself from the main menu under the 'user levels' heading, or trade it with other players via the online Blast Works Depot site. This is a fun and simple editing process and it won't take a lot of time to make a basic level, usually about half an hour or so, with more elaborate levels taking longer. There's a lot of versatility in this engine, and you can go a long way using the editing tool. While the parameters are defined and somewhat constrained by the main game's accumulation play mechanics, you can still create some fairly interesting and unique levels without much effort. This feature definitely sets Blast Works apart from other games on the market, and its fun without being overly complicated or labor intensive.

This is an outstanding value proposition between the innovative gameplay seen in the main game, which offers a refreshing change of pace from the usual shooter mechanics, and the powerful user editing tool, which gives players plenty of flexibility in designing and editing their own levels. Blast Works offers a great amount of compelling gaming in an accessible package, and goes several steps further by allowing gamers to create their own levels in a way that's powerful without becoming overcomplicated. This is probably one of the best 'sleeper' titles on the Wii. It didn't get the attention of other user-generated games like LittleBig Planet but, Blast Works is an excellent example of how to integrate innovative gameplay and user-generated content without compromising either area of the title.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: B+

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