Do you remember Boom Blox - the physics-based puzzler from EA, produced in conjunction with Steven Spielberg? It was a satisfying experience, powered by a simple yet enjoyable concept and an impressively powerful engine. It was one of our favourite Wii games of last year, and most other critics liked it too - garnering the game a highly respectable Metacritic score of 85. And now, as a result of this success, we're set to receive a more-than-welcome second helping.
Somewhat sensibly, it seems as if EA Los Angles has opted to give us more of the same while adding a few new modes and quietly toning down the less popular elements of the original release. There will be a whopping 400 levels to play through, two new environments - underwater and outer space - plus several new toys. These include the slingshot, a tool fired by pulling back and "releasing" the Wii Remote, and the cannon - an explosive weapon that fits in neatly with the game's pirate-themed levels.
These new elements may sound like fairly minor additions, but anyone familiar with the original Boom Blox will know just how much variety the game produces from its different modes and set-ups. Excellent, realistic physics is still the flavour du jour here, and both of the new environments manage to offer a genuine change from what we've seen before. At the bottom of the ocean, for example, you'll find that the movement of blox and other objects is greatly affected by water resistance. In one scenario you'll find yourself helping a group of beavers who are salvaging treasure from a sunken ship; by grabbing a block (with the A button) and flicking the remote, you'll fling your prize up to the surface, slowly rising through the water.
Another underwater stage takes a page from the big book of Jenga, requiring you to carefully pick up gems from a precariously-stacked structure on the seabed. Any gem that touches the floor is lost forever, but thanks to the sluggish movement of objects through water, you'll have a small chance of rescuing the jewels that you accidentally knock out of place. In my case, my cack-handed nature meant that it was inevitable that I would eventually knock over the entire block pile - but thanks to some quick reflexes I was just able to meet the minimum score for the stage. As before, there are three possible ratings to earn on each challenge, from bronze to gold, with higher scores helping to unlock new levels and features.
In addition to the quieter precision-based puzzles, the underwater stages of Bash Party will offer plenty of chances to get involved with bomb-throwing and other explosive mini-games. An impressive-looking squid was skulking around in the background on a few of the levels, and apparently you'll eventually get to do battle with this fearsome beastie. EALA also promises that we'll get to indulge in a few galleon-to-galleon cannon battles - something that should suit the physics engine down to the ground.
As neat as the Bash Party's water-based environments are, it's the Outer Space levels that really seemed to mix things up. Naturally enough, there's no gravity in these puzzles - and as a result every action that you take can have massive consequences. One early challenge gives you three bombs that must then be used to blow open a planet in such a way that the gems inside float out of the play area. In most cases, the initial blast will be enough to send most of the diamonds flying to safety, but invariably a fair few of them will get stuck near the magnetic forcefields dotted around the screen; your second and third bombs will probably only be powerful enough to blow a few clumps of gems away from these attractors, so therefore it's absolutely vital that they go to exactly the right spot. As I spun the camera around, trying to find the exact spot to sling my explosives, I was suddenly reminded of that old Red Dwarf episode where Lister has to play pool with planets. There's something terribly graceful about the way objects glide through space, and it makes a successful bomb-sling all the more satisfying.
While I've only seen a tiny fraction of what Bash Party has to offer, the overriding feeling I get from the game is that it's a more-but-better sequel, the product of a design team that is now fully confident in the strength and flexibility of its basic idea. Along with the modes I've already mentioned, there are now three-colour puzzle games that fold the physics engine into Columns or Bust-a-Move style gameplay: the player uses a paintball gun to change the colour of blocks stacked inside a large container; when three matching blocks are aligned they'll disappear, resulting in an avalanche and hopefully some form of chain reaction. In terms of puzzle games this style of gameplay is extremely familiar, but it's a totally new avenue for Boom Blox - one that potentially opens the door to a whole range of fresh challenges.
And let's not forget the improved tool set for creating your own levels. It'll surely take a fair bit of time to work your way through the 400 stages that come with the game, but if Bash Party gets any kind of creative audience at all, there's no reason why you should ever get stuck for something new to play. There's now a neat little "More Like This" button you can hit to ferret out additional, user-created levels that match whatever game mode you're currently playing. In theory, this should make it easier than ever to focus on the things that you like, while avoiding the things that you don't. For fans of the first game, it all sounds like very encouraging news. Let's hope that Bash Party is a shindig worth the wait.
Boom Blox Bash Party will be released on Wii late this year.