Blast Works: Build, Trade, Destroy has the appearance of a WiiWare release. From the simple, but functional menu through to the blocky, textureless in-game visuals, it lacks the overall sheen we've come to expect from retail games. What's important to note about Blast Works, though, is that what you see isn't all you get. Those blocky visuals are like that because you can edit each and every object in the game, or create your own if you wish. This is a shmup that will test even experienced players, and once you're done you can try to create something that's even harder.
Despite the game's fairly cute appearance, Blast Works isn't really for novices. Even on the easiest difficulty setting you're going to struggle to get through the first level unless you choose to play using continues. What appears to be just another bullet dodging shooter soon reveals itself to be something quite different to the norm, with more than a slight Katamari Damacy influence being felt in the game's core gameplay mechanic. In Blast Works your ship can stick to any defeated enemies as they fall down the screen, meaning you can end up with a monstrosity that fills the entire play area.
This mechanic is initially quite confusing. Your fairly weak ship is hidden behind planes, cannons and all manner of other items, making it hard to see where it is. Each of these items will fire off its own wave of bullets as you fire (or auto fire by themselves), so if you can build up a large collection you can fill the screen with bullets and give the enemies little to no chance. But the larger the structure the easier it is to take enemy fire, meaning you'll lose some of the items attached to your craft.
The size will also mean it's hard to focus on keeping your primary ship safe, often resulting in you wandering into the path of enemy fire as you try to manoeuvre the entire mass through the waves of bullets - something that's more or less impossible when facing the large end of level bosses. You can, rather handily, shrink your ship to its normal size at the press of a button, which is key to navigating through the more intense moments, but it's still not something for the faint of heart. Aside from this difficulty there's a slight problem in spotting which enemies are active and which are free to stick to your ship, although this becomes less of an issue as you get used to their appearance.
If Blast Works was just a fairly novel shmup it would be hard to recommend as a retail release, but on top of the campaign (which is playable with up to four players) players get a complete level editor and object creator. This isn't for everyone, with the interface being trickier to get to grips with than that found in Sony's LittleBigPlanet, but if you can get beyond the initial steep learning curve there's months of enjoyment to be found here. We have a slight fondness of badgers in the VideoGamer.com office, so we attempted to create a set of enemies around this theme. After a good few hours we'd managed to create a shape that vaguely resembled an animal that fired green beams from its eyes - not your common garden-destroying badger, we agree, but fun to see in action all the same.
While our efforts more or less failed it only took a quick glance at the Blast Works depot to see just what could be done in the hands of creative types - there's even a MadWorld inspired level. All this user created content can be downloaded to your Wii, meaning you could spend days sampling what others have made. Just as in LittleBigPlanet, most of what we tried isn't very good, but there's enough gems available to make it worth the effort. The game also includes a number of unlockable shmups, so there's really no shortage of content on the disc.
We'd have liked the editing interface to be more intuitive and the tutorials to hold us by the hand more tightly, but Blast Works isn't really for the masses. It's a hard game designed for shmup fans who want to show other players what they're capable of. If you don't think you're up to the challenge we don't blame you (our badgers will never see public release in order to hide our shame), but give Blast Works the time it deserves and you might not want to play another game on your Wii for quite some time.