May 12, 2008 -- Steven Spielberg, legendary film producer and director, has been busy. Not only is his next "Indiana Jones" movie due to release on May 22, but this past week, he helped launch a new video game called "Boom Blox." Produced in collaboration with Electronic Arts, "Boom Blox" is the latest Spielberg brainchild.
"The game plays on the enjoyment of building and knocking down blocks, something that can appeal innately to kids and adults of all ages," explains Spielberg. By creating the game, he's striving to "bring grownups and kids together with a great activity."
"My inspiration for this game came while I was playing the Wii for the first time," adds Spielberg. This happened at the 2006 E3 Expo when he played Wii tennis against Shigeru Miyamoto, the designer of the Wii platform.
"From the initial concept to what the game is today, it's always been built around the innovations the Wii brings to playing games," said Spielberg.
In "Boom Blox," players employ three major actions using the Wii remote: throwing, grabbing, and blasting. By mimicking those actions while holding the Wii remote, players can solve the almost 400 puzzles presented in the game.
All of the puzzles involve destroying or altering block structures, but they go about it in different ways. In one, you may have to figure out where to hit a rickety block structure with a ball to knock it down. You'll earn a gold medal if you can do it in one throw, a silver if it takes you two tries, and a bronze if it takes up to six throws. Other puzzles challenge you to pull blocks out of a structure without knocking it down, in a "Jenga"-type gameplay. The game utilizes a realistic physics engine.
But these aren't your typical wooden blocks. The blocks used in "Boom Blox" come in over a dozen different types including Bomb Blox which explode when hit and Chemical Blox which explode when they come in contact with another chemical block. In addition to blocks used to build structures, the game also has blocks that act as characters. These characters have set behaviors of how they react when around one another and the building blocks. For example, if Boots Beaverton is in a puzzle, he will always try to get to a Bomb Blox to detonate it.
Players can approach the puzzles in different environments. As a single player, there is both an Adventure and an Explore mode. Groups of up to four players can experience the puzzles in both cooperative and competitive modes.
The Create area of the game allows you to design your own puzzles. You can share them with others on your Wii or upload them to share with others using the WiiConnect24 feature. By playing through the single player Adventure Mode and earning gold medals in those puzzles, you can unlock extra content to be used in the Create Mode.
While Spielberg has developed video games before (he created the original "Medal of Honor," a World War II war game that has spawned many sequels), he is back now because EA has given him a chance to "develop out of the box." "Boom Blox" is the first of a three-game collaboration between the two.
Spielberg's involvement with the game has been very hands-on. "I got involved with the artwork, the characters, and I even named a couple of characters after my kids," he says.
Observing that "the video gaming industry is larger than the motion picture industry in terms of annual revenues," Spielberg thinks there are "a lot of positives to the video game industry," citing how games act as "the great uniter."
Part of the charm of "Boom Blox" is that it does just that, it unites all ages in a fun activity of building and knocking down blocks in progressively harder puzzles. Its cute characters will appeal to both kids and hard-core gamers.
Noting that movies have "so overwhelmed my life," Spielberg calls his collaboration with EA "a beautiful thing" because it allows him to take a hiatus from movies and "come over here and not only play games, but help design them."
Game Score: 5 stars (out of 5)Best for ages 7-up ESRB Rating: EFrom Electronic Arts,www.boomblox.ea.com, $49.99, Nintendo Wii
Jinny Gudmundsen is the kid-tech columnist for the Gannett News Service and USA Today.com, and is also the editor of Computing with Kids Ezine (www.ComputingWithKids.com ).