The exploratory puzzle-like NES platformer shows up on Game Boy in a massively stripped-down form.
The Rescue of Princess Blobette (or, if you prefer its mouthful of a full title, David Crane’s The Rescue of Princess Blobette Starring A Boy and His Blob) follows on the heels of games like Ninja Boy and DuckTales in being remarkably faithful to an NES game, but not as good. I suppose that should come as little real surprise, though. The only NES-to-Game Boy follow-up we’ve seen so far that I would classify as unquestionably superior to the console game is Balloon Kid, which included all the cool stuff from the NES game and added a full quest mode to it on top of that. Princess Blobette, on the other hand, falls more along the lines of what we’ve come to expect from this particular branch of Game Boy software.
I hate to bag on a game that bears the name of a pioneering designer like David Crane, but Princess Blobette really isn’t his best work. In every sense, this feels like a worse version of the NES game it builds on, A Boy and His Blob. Take the music, for example. A Boy and His Blob only had a few tracks, but they were bangers. Aside from one very annoying high-pitched rhythmic element, the soundtrack to the NES game sounded rich and layered and featured some fantastic drum samples. By contrast, the Game Boy soundtrack (despite the handheld’s strong audio capabilities) amounts to tinnier, flatter renditions of those same compositions.
The music makes for a great metaphor for the game itself. Princess Blobette takes, in effect, the entirety of the NES game… then shrinks it down to about one-third the size. It carries forward both the mechanics of the NES game and the graphics. Given the leisurely pace of the game, this is one of the rare instances where the developers’ reuse of NES sprites doesn’t really hurt all that much. Unfortunately, Princess Blobette carries forward all the lousy design elements and maddening frustrations of the NES game as well. It’s like a concentrated dose of unfairness and clumsy bumbling.
There’s a lot to like about the concept behind A Boy and His Blob. The NES original was an adventure game in the guise of a free-roaming, almost metroidvania-like platformer. It was also one of the first games to involve an A.I.-controlled companion character. The titular boy can’t really do all that much on his own, not even jump. He just walks around and chucks jellybeans, basically. All the heavy lifting here is handled by the Blob, a weird white lump that kind of looks like a snowman that’s been cursed with a human face. The Blob is entirely computer-controlled. It cheerfully follows the boy around and takes no initiative of its own for any action besides hopping along to catch up to the Boy, forcing the player to make all the decisions for solving puzzles and completing objectives.
The Blob may not have initiative, but it has skills. For some mysterious reason, tossing a jellybean at the Blob will cause it to transform into various different objects based on the flavor of the bean. Completing the game, then, amounts to making tactical use of your jellybean reserves in order to solve a number of puzzles and safely navigate a sprawling maze of pits and monsters.
The same holds true here in Princess Blobette, but the world you must conquer is a lot smaller on Game Boy. The NES game spanned multiple levels, beginning with a massive maze of caverns beneath the boy’s hometown and eventually leading to the Blob’s homeworld. Princess Blobette takes place entirely inside a castle on the Blob homeworld, and your task is simply to rescue the eponymous princess, who has been suspended in a bird cage high above a boiling stew pot. Unlike in the NES game, there’s no final boss to worry about; rescuing Blobette is a pretty cut-and-dried task that amounts to freezing the cauldron and having the Blob unlock her cage. It’s a compact game. If you know what you’re doing, you can easily clear it within the space of 20 minutes, maybe less.
For those seeking a little more to do with their $30 video game investment, Princess Blobette also follows in the footsteps of the NES game by incorporating a treasure hunt element. A counter at the top of the screen denotes the numbers of hidden treasures scattered throughout the game and decrements every time you find one. As with so many things about the A Boy and His Blob games, this calls back to Crane’s breakout hit Pitfall!
The NES game in a lot of ways felt like Pitfall! for the NES audience: More colorful and cartoonish, and structured with a more intricate layout. But the premise—overcoming environmental hazards and finding underground loot—comes straight from that Atari 2600 masterpiece. Unfortunately, the Blob games feel a lot more unfair and based in trial-and-error than Pitfall! did. Pitfall! was tough, to be sure, but it always felt more or less fair. The challenge of the game came to a certain degree from navigating the jungle’s hazards, but the real task at hand was to learn the ins and outs of the game world and uncover the location of all its treasures, then figure out a path that would allow you to collect them within the time limit.
A Boy and His Blob lacked a time limit, but it seemingly compensated for its more relaxing sense of freedom by constantly screwing over the player with trial-and-error traps. Consider the NES game’s opening area, in which you need to descend into the subway, then create a hole in the floor to allow you to reach the underground caverns beneath the city. There’s no way to see the layout of the caverns from inside the subway, or even any way to know that something exists beneath the subway station that you need to seek out. So, even if you’re able to figure out the fact that you need to drop through the floor to that unseen cavern, it’s still impossible to know where precisely you can safely drop to.
The entire game plays out like this, expecting players to sacrifice life after life as they slowly sound out the proper path to victory. This is certainly one way to extend play time, I suppose, but not a great way.
Princess Blobette doesn’t have quite as much of the NES game’s trial-and-error design, but that’s only because its world is so much smaller. Instead, its difficulty comes from the fact that it’s so hard to coax the Blob into moving exactly where you need it to. Since you have no direct control over the Blob, you’re forced to rely on its A.I. to guide it where it needs to be in order to properly line up a transformation to allow you to climb or descend to another screen. This is the single most difficult thing in the entire game, and it’s made worse by the Blob’s physics, which prevent it from occupying the same space as the Boy.
If the Blob decides to stand where the Boy is, the Boy gets shoved out of the way to make room. This is the one area where the NES sprite proportions cause problems on the Game Boy screen: Platforms in this game tend to be a lot more narrow than on NES, and the Blob has a maddening tendency to bump you off the side of tiny ledges, sometimes to your death.
Meanwhile, the jellybean transformation mechanic carries forward almost 1:1 from the NES game. It’s a clever concept in both games. It forces players to experiment with a limited set of tools in order to solve puzzles. I don’t know that the puzzles here entirely live up to the concept, though. There’s one jellybean, the Root Beer Rocket, you never actually need to use—indeed, if you use it in the wrong place, you’ll instantly lose the entire game.
The dad-joke designations for the jellybean transformations are almost as good as the basic concept. Sure, some of the correlations between flavor and transformation are just kind of there for no real reason. For example, mint turns the Blob into a patch of ice, possibly because mint is cool and refreshing. Cola beans turn the Blob into a bubble, because cola is fizzy. And coconut jellybeans turn the Blob into… a coconut.
Others, however, have built-in puns. Need a key? Feed the Blob a lime jellybean. Because, you know, key limes. Need a monkey wrench to throw a spanner into the works? Try a banana bean. Monkeys love bananas, see.
The bean mechanic does come with the same annoying user interface choice as on NES: The heads-up display lists the flavor and quantity of your currently selected bean, but for some ridiculous reason it only describes the bean’s transformation power when that ability is currently in effect. I get the value in the discovery process, but would it have been so hard to retain the effect info for quick reference once you’ve experimented with that bean?
Even more annoyingly, you have to select beans by cycling through the entire list of 14 flavors one by one. It’s all cumbersome and ill-considered, and even one or two very basic tweaks would have made the jellybean mechanic friendlier. These details aren’t game-breakers, but they do typify the rough elements that should have been sanded down. The Rescue of Princess Blobette is almost laughably easy to beat if you’ve completed the NES game, since it doesn’t really introduce any new elements to the mix. The Blob has the same set of transformations, and you have to deal with the puzzles and hazards carried over from the NES game: Water, crushing machines, levers, and that boiling pot at game’s end.
All of this is frustrating, because the premise behind A Boy and His Blob is quite strong. This sequel and/or remix (whatever you prefer to call it) could have been great with just a little more time and consideration. I mean, look at WayFoward’s remake of the game a few years back—it was both charming, substantial, and vastly more fair.
Unfortunately, this feels like a project that was hustled out the door as quickly as possible for as little money as possible. Much like the in-game world here, the staff list is a bit smaller than that of the NES game. Rather than giving A Boy and His Blob a proper portable follow-up, it feels like Absolute and Imagineering went for a quick, low-budget release to strike while the Game Boy market was hot. It’s an acceptable handheld take on the NES game… but only just.