Many of you are no doubt familiar with DrinkBox Studios for their work on the Guacamelee! games, but prior to their crazy luchador Metroidvania endeavours, the company was known for another platformer series about, well, blobs. Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack was originally published as a PlayStation Vita launch title way back in 2012, showing off the capabilities of the hardware through its physics-based puzzle platforming while offering up a creative and rewarding campaign of uniquely-designed levels. Now, the Switch has been graced with this quirky platformer and while it’s not the sort of game that will blow you away, it still proves to be a well-constructed and enjoyable adventure.
Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack sees you taking control of a nameless green blob being held in a lab where it and its brethren are continuously experimented on by a mad scientist. Our amorphous hero decides that it’s had enough and manages to break out of containment, freeing its friends and kicking off the beginning of a tale of vengeance as it works to take over the world. As far as plot goes, it’s about as basic as things get, but we appreciated the kind of visual humour employed in the handful of cutscenes that are sprinkled in between some of the levels. The emotive expressions on the faces of the humans and the gibberish they speak in ‘dialogue’ displays a kind of charm akin to the earlier LEGO games and their over-the-top antics to get plot beats across.
Gameplay takes the shape of a level-based 2D platformer oriented around puzzle mechanics, with the goal being to make your blob as big as possible. Eating anything smaller than your blob – whether it be pencils in a backpack or (later) military helicopters – will cause your blob to grow just a little bit bigger and allow you to consume progressively larger things, Katamari Damacy-style. Once you reach a sufficient size, you can then eat the barrier keeping you from going to the next area, and the cycle repeats anew. Though a rather basic concept, it’s surprisingly rewarding to see your blob go from such an insignificant thing to a city-destroying monster; razing college towns and military bases as tiny humans flee in terror gives it the feel of an old-school monster movie (fun fact: there actually was one based on this premise) that you’re in direct control of. Causing chaos and destruction isn’t necessarily difficult – you just roll over anything that gets in your way and add it to your burgeoning mass – but the simplicity is part of what makes it so compelling.
Of course, it’s not like everything is just handed to your blob without any pushback. Often, the pockets of items that you need to eat to grow bigger are hidden away in hard-to-reach places behind tricky platforming and puzzle segments, and this is where Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack goes from good to great. Echoing some aspects of Nintendo’s level design philosophy, each stage feels unique in the way that it presents new obstacles, such as a low gravity effect on the moon levels, or how it reintroduces old ones in different ways, such as the repeated motif of laser traps.
Your blob has psionic powers, too (because of course it does) and this creates plenty of interesting opportunities; one of its powers allows it to pull or push itself away from magnetized objects and another allows it to move specially marked objects with its mind. None of the puzzles or challenges you come across feel particularly difficult to pass through, and a generous checkpoint system ensures that you can get right back at them if you do happen to fail, but we were pleased by how each one still requires you to pause and think about how to best proceed, while perhaps having to employ some trial and error. The difficulty curve is well-judged, too, with later stages building upon previous ideas once you’ve proven your worth. For example, one stage sees you having to use your magnetic powers to keep your blob aloft over a spiked platform as it moves through the level; sinking too low could kill the blob while staying too high could cause you to hit other hazards.
The main challenge presented by the level design is enjoyable enough in its own right, but each stage is also filled with some collectables to bump up the replayability a little more. A few of the blob’s gelatinous compatriots are scattered about each stage in especially hard-to-reach or well-hidden places, and collecting them all will certainly necessitate a few extra runs through some levels to scour every corner in search of the one that eluded you. On top of this, you get a score at the end of a stage based on how much you ate and how many blue orbs (basically the ‘coins’ of this game) you picked up along the way, with medals being awarded depending on how high you could push the score threshold. Also, each world features a bonus stage where you use motion controls to roll your blob around from a top-down perspective, offering up just enough of a twist on the core gameplay to provide a mini-game with a distinct feel. There’s plenty to keep you busy on the side, then, but even so, this leads to our biggest issue with Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack: the length.
Even with the collectables and other replayable content in mind, this is the sort of game that you can probably clear in its entirety in five hours, max. Granted, those are a tight and well-designed five hours featuring platforming controls and mechanics that prove to be a cut above the usual fare, but it feels like there’s way more to be mined with this concept than we’re given here. Just when you’re really starting to get into the groove of the experience, it ends, and you’re left wishing there was more. The low price (at the time of writing) takes the sting out of this a bit, but just bear in mind that this game is very much a sprint, not a marathon.
From a presentation perspective, Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack manages to impress, employing that distinct art style that sets DrinkBox games apart from the rest. The goofy visuals are quite similar to the work of Craig McCracken cartoons, characterized by a ’60s aesthetic of jagged lines and washed out colours, giving off a sort of retro feel that further reinforces the monster movie inspiration. Underlying all of this is a sort of dry humour communicated through posters and ads for fake products that frequently pop up in the background, along with a slew of cameos and references to other fellow indie games and studios. Going along with this is a soundtrack that’s defined by its crazed and energetic tempo, driven by catchy percussion, pianos, and old-school synths; it’s easy to see here the original ideas that would later mature and lead to the creation of the Guacamelee! Soundtrack.
Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack is a game that’s easy to recommend, but with the caveat that you don’t go into it expecting to spend very much time playing it. The eye-catching visuals, generous humour, and excellent level design stand as a testament to the raw talent present at DrinkBox, but the short runtime leaves the experience feeling rather half-finished in some ways. Even so, it stands as a lesson in the value of understanding and executing a concept well; there’s nothing here particularly new to 2D platformers, but it’s so well-done that you hardly can fault it for any lack of innovation. We’d give Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack a strong recommendation to anybody looking for a new game to scratch that 2D platforming itch, though you may want to wait for a sale before jumping on.