If you created a Venn diagram of ‘good games’ and ‘games that are playable by children’, you’d have precious few that sit in that centre spot. Game designers can’t help themselves, and will chuck in mechanics that a younger player can’t understand. There might be too many buttons for a young hand to reach, too much text for them to read, or complex ideas that you need years of gaming experience to unravel. As an eager gaming dad, there’s a graveyard of discarded games around my daughters. The games fought valiantly, but they were either too complex or too poor to make much of an impression.
On the Xbox, it’s even more of a problem. It’s a platform that’s grown on the back of Halo, and inherited a lot of its brand: hardcore, macho, shout-down-the-headset gaming. That’s great for me, but it can mean that my kids hole up in Minecraft and Roblox and never come out. If Xbox wants to conquer the world with Game Pass and streaming services, then it has to push beyond Halo, Gears of War and Forza players.
But some games have stuck, and they’re worth celebrating. There’s the LEGO series of course, but there’s also The Maw, which is an underrated gem, and Island Saver, which gets more rotation in our house than a free game made in conjunction with Natwest ever should. But it’s de Blob and – in particular – its far superior sequel de Blob 2, which sits squarely in the bullseye of that Venn diagram I talked about.
It’s an easy game to explain, which is perhaps why it resonates so much in our house. You play Blob, a resident of Prisma City, and the city has very recently been stripped of all of its colour by Papa Blanc and his army of drones. As an adult watching over the shoulder, you can spot the real-world riffs, as an authoritarian regime bans joy and culture, turning the city grey. For a kid it’s something pretty being turned ugly, and that just can’t happen.
Spider drones waddle around with colours stored in some kind of sacs, and you can bounce-pound them to fill yourself with their hue. Then you’re hopping onto the buildings, trees and skyscrapers of Prisma City, returning them to their original, colourful selves. As the city becomes vibrant, you get access to other parts of the city, and the game opens out brilliantly.
There are nuances to this, which we’ll get into in a moment, but de Blob 2 is so successful because it hits on something that every child loves: a blank canvas. Give a kid an empty colouring book and some pens, and you have a quiet evening, as they can feel the reward of changing it, having an impact on it, and personalising it as they want. Something grey becomes wildly colourful.
de Blob 2 takes that joy to its wildest extremes. I wish I’d taken a picture when my daughter first realised that, with a single touch from Blob, an entire skyscraper can suddenly – shloop! – become a single colour. Having that kind of impact just feels good. Then, she realised that she could run at full pelt through the city and paint dozens of things in only a few seconds, snaking from building to building. de Blob 2 immediately went into a ‘Group’ on our dashboard for games that my daughter will actually put up with.
The first de Blob didn’t quite have the same magic. It made some of the mistakes that we talked about at the start: in particular, it was in love with time limits and frenzied (i.e. challenging) combat. de Blob 2 doesn’t sidestep those completely, but it just feels more welcoming and forgiving. It also leans into some things that my family soon became enamored with: variety, completionism and wacky cartoon cutscenes.
The variety was something that the designers clearly learned from the first game. Painting tasks are elaborated on to become races, collectathons, and even bosses. While repetition can be reassuring for a young player, in de Blob it was a little too much, and de Blob 2 felt more like a surprising world, full of secrets, in the same vein as a Super Mario Galaxy, say.
The way de Blob 2 handles completionism is a lesson for a majority of games, let alone those aimed at a family. de Blob 2 asks you to paint everything in a given area, and painting them all unlocks achievements and rewards. That gets knotty, as smaller things like trees can be painted, and those are often tucked in the corners of the map. Luckily, Blue Tongue Entertainment breaks the game map into chunks and gives you totals for each one, making the hunt for that last rock or tree just about bearable. My wife and I would often play in the evenings to find a grey piece of decor that our kids lost patience in finding.
And finally the character of de Blob 2 shone through. Like The Sims, the characters of de Blob 2 spoke in garbled nonsense, but it only served to make them loved. We had five-year-olds “ber-gerble-gerble”-ing at the dinner table, pretending to be the Raydians of Prisma City. I show my age and see the INKT drones and Papa Blanc as cousins to the tentacles from Day of the Tentacle; my family see the Raydians as cousins to the Minions from Despicable Me. I like to think we’re both right.
It would be easy to call de Blob 2 a precursor to Splatoon, as it centres on the painting of blank environments, but it’s a lazy comparison that plays down the joys of the game. This is a playground with barely an objective handed to you, and it’s up to you how you paint it, and what colour you choose. For our two girls, who know full well that crayons up the wall are a no-no, it’s a cathartic joy that they keep returning to.
If you have children yourself, and you’re tired of catching stud after stud in the same LEGO games, perhaps it’s time that you took a punt and tried de Blob 2. Ignore that number in the title: this is the best starting point for a budding Prismanian, and you may well find yourself getting whipped up in the collecting and city-swabbing.
Have you and your family found the joy of de Blob 2? Did you prefer the original? Did you find your way in via the remasters? Let us know in the comments below. And if you haven’t yet played it, you can grab the Xbox One/Xbox Series X|S version from the Xbox Store right now.