Platforms: 3DS (Reviewed)
Winterworks' Bloo Kid 2, which just hit the 3DS eShop after having previously been exclusive to mobile devices, makes no effort to try and hide its retro platformer inspiration. Just watching the game in action brings back memories of series like Mario, Kirby, Sonic, and Alex Kidd. It's the kind of game that wears its references on its sleeve, and rather than trying to be original, it goes straight for fun factor. As far as uniqueness goes, there's nothing remarkable here. But is it fun? Well, it can be at times.
If you're wondering whether you should check out the original Bloo Kid on iOS and Android platforms before jumping into the sequel, that's not necessary. The two are related in terms of visuals, characters, and name only. The gameplay in Bloo Kid 2 is a major departure from the first game, so there's really no need to go back and play that one. You could, but this latest installment is definitely the better game.
Am I in the Mushroom Kingdom or Dream Land?
In a lot of ways (read: in most ways), Bloo Kid 2 plays like Super Mario Bros. You stomp on enemies to defeat them, there's an invincibility power-up, lava pools spit fireballs upward, and so on. None of that necessarily makes for a bad time. Quite the contrary, in fact — these elements build a solid foundation for the game. It's all just very familiar.
Speaking of familiarity, there's one boss in Bloo Kid 2 that looks and behaves almost identically to Whispy Woods of Kirby fame. From dropping deadly hazards down onto you to sucking up and spitting out projectiles, this encounter is by and large taken straight from Kirby. Oh, and there's even a boss named Altered Beast. You really have to wonder what kind of trademark line is being walked with tomfoolery like this.
The leap of faith
Aside from “borrowing” certain aspects from specific games, Bloo Kid 2 also takes inspiration from the NES era in general. Enemies and obstacles are placed in tricky spots, making it challenging to progress. This challenge is welcome, however, because it forces you to play skillfully. There are no checkpoints, so if you fail, it's back to the beginning of a stage. Thankfully, there are no continues necessary or game over systems in place, so the proverbial slap on the wrist is all the punishment you'll get.
Unfortunately, the retro-ness put to use here can also hamper the experience due to a few archaic features that are more frustrating than anything else. For example, a number of stages require you to perform leaps of faith. When you're nearing the end of a level with only one hit left and you accidentally jump into an enemy or spikes, it can get annoying having to restart the level from the beginning.
There are also a handful of mine cart and auto-scrolling levels. There's nothing fun about any of these stages, all of which require twitch reflexes and rely on trial-and-error. This wouldn't be a problem if some of the obstacles in your way didn't feel cheap — specifically, when the game blatantly doesn't let you see or know if anything dangerous is coming. It's one thing to throw crazy challenges at you while giving you a fighting chance, but it's another to put blind obstacles in your path.
On the plus side, Bloo Kid 2 boasts amazing controls. Despite some unfair obstacles, the precision in the controls always feels tight. It makes navigating levels and getting through challenging spots a bit smoother. Rest assured, you'll still die accidentally, but at the very least, the controls are great for getting around the levels.
NES hard or artificially difficult?
The aforementioned problems notwithstanding, Bloo Kid 2 is genuinely enjoyable, especially if you play in small bursts. Levels branch out to give you alternate routes to explore, defeating baddies is fun, and there are plenty of objectives to keep you occupied. These include clearing a level with a full heart meter, defeating all enemies, collecting every gold star, and snagging three elusive blue stars.
These goals are all attainable in one run, but the game challenges you to replay stages to complete other objectives, too. For example, every level has a clock counting down, and if you can get to the goal before the time limit expires, you'll achieve that goal. You won't be penalized if you don't get to the end on time, but you also won't have completed that goal.
The goals are a nice inclusion, but while playing I realized that they didn't add a meaningful NES-styled challenge to the experience. Instead, these optional tasks served to add an artificial challenge to Bloo Kid 2. While this sort of thing is perfect for some players, I was never compelled to revisit stages and try to grab every star or beat the time limits. The fact that there were so many blind leaps and cheap deaths in place actually put me off from going back to 100 percent the game.
Pretty pixels, bright colors, and rad 3D
Each of the stages in Bloo Kid 2 is filled with lush colors and attractive pixel art. The game's graphics shine with old school-inspired personality, but they take advantage of modern hardware by providing more color variety than you would've seen on the NES and even the SNES. The characters, enemies, and bosses, for as much as they rip off the appearances of existing characters, also look good.
Complementing the pretty 2D art is a 3D effect that looks spectacular. Whether you have the 3D on your 3DS cranked up all the way or just turned slightly on, you'll get a rich visual experience. It's not a major factor, but if you care about using the 3D, you'll be glad to know it looks outstanding.
Bloo Kid 2 shamelessly takes mechanics from several iconic series. The end product doesn't suffer as a result of that because there's a lot of fun to be had. But while the game borrows some of the best elements from Mario and Kirby (among others), it also suffers from some nasty issues of its own. The unpredictable nature of the game's obstacles and artificial difficulty do more harm than good, resulting in a product that's only good for short sessions rather than simply being an overall great game.