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Act: Dr. Blob's Organism [by Digital Eel]

Game Review: Dr. Blob's Organism
Release: June 2003
Genre: Action
Developer: Digital Eel
System Requirements: Pentium II 350MHz (600MHz or better recommended), 64M RAM
Windows 95/98/ME/2000/XP, DirectX 6, OpenGL 1.1 compatible video card, DirectX compatible sound card, 32M of free hard drive space

Price: US $10

I use the term "production value" a lot when I describe games.  It is a very key phrase when describing Independent Games because many Independent titles lack the feel of a professional, store-released title.  Certainly with the large influx of interest in Independent Games, the professional feel of Independent games is greatly increasing.  Dr. Blob's Organism is a perfect example.  This is a game that has a very high production value.  It is wonderfully polished from the first flicker on the screen when you start the game, to the beats of the background music, right through the credits when you exit the game.

Dr. Blob's Organism is the kind of game that gives more credence to Independent games.  Gamers who check it out will immediately be amazed by how "cool" it looks and how fun it can be to blast that stupid dividing blob.  The only problem is that I personally didn't really have any fun blasting away at the blob.  Despite my scientific background, and my great desire to finally do something of real worth with a petri dish, I found a few flaws in the game that ruined the time I spent in the laboratory.

I believe I have subconsciously in my mind two cardinal rules for games.  The first is, do not make the outcome of the game based on luck.  That is to say, I want to feel like my entire survival depends on my ability to play.  I don't want to feel like that despite my best efforts I may lose.  Save the unfairness for real life.  In video games I want the ability to get it all right.  It could take hours, but when I play flawless, I want to win.  The second rule is that the difficulty of any level should be slightly harder than the previous level, slightly easier than the next level, and should not cause me undo frustration due to it being unreasonably difficult..

Why do I bring up the two rules?  Because Dr. Blob's Organism terribly breaks both rules.  In this game, you control a blaster that is pointed at a petri dish.  Inside the dish is a blob.  The blob has one hope:  to escape the dish!  Your responsibility is to blast away at the blob's nucleus to kill the blob, while containing all of its slimy plasma inside the petri dish.  Each time any of the blob touches the edge of the petri dish you lose a life.  After you have lost 5 lives, your time in the lab is ended and you get to start the level over. 

The blob moves about extremely erratically, making it difficult to hit the nucleus.  In addition, you cannot at any time lose track of all the slimy cytoplasm that is trying to escape or your lives will quickly be lost.  The blob also has a life that is shown on the right side of the screen.  Unfortunately you cannot just blast the blob a certain amount of times.  Every second the blob isn't being blasted it is regenerating its life energy.  Oh and it gets worse.  Often it will regenerate entirely, create an impenetrable force field around itself or divide into two blobs!

Thankfully you have a variety of weapons that become available to you as you move forward.  Spread shots, fast shots, and a nifty electric ray will almost keep you alive in the game.  The blob graciously releases these power-ups intermittently while you are blasting it in addition to releasing extra lives, bombs, and a slow down item.

Still, even armed with all of these items, the real key to the game is to blast and spin the petri dish as fast as possible to keep the slime in the dish while at the same time hitting its nucleus.

So how does the game break the rules?  First off, there is a huge luck factor in the game.  Whether or not you pass a level, when you get to the later levels, had as much to do with luck for me as it had to do with skill.  I often could play the same level for 30 minutes or more.  Each time I played I hoped for the right power-ups to show up in the right order and for the blob not to suddenly decide to go into a frenzy while it right next to the side of my dish.   Feeling as though it really made no difference how I played the game gave me little reason to want to play it.

The second rule has to do with difficulty.  This game is not for the faint at heart.  Those who consider themselves occasional game players shouldn't even try.  I've played nearly 100 different titles this year.  I think that this was likely the most impossible of them all.  I don't think it would matter how long I played, on the hardest difficulty level there is no way to get through all the boards.  Instead of providing a challenge, the game puts you in a solid steel prison, throws you a wooden toothpick and tells you to dig your way out.  It was very disappointing.

Still for the hard core gamer, it provides plenty of challenge and as mentioned before, this game does not lack for fans.  You certainly could be the next one.  For the fast, but slowing on the trigger, you'll enjoy going through the first 10 levels on mellow, but may wish for more levels like those when you are done. 

Graphics: 9
Dr. Blob certainly doesn't skimp on graphics.  The graphics and design of the game is superb.  If there is one thing that you will enjoy in the game, it is watching that petri dish spin around.  Digital Eel has moved past the strictly 2D they used in Strange Adventures in Infinite Space and the results are wonderful.  Each of the weapons is very colorful and carries that "cool" factor that makes you excited to get a new power-up.  The blob itself moves in amazing ways, and the fact that it can be so quickly drawn on the screen is at times a wonder.

Sound: 9
From the campy, mad scientist's laboratory feel of the level selection screen's track, through all 13 of the different music tracks you'll hear, the music is perfect for the game and pretty good, though a bit strange, even standing on its own.  Sound is another area where the polished end product is so superb it is hard to compare it to other independent titles as this is one is much better done it leaves others in the petri dish.

Game Play: 6
This is where the game starts to break down.  While certainly not bad, the game play is far from perfect.  Instead of allowing you the ability to change how fast the dish spins, you instead have to adapt to the dish itself.  In addition, the split power-up has a tendency of throwing you off your groove and will typically cost you one of your 5 lives if you accidentally shoot it when you were fighting to keep the blob in the dish.  As mentioned before, often it feels you have no control over the outcome of the game.  Even perfect play won't save you if the blob decides to move erratically into an area beyond your range.  Far too often I felt like my best efforts were hopeless.

Options: 7
While not really lacking in options, certainly a few more would have been nice.  The "manual" is certainly lacking, and the ability to change the spinning petri dish would have been nice at a minimum.

Concept: 9
Not actually originally, but slightly different then games such as Tempest.  Instead of moving your ship around to attack what flies at you from the center, you instead stay still and move the petri dish.  While that isn't much for taking the concept into a brave new world, the work done around the game is.  The strange-ness that emanates from Digital Eel is enough to make anyone lift an eyebrow.  In this case it works fairly well, and I probably had more fun reading the different level names, checking out the website, and listening to the music than I had playing the game.  Rarely has a game had so much production put into creating a bizarre atmosphere and having it come off so well.

Fun: 6
This is the other spot the game really broke down for me.  I believe I'll be in the minority on this one, but I really didn't enjoy my time playing the game.  On four different occasions I started the game and played for more than an hour.  Each time I left frustrated and upset trying to determine what they were thinking when they made the game.  Of the three difficulty levels, only one provided a challenge that didn't consistently frustrate me.  I looked forward to the different power-ups, but found each level more of a chore.  I would play waiting for luck to go my way, and then start into the next level wondering how long it would take for luck to strike again.  While the lightening fast game play certainly can lead to excitement, it left me wanting to play another game that provided a similar type of game play, but with a much more enjoyable challenge (such as Mutant Storm or Juno Nemesis).

Overall: 7
I'm sure to take some fire for this one.  There are definitely some big fans of this game and I'm sure it will garner many more.  It is very inexpensive, a great deal at $10, and as mentioned before, the feel and look of the game is everything you could possibly ask for.  However, I feel that there are a couple of big flaws in the game that become apparent to anyone who spends awhile playing it.  For those who enjoy spending countless hours fighting against tremendous challenges that require amazingly quick reflexes, and often large amounts of luck, I'm sure you'll find the game a worthy addition to your library.  At the price they are asking, you really cannot go wrong either way, so check out the demo, and if you go gaga over the graphics, spend the ten bucks and save Dr. Blob from the thing he created.Added: July 28th 2003
Reviewer: The Mole
Related Link: Dr. Blob's Organism's website
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