DE BLOB / Utrecht University / PC

When Katamari Damacy became a surprise hit in the West, I expected to see some clones and derivatives in the freeware scene, but I can't remember any of consequence ever appearing. In recent years, however, we've been given a treatment of the basic concepts and mechanics by a group of students at the Utrecht School of the Arts.

They call it De Blob, and instead of a spacefaring Prince rolling around sticking the contents of the Earth together, you're an alien blobby who can absorb other blobbies to change colors and paint the dull, grey terrain around him in a more lively and aesthetically pleasing way. Unfortunately there's an evil organization called Inkt out to stop you, and if you absorb one of their agents, you paint everything in black ink until you can reach some water to clean yourself off.

The game is a pretty ambitious freeware project, rendering a fairly huge city that compares to the size of the earlier Grand Theft Auto games. Touching buildings turns them the color that you presently are, and you can mix primary colors together to create other colors. The main goal of the game seems to be to just sort of bop around and paint everything, but there are some sub-objectives you can undertake for bonus points and fun. Some of the bigger buildings must be painted a particular color, and you have to hit a target that usually requires you to jump, use ramps or use hot air vents that lift you to the rooftops to reach them. There's also hidden coins throughout the city to collect, and you get a bonus for quickly painting a string of objects all the same color without switching colors.

The rights to the game were picked up by THQ last year for publication on the Wii and Nintendo DS. Those versions are a bit more complex and add more structure, but the original version is still freely available as a download on the web. The advancement and size relative to other freeware games can be a bit of a downside, as the designers recommend at least a 2 GHZ processor and 512 MB of RAM. The game is still playable with as little as a 1.5 GHZ, but expect significant frame-skipping.

The game is a fun mouse-based little diversion for when you just want to zone out for a bit, and has the bonus of being non-violent and non-mind-poisoning. The only minor issue I had with it was that it is possible to become irrevocably stuck sometimes between cars and other terrain features, which forces you to exit the game and restart. This doesn't happen often enough to be a major problem, however.

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