Friday, July 29, 2011

East vs. West: Blodia / Timeball (1989/1990)

Hudson Soft carefully numbered its HuCard-format releases for the Japanese PC Engine, and the obsessive-compulsive gamer in me has a vague desire to "collect them all!", or at least the ones that are affordable and likely to be playable.  Qualifying on both counts is Volume 25 in this venerable series -- Blodia, released in 1989.

Blodia is based on a 1983 home computer game created by Manuel Constantinidis and published by Broderbund under the anagrammatic title Diablo.  I wasn't previously aware of this game -- 1983 was a bad year for the American video game industry -- but versions later appeared on the Nintendo Game Boy and NES.  This PC Engine edition also came to the American TurboGrafx-16 under a third and more descriptive title, Timeball; the only differences are a newer Hudson Soft copyright date (1990 vs. 1989) and a modified title screen (with a narrower font to fit in the same space, so the B, L, I and A from the Blodia logo are not directly reused):

Blodia is an early puzzle game with a mechanic inspired by sliding-tile puzzles and video games like Loco-Motion and Happy Trails; it's clearly nothing that a 1983 computer couldn't have handled, but its sheer simplicity and variety still hold up well today.  At the start of each level, a ball appears on a track stretching across a series of slideable gray tiles; the player's task is to move one tile at a time, making sure that the ball traverses every piece of track without running into a gap or a dead-end.  Each level is cleared when all track sections have been covered.  We can speed up the ball's movement with the PC Engine controller's II button, and there is a speed bonus awarded for finishing a level quickly.

In the early levels, playing Blodia is just a matter of making sure the track is more-or-less contiguous;  we can slide a tile while the ball is on it to bridge any obvious gaps in the layout, but we don't necessarily need to do so as there is plenty of time and space available to plan the route:

Each level successfully completed yields a brief reward and statistics screen, assessing our speed and the number of moves we made to clear it; additional bonus points are awarded for beating "par":

And it isn't long before the levels start getting trickier, requiring us to move more tiles to make the layout work, or move tiles more precisely to keep the moving ball safely in play:

We more often have to move the tile that the ball is on to get it to a safe connection; eventually we get off track, and so does the ball:

Blodia is one of those minor classics -- a simple concept executed well.  It's nothing fancy and doesn't come close to stretching the PC Engine's capabilities, but it works and puts up quite a challenge.  I'm glad it came to the US, even though it seems to have been overlooked here as well.  Quality still counts for something.

The original Japanese version of Blodia may be available for purchase here.

Or if the North American TurboGrafx-16 version appeals, it's not usually too hard to find here:

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