A Boy and His Blob (Daniel Sadowski)

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A Boy and His Blob: Trouble on Blobolonia was released for the original Nintendo Entertainment System in 1989, developed by David Crane of Pitfall fame. Despite some rough edges, the game’s massive interconnected worlds and puzzles–solved by the titular boy feeding the titular blob jellybeans to shapeshift it into useful things like ladders and umbrellas–were a hit with audiences, and the game is fondly remembered today. So much so, in fact, that after years of failed attempts to make a sequel, developer WayForward Technologies acquired the rights to remake the game in 2009. Ditching the original’s teen hero and 1960s rock aesthetic, the new A Boy and His Blob aimed for a simple, heartwarming hand-drawn style with a young protagonist and even a button dedicated to nothing but giving his squishy companion a hug. The game garnered good reviews and sales were steady, paving the way forward for WayForward to continue reinventing other classic long-dormant titles like DuckTales, Double Dragon, and its own Shantae.

Rather than turning to their in-house composer and audio director Jake Kaufman, WayForward director Sean Velasco sought out composer and producer Daniel Sadowski for A Boy and His Blob. Sadowski had film, video game, and remixing credits to his name (notably rearranging a number of classic “retro” sounds for the Best of the Best video game arrangement CD) and was a passionate fan of the original game. Despite the project calling for a “softer” sound than many of his other works, the composer joined the project without hesitation.

Sadowski’s score is a largely made up of original music, but it does include several upgraded arrangements of Mark van Hecke’s compositions for the original NES game (which was itself rather impressively engineered for 1989). “The City March” combines the first level and second level music from Trouble on Blobonia into a single track, and Sadowski gives it a bright, faithful arrangement accented by pizzicato strings and castanets while stripping the music of some of the more dodgy Indiana Jones references that bedeviled the original. The first part of the concluding “A Medley of Credits” offers an even further upgraded version of the music, and both arrangements swap out the rock ‘n’ roll feel of the original for a straightforward orchestral sound.

The all-new theme for the game is introduced in “Main Theme” in counterpoint and conversation with a remixed excerpt of van Hecke’s music; the melody’s a potent one, and it really comes into its own in the following tracks. “Home Sweet Home” places it in a piano and mallet percussion context of almost unbearable downbeat sadness and beauty, while “Forest Greens” places it in a more upbeat and optimistic context spruced up by a light synth choir and more pizzicato. It winds through nearly ever context on the album, never losing its lovely but sad edge, and is even incorporated into a nice song at the album’s end with vocals by Bethany Mosley and lyrics by producer Velasco.

A number of original melodies cop up as well, like the beautiful woodwind “Shaded Plains,” which uses the main theme as a gorgeous interlude replete with chimes. But the pick of the album’s tracks is unquestionably “Subterra,” which offers soft keyboarding and orchestral accents performing a melody that’s equal parts smooth, synth, and sad (with fragments of the main theme interpolated to boot). A satisfying acoustic guitar arrangement of “Subterra” makes up a portion of “A Medley of Credits” as well, though this only serves to make listeners want more of the theme.

Sadowski’s music does have its issues. Action tracks that were a late addition to the game’s soundtrack like “Gears of Blob” and “Into the Citadel” are rather mundane in their straightforwardness and lack the spark of the music’s earlier highlights. But by far the biggest problem with the album is one of production; none of the themes are looped as they are in the game, fading out after only a single airing. This makes for a frustrating listen, since the music is more then good enough to sustain the industry standard two loops, and the resulting 40-minute album had 30 short tracks when it could have easily sustained twice that length. There are also a few tracks that have nighttime insect sound effects smothering the music; your tolerance of ambient noise in your music will determine your reaction to them.

Even with those problems, Sadowski’s A Boy and His Blob is exceptionally engaging for most of its length, making the best of the tools available to the composer to create something that is both affecting and joyous, much like the game itself strove to be. The album is available digitally as an iTunes exclusive, and while fuller fan rips of the music exist, the music was downsampled for the Wii platform and the muddiness that comes with that makes it unacceptable. Frustrations on the album production aside, A Boy and His Blob is not to be missed.

Rating: starstarstarstar

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