Wot I Think: Bob Came In Pieces

By John Walker on January 26th, 2010 at 3:43 pm.

Uh oh.

An awful lot of indie games come our way. Some of them are great fun. Some of them are properly great. But what about the floaty spaceship platforming adventures of the worryingly named Bob Came In Pieces? Read on to find out wot I think.

Let’s get the name out of the way first of all, shall we. Yes, it sounds like the punchline to a gross ejaculation-based joke. Laugh it out. Right, good, we can get on.

This is lovely. Really lovely. It’s a floaty-spaceship platform game. That’s a genre now, I’ve decided. I think you’ll be hooked by the premise, so let’s get that explained right away:

Your character, Bob, has broken his spaceship. He needs it working again to be able to return to his home, and so must collected the broken pieces scattered across a variety of locations. So nothing crazily original so far – in fact it’s he same plot as the Nifflas latest, the gorgeous Saira. However, here the pieces you collect aren’t simply tokens. Nor indeed are they even something so simple as new augmentations to the little ship you fly around the levels. Instead they are component pieces, pipes of varying shapes and beds, thrusters, devices for towing or pushing items, that can be built onto your ship in any fashion you choose.

Bob’s ship has eight sockets around its circular shape, into which you can join the parts you’ve collected to create a vessel suited to the particular tasks facing you. It’s not a case of building the pre-determined correct shape, but rather improvising something that might just do the job. For instance, perhaps there’s a gap in a nearby wall, and on the other side a support beam holding up a large boulder. Should that rock fall, it will dislodge something essential for your continued journey. So find one of the very many ship-builder platforms (which also act as checkpoints), and build something that will help here. I’d go for a thruster on all four compass points, more powerful one underneath since we’ve got gravity here, and then I’d put a few pipes on the top left socket, 45 degree bend then a couple of straights, and the pusher beam on the end. Balance the other side of the ship with a few pipes just so it doesn’t tip over, then fly it to the gap, and aim the pusher through. Fire it (keys to do all this are assigned as you attach them to the ship) through the gap to push the support away, and let physics take their course. And that would be about the most simplistic example.

Soon you’re picking up crates to use as blocks in mechanisms, breaking ice walls to let wind blow through that propels an object to rotate a lever… It’s only in the last third of the game that things get properly challenging, but it’s never not satisfying on the way there. In fact, there’s so much pleasure in steadily progressing through such a rewarding game that you’ll not mind the lack of brain-taxing sequences.

The use of physics is similarly smart. Everything in the world obeys the obvious laws, and this is applied to many of the puzzles. The ship must be carefully controlled to keep in the right place, and will plummet the moment you stop firing rockets underneath. Arranging the thrusters, and indeed the varying powers of those thrusters, is a fine art – making sure you’ve got movement in all directions as well as enough strength in the right places to complete the necessary tasks. If you’re picking up heavy objects you’ll need all your strength from below, but perhaps also need to ram something from the right. A combination that would be useless when fighting your way down from some upward-blowing winds. Managing this is quick and fun, and adds so much to what would have already been a cute platformer.

I also rather enjoyed how unashamedly traditional the level settings were. You begin in green hills, go into underground caves (where fire is obviously a theme), enter a slippy slidey ice world (although of course since you fly there’s no tiresome slipping or sliding, and then enter a peculiar kingdom of overtly designed puzzles. And it’s all quite beautiful, 2D backgrounds with lovely detail.

Most of all, it’s a smart game. There’s brains here. The level design is frequently clever, sometimes presenting you with a daunting number of directions to head in, before quickly revealing the correct path. That’s not easy to do, so many games either leaving you lost, or looking like a corridor. Bob Came In Pieces keeps on hitting the balance. In fact, you’ll often discover that a convoluted path is not obligatory, but rather rewards you with further ship parts to let you build more complex arrangements, offering you the chance for more imaginative solutions.

The difficulty curve also reveals the intelligence behind the design. Anything new is introduced with a tool tip that concisely explains its use, or the nature of the challenge. For the first few levels it gently guides you, and then like the parent running behind the child on the bicycle, reveals that it hadn’t been balancing you for the last few minutes. By the final few levels things go all meta, Bob realising the peculiarity of his having explored areas containing the artificial edifice of puzzles, and from this point things get really tough. It becomes a playground for applying all the tricks and skills you’ve acquired over the previous few hours.

Finally, and I’ve briefly mentioned this, there’s the way it allows you to assign controls as you attach parts. It’s something that I think so many other games wouldn’t have gotten right. Plop a thruster onto your ship and it’ll ask you to pick the key that controls it. The obvious choice is the cursor keys here, but you could put them on WASD if that was your fancy. Or indeed anywhere. Then when adding other components like the pusher or puller (both fired as beams) the same. Here it becomes more tactical. Perhaps you want the puller always on when firing upward rockets, so assign it to the same key. Maybe you want to push and pull at the same time (an odd idea, but one puzzle in particular, trying to carry a crate up through some awkward levels in strong winds, you want it firing everything you can at once). But most of all, it means you’re never juggling controls imposed upon you. My own odd selection of F, Space and the arrow keys would perhaps be of little use to anyone else, but they were exactly where I wanted them. A tiny detail, but one that means the game is only more pleasurable to play.

It’s on GamersGate and Steam for only £4.87 at the moment, which is insanely cheap, or you can get it through the game’s own site here for £6. That’s a fantastic price for a lengthy and constantly lovely game. The music, the art, the gentle nature – it all creates a completely adorable experience. It’s a real treat.

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39 Comments »

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  1. Wulf says:

    Fell in love with this one when I first saw it, I’ve completed this and I have to agree, it’s a gem of a game, a charming and heart-warming little thing. Except for the evil puzzles, but the evil puzzles are fun, so that’s okay.

    Plus, it’s by a Swedish developer, and I like Sweden.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Lambchops says:

    Hmm . . . I saw this on Steam and tried the demo. Seemed alright but I wasn’t blown away and wasn’t sure if it had the legs to keep me interested over the course of the game.

    i’ve heard conflicting viewpoints on this but this is steering me towards maybe just paying up.

  3. Premium User Badge

    James G says:

    Agreed.

    One little thing I liked about it was the detail of the levels. While the overall design was agreeably simple, it was clear that they hadn’t been knocked together out of a few simple building blocks. Little hidden details in the background of levels gave nice character touches to some of the areas.

    One addition which would be nice is a playground area with lots of open space to play around with novel ship designs. I never got anywhere near close to using all the elements I had picked up by the end.

    Edit: @Lambchops Its not quite as blatant as something like World of Goo in maintaining the novelty, but it does manage to supply a constant stream of new ideas. While I found I was using a few basic ship designs frequently, it still made sure I was having to come up with new ones throughout, rather than going “Oh, this will be ship type b then.”

    • Premium User Badge

      Lambchops says:

      That sounds promising. i find that this type of puzzle game sometimes suffers from only one or tow approaches ever being needed (see Crayon Physics – as lovely as it looked it got dull pretty fast).

  4. Baboonanza says:

    Recommended by RPS and under a fiver? Sold!

  5. Ian says:

    I hope it’s still 4 cheepz when I get my laptop back.

  6. LewieP says:

    Excellent timing for a Wot I think, since I’ve just posted a competition to win this game on SavyGamer:
    http://savygamer.co.uk/2010/01/26/competition-bob-came-in-peices/

    I’ve certainly enjoyed what I have played of it so far.

  7. Colthor says:

    For a spot of “Other online game shops are available”, it’s a similar price on Impulse, Direct2Drive and GamersGate. D2D even says “DRM Free”, which is nice.

    If I didn’t still have loads to play from various sales I’d snap it up, it looks brilliant.

  8. Premium User Badge

    Christian says:

    I tried the demo just yesterday. Looked nice and shiny, and was quite fun and certainly a nice idea and very polished for the price.

    But then I got stuck between a piece of rock and a moving block used to solve a puzzle (the one you have to push down so that another piece can move to the right, freeing the way) in the third demo-level. And it was so obvious that a player might try to fit through the gap and have a look what there might be on the far right..
    That was frustrating enough for me not wanting to buy it, sadly…

    edit: oh, and by ‘stuck’, I mean really stuck –> couldn’t move. Not stuck as in ‘not knowing what to do next’.

    • Premium User Badge

      James G says:

      Errm, you can teleport back to the nearest checkpoint with return, designed for just such an eventuality.

    • Richeh says:

      Yeah, true that. There’s lots of spaces you can get stuck, but never too far from an insta-respawn spot. And to be honest, I probably had to respawn just as many times for forgetting to put one of my directional thrusters back on and only being able to go left. Which was funny.

    • Premium User Badge

      Christian says:

      Ouch. I fail.

      Hmm..although I thought I tried to press return (actually I pressed all the buttons trying to wiggle out of there). But I still accept that they seem to have outsmarted me here..by simply fixing the problem of getting stuck differently than expected by implementing a teleport..

      edit: Oh yes. That was a fun part: realizing that the ship you built keeps on turning around and around because you forgot the thrusters on one side or made the other one too heavy..

    • qrter says:

      You have to hold return to teleport to the last checkpoint, just hitting return won’t do it.

  9. jsutcliffe says:

    Aha, excellent. I have been interested in this since RPS previewed it, but wasn’t sure whether it would live up to its potential.

  10. Richeh says:

    Yeah, got it, but finished it in a day – and although that’s mostly because I was playing it obsessively it is a little on the short side. It seems to cry out for a level editor, or some kind of race level to test the mettle of my insanely fast and uncontrollable Thrust-o-tron. Definately, absolutely worth the fiver it’s up for.

    Maybe if we all buy it he’ll make a more expansionable sequel, I wouldn’t mind shelling out a bit more moneys if I could import my shiny ships.

  11. Polysynchronicity says:

    “Slippy slidey ice world”? I see John’s been reading TVtropes.

    • jsutcliffe says:

      More likely Amiga Power.
      edit: Why is AP’s term being abused by the TV Tropes entry? “Of course, as far as this trope is concerned, it also encompasses non-slippy, but snowy, worlds.” A slippy-slidey ice level without the slippy-slidey part is not a slippy-slidey ice level any longer. It is an ice level.

    • John Walker says:

      Yeah, a long history and legacy of reading gaming mags, not that bloody website!

    • El Stevo says:

      What’s wrong with TV Tropes? (Apart from being a time sink.)

  12. RagingLion says:

    How long in more precise terms is this ‘lengthy game’ just so I can do my pounds/pence per hour calculations?

    The screenshots have defiintely got me more on board for this game than before, as has this write up. I was under the impression it would be more of a shmup than the puzzler in the vein of the last Ratchet and Clank game that this appears to be.

  13. groovychainsaw says:

    This looks nice, building things to solve puzzles. Its a bit like (xbox 360 title) Banjo Kazooie: nuts and bolts. Although that was a bit clunky. 2D will probably work better. And less than a fiver, with a positive writeup from Kieron?! Sold. :-)

    • John Walker says:

      Um? Do I look like Kieron? DO I? /cries

    • Setheran says:

      This made me think of Nuts & Bolts too, which I recently finished after having become totally hooked on all the wonderful exploration/experimentation/creativity-driven gameplay. It’s a shame more games haven’t explored this sort of thing, as it seems like there’s loads of potential there.

      Definitely going to have to look into the demo for this.

    • Baris says:

      Oh give it up ‘John’! We already know you’re all Kieron’s split personalities.

    • Chris D says:

      With a name like John Walker you should really look something like Clint Eastwood in The Good,the Bad and the Ugly. On the other hand I’ve heard you on the podcast and it sounds a bit like puberty is about to hit any day now, so I’m not really sure what to make of that.

      Kieron, on the other hand I picture as some kind of hairless Skaven.

  14. qrter says:

    Bought this a couple of days ago, from GamersGate. Enjoying it a lot.

  15. Tacroy says:

    It was really, really short (I finished it in less than four hours, with all parts), and there’s some glaring holes – where’s the fifteenth level? There’s just a hole, and the end takes up its own slot.

    There should also be an option to turn off the ship’s built-in auto-stabilization, so you can rotate it yourself a-la Asteroids.

    Also, the option to bind a part to multiple keys would be awesome; for instance, if you put thrusters on all outputs, you could move around far more efficiently if you could bind them properly.

    Finally, some of the ship pieces are in really mean areas. There’s one in stage two or three that’s invisible behind a random rock, and stage seven (the last demo stage) has one in a random, hard to miss pool. Fortunately it gets better later on, but still! Those are mean.

    It’s a good game, but I really hope there will be expansions – there’s not much replayability once you’ve found everything, and even a casual gamer will finish it pretty quickly.

  16. Joccish says:

    Glad you enjoyed the game!
    I only worked on the project for a month (as QA), but it was a lot of fun to play it 4h / day =)

  17. Marcin says:

    “Floaty spaceship game” has been a favorite genre of mine since lunar lander. Bob does not disappoint.

  18. Jimbo says:

    Sounds like a similar concept to Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts. That was excellent, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

    I’ll think I’ll get this off Steam and …. Oooo! Psychonauts for £1!

  19. patrick says:

    Just finished the game, picked it up a few days ago. Utterly charming, astonishingly low frustration levels when you consider the gameplay.

  20. crumbsucker says:

    Is there a possibility for gamepad control in this?

    • Heliocentric says:

      Use xpadder to assign keystrokes to the various buttons and analogues. Presto.

  21. JuJuCam says:

    My only complaints were that there weren’t enough levels and there seemed to be far more potential for new gadgets than it ultimately presented. Although what was available was polished to a high shine (besides too much thrust = embedding into the landscape) so I can’t be too disappointed.

    Basically I’m glad I bought it but I would be gladder still if I were assured of free content packs. But ultimately no regrets!

  22. stone says:

    Damn you. Sold!

  23. Ed says:

    Saw it on Steam when I was buying Psychonauts, couldn’t help myself. Bought.
    Curse you, RPS!

  24. fishyjoes says:

    Its for 6,99€ on steam and on their own website. Where should I buy it? I suppose the developer gets the bigger share if I buy it directly on their site. What do you guys say?

  25. Shadowcat says:

    fishyjoes: Buy it from the developer. It’s DRM-free, and all the money goes to the people who made it.

    I just finished playing it, and while I’m hoping there will be some kind of expansion and enhancements, the game was easily worth the asking price. Lovely smooth gameplay, beautiful graphics. A few rough edges for sure (I got embedded in things a few too many times), but definitely a wee gem.

    Here’s hoping that Bob runs into more trouble soon! :)