The words "user-generated content" usually mean you're about to encounter one of two things: an irritating Super Bowl commercial made by 16-year-olds, or another dramatic chipmunk.
Still, people love this stuff. So it's no surprise that video-game developers are catering to the YouTube generation with Blast Works: Build, Trade, Destroy — a phenomenal little shooter-title that allows you to develop a game from scratch and share your creations online. Want to create a laser-toting cock-rocket and shoot evil robot dolphins out of the sky? Hey, if you build it, they will come — no matter how juvenile your ideas get.
ESRB Rating: E (for Everybody)
Score: 9 (out of 10)
Based on the Japanese freeware Tumiki Fighters (or "building block fighters"), Blast Works appears simple at first glance, thanks to its chunky, old-school design. But once you dig in, the game scales amazing heights of creative freedom. It's an adventure made as much for Erector Set freaks and Lego maniacs as it is for arcade gaming junkies.
The Campaign and Arcade modes show you the basics: You control a side-scrolling ship, attacking waves of enemies to reach the inevitable Big Boss. In the long tradition of shoot-'em-ups, from Space Invaders to Ikuruga, there's nothing new here.
But there's a twist: Every plane you shoot down sticks to your fighter like Super Glue, adding its weapons to your hull. This quickly creates an enormous and ridiculous-looking pile of flying, gun-toting junk. It's Katamari Damacy with lasers.
The meat of Blast Works, however, lies in its deceptively basic Editor mode. From your fighter ship to the bad guys, background elements to bullet patterns, everything is customizable in an easy-to-navigate, PhotoShop-esque program. You can even tweak preloaded elements, if you're intimidated by a blank canvas.
Most of us don't have the hardware or technical know-how to launch games for Nintendo's WiiWare or Xbox Live's XNA Creator's Club. But Blast Works provides the same opportunity to tinker on a more modest, user-friendly scale. Of course, creating precise elements takes some getting used to, since you're at the mercy of the WiiMote instead of a mouse. And artistic tools are limited to the fundamental shapes — triangles, circles, squares — manipulated and twisted to create polygon-heavy formations. The result looks more like Super Nintendo's Starfox than a next-gen game. But the aesthetic works nonetheless.
Also helping matters, Majesco Games brilliantly bypasses Nintendo's migraine-encouraging, 16-digit "friend code" system by offering its own Blast Works online community. Once logged in, you can upload your own handiwork and download surprisingly detailed creations from fellow users, simply by adding them to a queue, turning on your Wii, and checking the in-game mailbox.
As the Blast Works community grows, you'll realize you have a real couch-denting adventure on your hands. After all, how do you beat a game that offers unlimited and — most importantly — totally free downloadable content, hampered only by your Wii's memory space?
Just this morning, in fact, I created a new level using someone's Ecto-1 Ghostbusters car, a flame-throwing Super Mario, and a giant stapler. I'm not sure whether this is closer to Salvador Dalí or South Park's "Imaginationland." But either way it's fun — and funny — as hell.