|Dev: Taito, Arika|
|Pub: Square Enix|
|Release: March 27, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: N/A|
by Sean Engemann
Taito has been offering up Bust-A-Move games (a.k.a. Puzzle Bobble) for nearly two decades now, and is one of the earliest series to define the casual puzzle genre. It's also one of the most widely available games, strutting its puzzles on consoles, handhelds, online, and even mobile phones. With each subsequent game in the series, a welcomed addition comes packed in with new modes and features. This does not seem to be the case with Bust-A-Move Universe, however, which seems to have taken about ten steps backwards. With its over-simplified gameplay and lack of options, the title is misleading, and would have been better off being called Bust-A-Move Express.
The story (or lack thereof) is simple. Playing as the dinosaur Bub, you must travel to different planets in order to rescue dinosaur friends and defeat the bosses. This takes place in the Puzzle Mode, one of only two the game offers. There are eight worlds in total, ten stages in each world, as well as a boss level. While eighty-eight total stages may seem like a fair amount, the simple difficulty lets you breeze through each stage in a couple of minutes, and some in a matter of seconds.
The gameplay hasn't changed, as you still shoot bubbles at a steadily descending ceiling of bubbles, matching at least three of the same color to pop them, attempting to clear the entire stage. If you manage to drop at least six bubbles in one shot, you enter a Bonus Time period, where you can rapid-fire without consequence, racking up additional points. You'll also build up a special meter as you burst bubbles, which grants you a special bubble when full. There are three levels of specials, and each gives you a different bubble with its own function, such as changing bubbles in the playing field to another color, or wiping out entire areas completely.
The snag is that you have no choice in which bubble to use. So if you have a laser bubble at level three, you can't opt for the level one spark bubble. This presents a problem, especially in later levels, while trying to collect keys needed to unlock your trapped friends. The keys must be burst in order to collect, and cannot simply be dropped or destroyed, making the laser bubble the least likely weapon of choice. If you miss one of the multiple keys needed for each world, it's gone, and your friend cannot be freed. Not that it has much of an impact. Freeing the trapped dinosaur simply grants you a rapid-fire bonus during the boss battle, which actually becomes a detriment against later bosses. And don't let the word boss sound imposing, as they are quite literally minibosses, each one pint-sized, who simply float around the screen in their own bubble, and do not attack... *cough*.
The Challenge Mode offers only a slight deviation, with a 100-second game, 300-second game, and Nonstop game. All three play the same, with the allotted time being the only difference. Considering the brevity of the Puzzle Mode, I was hoping for a more satisfying experience in the Nonstop game, but was disappointed yet again. There is absolutely no variation, so unless you are prone to frequently launching a bubble in the wrong location, this ends up being an unending puzzle of monotony.