A Surprisingly Empty Universe.
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.
The music is a remix of tracks used in past games of the series, with different synthesized sounds depending on the world you’re playing. Even though repetitive, it is nostalgic, and pleasant enough without being annoying. The sound effects also stay true to the series. The problem is that the mixing levels don’t jive, with the sound effects astonishingly louder than the background music. And with no option to adjust the levels, you either get an earache with the volume on high, or barely make out the music on low.
The color palette for the game is selective, but the few choice colors are vibrant, and the game actually looks cleaner than other Bust-A-Move games on more powerful consoles. While orbiting the various worlds, the background gives a decent scene of the world’s respective environment, and even the working gears which make up the sidewalls are a nice addition. The 3D is actually where the game suffers. Besides giving a sense of visual depth to the game, the 3D does nothing to enhance the gameplay itself. The game looks better in 2D, and is less straining on the eyes, making the 3D, for this game at least, a useless novelty.
Not only is the 3D a failed feature of this game, but with all the extras packed into the 3DS, Bust-A-Move Universe uses none of them. There is no use of Play Coins, but even more shocking is the lack of any multiplayer, both offline and online. Even the DS version from years ago sported a multiplayer function, making this a glaring omission in an already bare bones product. There is an awards section in the game (like unlockable achievements), as well as a stats page, but with only yourself to show off to, even these seem like wasted space in the game.
Being a fan of the series, I am truly saddened to have to give such a poor review. I feel that developer Arika and publisher Square Enix were simply trying to crank out anything that could be ready for the new handheld’s release. The only saving grace is that it’s the only puzzle game at launch, and is the lowest priced game of the bunch, but even at $29.99, you’re still not getting your money’s worth. With a little more time and effort this game could have contained great features and a plethora of puzzles, but sadly is a watered down version not worthy of your time.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.0 Graphics
Bold, vibrant colors and nice animations, but the 3D adds little more than quicker eyestrain to the game. 3.0 Control
Simple controls for a simple game. The minute adjustments with the shoulder buttons is a nice addition. 2.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The classic music and sound fit well with puzzling genre. The inability to adjust the settings is issue which could have been solved quite easily, but was not. 1.0 Play Value
You’ll complete the game within a couple of hours, with little more to do than unlock self-gratifying awards. 2.4 Overall Rating – Poor
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|