Creat Studios are no strangers to the PlayStation Network, with Germinator marking their twentieth PSN release. That’s an impressive roster and chances are you’ll have played one of their games – Cuboid, Mushroom Wars and Wakeboarding HD being particular highlights.
Germinator is a match three bubble popping game. Except, well, it’s not. It’s still features very similar gameplay to Puzzle Bobble (AKA Bust-a-Move) but instead of matching three bubbles together, you’ll shoot bubbles – in the form of germs – at other bubbles of the same colour to combine them and make them pop.
As they grow the germs will absorb other same-coloured germs around them, only popping once there are no nearby germs of the same colour. Popping germs will also destroy nearby black germs which cannot be destroyed otherwise. This is basically the aim of the game; to rid the screen of those pesky black germs.
Germinator isn’t totally unique but that twist is enough to set it apart from the plethora of bubble popping titles out there. To differentiate it even further the shooting is inverted – you fire the bubbles down and the screen will move up, rather than the standard way of firing upwards.
Different coloured germs also have different abilities, which are activated at your will when a bar is filled. Green germs, for example, will destroy all other green germs on screen if popped with a special germ, while yellows will destroy everything directly to the left and right of them, which can be a very useful tactic if you get a yellow at the bottom.
There are also various obstacles as you progress through the game. These can be both helpful and a bit of a pain – the bouncing pad will allow you to get rid of unnecessary germs, but also prevents you from placing germs that you need on them, while the spike ball may destroy black germs but could also stop you from reaching a germ you need.
It can become quite a frustrating game as the difficulty seems to change from level to level, though it still does have a suitable difficulty curve through the game. It’s not the kind of PopCapian one-more-try frustration, however; you’ll quit and might not want to go back for a while.
That’s not to say it doesn’t have somewhat of an addictive grip – when it works, you’ll want to go back and play more and more. There’s no reason for you to quit between levels, just when you’ve tried to complete a level twenty times to no avail. And there’s plenty of levels to play – about 150 in total, split between Story and Puzzle mode.
Puzzle mode is quite a refreshing challenge, as you’ll have to complete levels with only a certain number of germs to fire. There’s also a duel mode, with various game types which seem quite standard for a bubble popping game. The all involve head-to-head gameplay, with each player’s popped germs spawning black germs on their opponent’s side. There’s also an arcade mode, which is the standard form of play with endless germ bubbles.
Level designs, unfortunately, feel like a bit more style over substance. They always try to emulate a picture with the placement of the germs, in a similar way to PopCap’s Peggle, but often you’re left with a complicated mess that feels quite lazy in execution.
Odd too is the decision to have the aiming controls on the left stick rather than the much more accurate D-pad. Thankfully changing the aiming from rotate to direct – allowing you to point rather than turn the shooter – alleviates this issue somewhat, giving you much more precise aiming.
Presentation isn’t Germinator’s forte. The graphics are colourful, the sound is decent and it all works but there’s really nothing impressive here – it’s all a bit generic and the set-up is quite banal. One thing that is good, however, is the ability to instantly upload clips of your gameplay to YouTube.
- A unique twist on the bubble popping genre.
- When it all comes together, it can be quite fun.
- There are over 150 levels and four modes.
- Can be quite frustrating.
- Level designs leave much to be desired.
- Presentation isn’t anything special.
- Difficulty spikes from level to level.
It feels as though Creat are trying to emulate the success of PopCap with Germinator, but they can’t quite get there. It’s simply not as addictive, fun or as well presented as any of PopCap’s titles, no matter how hard it tries. Still, there are a few good features and if you’re a fan of the bubble popping genre this provides a unique twist on the classic formula along with a bit of a challenge.