The original coin-op Bust-a-move (or Puzzle Bobble) was a core staple of many a student bar and common room upon release, its ridiculously addictive two player competitive gameplay a real draw (and a considerable drain of tight financial resources). Many home console versions have graced television screens over the years, but this one, dubbed Universe and sporting 3D visuals, spectacularly misses the point, foregoing the series’ main elements and instead focusing on a single player puzzle mode that’s over in a couple of hours.[drop]The core mechanic, that of a screen full of bubbles and a directable cannon at the bottom of the screen that fires other bubbles, remains present and correct, of course. Match up three or more bubbles of the same colour and they’ll all burst, making room and clearing the path to more bubbles – the overall aim to clear the screen either gradually in piecemeal format or by stacking up for big combos and taking out as many bubbles as possible in a single shot. It’s a delightful principle that, even in these pre-determined ‘puzzles’, still works well.
The problem with Universe, though, is that it’s purely a single player game, and the developers have opted to spend most of their time with the aforementioned Puzzle mode – a collection of eight worlds that each house ten screens and a boss. They start off ridiculously simple and never actually get tough, meaning that you’ll be through most of what the game offers very quickly indeed, and you can’t really fail anyway – there’s restarts for each puzzle and even if the boss survives the next world is unlocked for you anyway.
The ultimate aim is to complete each puzzle, find all the keys (which must be burst gently rather than in a combo) scattered around each level and take out the bosses, which will fill in all the bulletpoints, but whether you’ll have the patience to go back through any levels you missed to dig out the keys will be entirely down to the player – it’s certainly not a requirement.
Along the way you’ll build up a special bar (with three levels) which you can use with the X button to fire a unique weapon (a rainbow coloured bubble that matches anything, a bomb that dyes surrounding bubbles the same colour and a laser that wipes out half the screen) which does add a little bit of variety, and high score fans will relish the slow-motion mode that’s activated when you burst a set number of bubbles at once. Nothing ground-breaking, but at least there’s an attempt at original features.[drop2]Sadly, though, away from the puzzle mode you’re left with nothing but a few challenges – a timer based score attack and an open ended one, but these are little more than extended puzzle variants, and the absence of online leaderboards will mean there’s little challenge – the local high score table doesn’t even let you put your initials in. The biggest loss, though, is any kind of multiplayer, the series’ main draw for us personally and although we can potentially forgive the lack of internet play, there’s no local battles and – get this – you can’t even play against the AI.
It’s an odd omission, which means that – for the price – this is a really expensive couple of hours entertainment. We picked up Universe for £25 (an already discounted rate) and even at that price it’s a poor buy. Sure, the controls work well enough, the presentation’s cute (although the graphics are often blurry when they scale) and the music’s decent enough, but anyone looking for something to keep them busy on the 3DS will be disappointed – and that’s the biggest shame, as this could have been brilliant.
- What gameplay there is is solid
- Some nice fan service in the music
- Massively overpriced, even at £25
- Puzzle mode can be completed in under 2 hours
- No online scoreboards
- No multiplayer, even against AI
- Cheap bitmap scaling
Puzzle Bobble Universe suffers from being an overpriced, undernourished launch period game for a system that’s already being derided for its short term pleasures. This could have been a fantastic puzzler and stacked with features, but instead it’s a poor example of a series that has been far richer in past years, and by losing the core mechanic – competitive play – it’s reduced to a mere shadow of its former brilliance. A real fall from grace.