Publisher: Majesco Entertainment
Developer: Taito Corporation
Release Date: November 3, 2004
Some modern games tend to focus on gameplay almost as an afterthought, treating story or branding as the priority. Unlike most of the modern games out there, puzzle games essentially have no story, no branding and really nothing but high quality fun. Thanks in part to this single-minded development, puzzle style games have remained relatively pure, avoiding the gameplay stagnation into which other genres have fallen. You might wonder why, and the answer is most likely related to the fact that puzzle style games have no room for such things. Can you imagine the story that would have been needed to make sense of Tetris? Me either.
If you have played any of the previous Bust-a-Move titles whether in the arcade or on a console, you will be right at home with the controls. There are only three relevant things to keep in mind: the thumbstick is how you aim your bubble gun, the A button is what you use to launch your bubbles, and your shoulder buttons are how you fine-tune your aim. Ideally, your goal is to remove colored bubbles from the map by grouping them together in clusters of three or more before the time runs out, or the bubbles come crashing down upon you. When you connect a colored bubble to at least two other bubbles of the same color, they will pop and any bubbles connected solely to the recently eradicated bubbles will also fall away from the screen. I found it an addictive and deviously simple task complicated by my inability to aim accurately, and all of the tricky bubbles and blocks they included in the game.
Bubbles and Blocks and Bears oh my!
There are a number of interesting components used to keep this game from being too easy, the most prevalent of which is the varied types of bubbles. Rainbow bubbles turn into a regular bubble of the same color as the first connected bubble that is popped, a star bubble will clear off all of the bubbles on the map of the same color as the first bubble to come into contact with it, bomb bubbles destroy every bubble they end up in contact with, metal bubbles will tear through any bubbles they come into contact with, stopping only when they impact a block or wall, fulcrum blocks support all of the contacting bubbles and it will only vanish when all of the connecting bubbles are destroyed, and nuisance blocks are difficult to remove but can be dropped by removing the supporting bubbles or can be destroyed by a bomb bubble. Through the use of these various types of bubbles and blocks, the developers were able to build over 1,000 different game boards, each with unique challenges.
How many ways can you pop a bubble?
When playing by yourself, you have a few mode choices. Classic mode is the bubble-bursting approach, where your goal is to clear all of the bubbles off the map before your timer runs out. You have five maps to clear off, and if you manage to clear them all successfully, you will move onto the next stage. The challenge mode includes three different game types, one of which is seesaw, where the player attempts to clear off all of the bubbles while also contending with a teetering stage. Firing too many bubbles to one side or conversely, popping too many can quickly throw off the balance of your map and make you start over from scratch. Blind mode places a pattern of mystery bubbles on the map, each marked with a question mark, and the only way to figure out what they are is by firing bubbles at them. Finally, we have shot mode, where the goal is to solve the puzzle with a single shot; anything more than a single shot is a failure, and you get to start over again.
Multiplayer has a couple of modes and can be played against another player or an A.I.-controlled opponent. The basic versus game has a standard field where your goal is not to clear all of the bubbles but to drop as many bubbles as possible, which is done by popping bubbles which support others. When bubbles are dropped, they end up on the opponent’s board. The count game has both players taking turns, and the person who drops (not destroys) the most bubbles, wins. Color game is much like the count game, only instead of trying to drop the most bubbles, the point is to drop a set number of a specified color.
So much colorful happiness is burnt into my brain
The characters are frighteningly happy patchwork (Prozac) nightmare creatures, each one having the appearance of some terribly twisted stuffed animal. There are 12 of these colorful characters, four of which are secret and unlocked through regular gameplay. Each of these characters has its own sounds, which generally range from squeaking to unintelligible mumbling.
The backgrounds are composed of a mishmash of deranged colorful and sadistically happy images; smiling pizza slices dance in a circle around the map of bubbles, while in other stages, there are images of clouds and dancing animals, just about anything you cannot imagine putting into the background of a game. Behind the rotating discs of images are gears and chains and various other mechanical components, which are, of course, also bright and colorful.
The music is very much like the rest of the presentation in this game, a bit too happy to be considered sane. For most of your playing time, you will be assaulted with bouncy cheerful music that falls somewhere close to hyperactive elevator tunes. The best song I heard was a relatively repetitive jazzy tune that was piano driven, although that also grew tiresome.
The animations are not exactly extensive components of the game experience, since the characters appear to have three or four animations that get repeated endlessly. The animations themselves are fairly decent and show a lot of energy and emotion, but the repetition makes them a bit less novel. The animation of the stage falling in the seesaw mode looks so much like an object teetering and about to fall that I almost reached out to catch it when I first saw it.
The good, the bad and the painfully cute
At $20, this title is definitely worth the pennies, as it can easily bring more than enough enjoyment to make it worthwhile, if you can look past the blindingly colorful and often boring art, that is. Despite the oversaturation of day-glow color and obscenely cheerful animation and music, I found myself playing Ultra Bust-a-Move for hours on end with little regard to the sensory punishment through which I was putting myself. I likely would have enjoyed this title a bit more had they kept with the cute but not painfully so bubble bobble brothers as the main characters instead of these pure evil doll creatures. Despite the few qualms I have with the syrupy presentation, the gameplay is solid, and the title is unquestionably fun to play.