Popping bubbles and matching colors has been a staple of puzzle games for almost as long as there have been puzzle games. That hasn't prevented intrepid developers from iterating on the formula over the years. Balloon Pop Remix is UFO Interactive's take on the classic genre. While it's not a genre-defining title, it should provide plenty of enjoyment for casual players.
Balloon Pop Remix is defined by its mechanics more than anything else. The game offers up a grid of multicolored balloons. Unlike most matching games, where items fall from the top of the screen, here the balloons rise from the bottom. In order to make a match, you must pop balloons by dragging the stylus over two or more at a time. If three or more balloons are touching after moving, they automatically pop; this adds to both your score and mana meter.
The mana meter is an interesting touch since it provides a sense of urgency. You lose mana for every balloon you pop, but it also decreases as time passes. Since it's always going down, you are forced to make your moves quickly. At the same time, you have to play smart. If you try to make a big move while low on mana, you won't be able to do it. That last balloon won't pop, potentially preventing a life-saving combo.
Although the balloons are constantly moving upward, they don't slide to the side and they don't rotate. This will feel counterintuitive at first to longtime Tetris or Bejeweled 3 players, though you'll quickly adjust.
As the game progresses, more colors are added to the balloon mix as well as single power-ups, which run the gamut from basic score multipliers to items that change the way your stylus interacts with the balloons. For example, one power-up allows you to draw a diagonal line (by default, you can only draw horizontally or vertically), while another allows you to pop single balloons.
All of these game mechanics work well together, though Balloon Pop Remix does have one big issue that holds it back from greatness. Because of the limited maneuverability and small game board, many of the high-scoring combos feel like luck rather than skill. With matches happening any time three or more like-colored balloons touch, setting up extended chains by design can be a challenge — mostly because your setup balloons will end up clearing by accident as new balloons fall into the field. Planning out two- or three-combo chains is possible. More than that, and you're just watching a lucky draw spill out onto the field.
In addition to the main game, Balloon Pop Remix features a handful of minigames, puzzle mode and endless mode. The minigames are variants on balloon-popping that first appear in the story mode. Once you complete them there, they unlock on the main menu. These are simple time-wasters, but they're fun when you only have a minute or two to spare.
Puzzle mode removes the time limitation from the mana bar, but it also limits your moves. The goal is to clear a preconfigured board by popping balloons with surgical precision. Oddly, this mode can be more engaging than the main story mode. It's too bad there weren't more puzzle mode levels offered. Finally, endless mode is designed to cater to those who simply want to go for a high score.
Visually, Balloon Pop Remix is clean and sharp, with vibrant graphics that look as if they were from a retail cartridge rather than a $7.99 eShop download. Since the game is played on the touch-screen, the 3-D effect is a superfluous add-on, but there is something oddly endearing about seeing your little alien happily running across the top screen. The music tracks loop more often than we'd like, but that's a common issue with puzzle games.
One area where Balloon Pop Remix misses a chance to stand out is in the lack of multiplayer. As a single-player affair, the game works in short bursts but fails to hold interest over the long haul. A local multiplayer battle mode would have easily extended the gameplay time. It likely would have also encouraged additional sales, as players would want to bug their friends to download a copy in order to have more opponents.
As it is, Balloon Pop Remix is a touch above average, but it doesn't do anything to define itself as a must-play experience. Puzzle fans looking for something a little different will find that it makes for a nice time-waster when commuting or waiting in line, but for anything deeper, you'll want to look elsewhere.
Editor's Note: We're giving away copies of Balloon Pop Remix (as well as two other UFO Interactive titles) on the WorthPlaying Twitter feed today (October 5, 2012). Be sure to follow us for your chance to win!
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