3DS | SQUARE ENIX / ARIKA | 1 Player | Out Now
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25th May 2011; By KnucklesSonic8
If you're already really familiar with the antics of the Bust-a-Move games, you should pretty much know what you're getting into without having to do much research. Players control a crane on the bottom of the screen that holds coloured bubbles ready to be fired off. Along the very top of the playing area you'll find an arrangement of bubbles that must be wiped clean before you can advance to the next round. Making matches of like-coloured bubbles is the aim of the game, and if you've never given the formula a try before, you really should get on it. It can be very addicting.
Holding Left or Right on the +Control Pad or Circle Pad will move the crane into position. Emitting from the crane are dotted lines that will help you judge where your bubble will end up. You can also press the L or R shoulder buttons to move the device ever so slightly, very useful for more precise placements. The center of the crane shows the bubble that's currently equipped as well as the one that's next in line. Simply press the A Button to fire and watch as the points start rolling in. And that's basically all there is to know about the controls.
For every couple of moves you make, large blocks will move in from the top of the screen to push the bubbles closer to the bottom. When this is about to occur, the stage will shake and a strange noise will play to warn you of what's about to take place. What you don't want is a bubble reaching the very bottom, because the game would end in a Game Over. So long as you play with some sense of strategy and don't fire bubbles haphazardly, this shouldn't be much of a problem.
When playing on the standard levels under the central Puzzle Mode, you'll have a couple levels that feature Key Bubbles. These can be used to free one of your buddies who have been held captive by the world boss, but only if you collect all of them. These aren't essential for your survival or anything, but you will obtain a special 'Rescue Bonus' which will be a valuable asset during boss battles. Instead of firing Bomb Bubbles one-by-one, you'll shoot them off in quick rapid-fire succession, significantly improving your chances of victory. Although they did switch things up a bit with coloured Bomb Bubbles, the majority of boss fights remain the same and aren't entertaining to experience.
Strategy comes into the mix in two main areas. The first has to do with what's referred to as 'Drops'. If you clear a series of bubbles that are in one colour (say green) while there's another different-coloured grouping attached underneath it, the ones underneath will fall off the stage. This, in turn, will reward you with more points than you would have earned had you gone for the other set first. Additionally, players can take part in a bonus round where you have a limited amount of time to fire off as many bubbles as you can to rack up big combos. This occurs when you create more than six drops through one move. It doesn't last very long, but it is mildly enjoyable while it lasts.
A second way in which strategy enters into the mix is through the Special Bubbles. Bursting normal bubbles will not only give you points, but also add energy to the Special Gauge. On each level, you'll earn a different upgrade -- Spark Bubble for Level 1, Wild Bubble for Level 2, and Laser Bubble for Level 3. These can then be brought into play using the X Button. Spark Bubbles can turn all bubbles within a small area to one colour, while Wild Bubbles can be used as a link in any colour match. That last one is the most powerful as it can clear off a whole clump of bubbles, but it isn't necessarily the best one to use at all times. Not only will none of these bursts earn you points, but if a Key Bubble is caught in the laser's path, it won't actually count. In case you forget what each one does, a dialog box appears each time one appears to describe what it does, which is very useful if you happen to share this game with a friend or family member.
When this game released in Japan as, I had heard good things about the 3D use, but now that I've played it for myself, I can't say it's all that I expected it to be. First of all, turning 3D on as you peruse through the menu screens makes no difference, with one exception. All the 3D effects are seen during gameplay, and this comes in the form of little characters scattering or keys popping out at you as bubbles burst. In both these instances, the reach is small, but it's still fairly noticeable.
The backgrounds are also mildly subject to the 3D effects in becoming a little more life-like. As planets spin, you can spot satellites flying by, a family of penguins gathering or having some run-down ruins stick out a bit. The Astro Machine world sported the most impressive background visuals, but otherwise I don't think this is a game to get for the 3D effects. Yes it works, but it could have made more of an impact if you ask me.
Other areas of the game's presentation weren't bad at all. I appreciated the way each world had its own variation on the main Bust-a-Move puzzle theme. I found the first few to be a bit annoying, but progressively the music got better the further I got into the game. The music used on the Credit Roll and the Main Menu were also good, so overall I was pleased with this aspect of the game. I could have done without the silly font choice used in certain areas of the game, but I guess that's a minor thing compared to everything else.
Hardcore fans of the franchise will be pleased to hear that Universe still retains the addicting gameplay that has long accompanied each release. But the degree to which you actually enjoy yourself is really debatable. I mean, challenge isn't a big component in this particular release so if you're the type of person that quickly zips through games, it's something to keep in mind. I definitely noticed a progression in the bubble layouts. In fact, I can recall one level in the final world where the order you cleared bubbles off the playing field made the difference between moving on and losing. But otherwise, there's not much else to be said.
I honestly wasn't always having fun with the game, and I feel the game just loses its staying power before you want to call it quits. And it seems like with each session, your ability to remain engaged wanes despite the fact that the game may be hard to put down on your first go. One thing is for sure: if you're still thinking about buying a 3DS and are planning to pick this up, this shouldn't be your only game.
Truth be told, there's not much to keep you going for weeks to come and even for an arcade title like this, it's not something that's excusable. Puzzle Mode is your standard option of play, where you'll travel to 10 different worlds, each consisting of 10 rounds of bubble-bursting action and a boss fight. Then there's Challenge Mode, where you go for a set amount of time or endlessly in hopes of surviving as long as you can. There are three different variations (100-Sec Bubbles, 300-Sec Bubbles, and Nonstop Bubbles) and three difficulty settings to select. This mode also introduces Gimmick Bubbles which do help add a bit of variety but not a whole lot.
Also accessible through the Main Menu is a Results area where you can view Rankings, Play Stats (e.g., total play time, number of bubbles burst) and Awards. Since you can't attribute your name to a high-score, it's not all that fulfilling to go back and set new scores on levels you've already completed. Awards are achievement-like objectives that you can aim for if you're looking for something else to strive for in the game. I thought this was a shallow way of trying to encourage replay value, especially considering your "reward" is just an icon. It's not like you're unlocking concept art or anything like that. Sure you can challenge yourself to do something daring like clearing a stage without using any Special Bubbles, but how long do you honestly think this will last before you tire of it completely?
Aside from the 3D visuals, Bust-a-Move Universe features no additional 3DS-exclusive functionality that distinguishes this from past efforts. There's not even a CPU Battle option, much less a local multiplayer component. And to me, that's a huge oversight. I believe the developers relied too heavily on the IP's tried-and-true gameplay mechanics to the point that they totally missed out on many opportunities with longevity and value. I don't know how else to view this release except that it's been designed to make a quick buck early out of the 3DS launch gate.
The amount of effort put into this release is a bit depressing as only hardcore fans of the formula will be able to look past its faults and still have a genuinely enjoyable time. Bust-a-Move Universe's lack of replay value will quickly come to the fore after just a few hours, so regardless of how neat the 3D aspect may appear, there just aren't enough reasons for consumers to feel confident about spending $30 on this.
17/30 - Below Average
Gameplay 7/10 - Smooth control system, bonus mode, gimmick and special bubbles, progression with the layouts, boss battles
Presentation 7/10 - Mediocre menu presence, varied backgrounds, use of the 3D aspect ranges from fair to good, mostly pleasant music
Enjoyment 2/5 - Repetitive boss fights, Drops allow for some strategy, wears off after a while, lack of motivation to improve high-scores, lacks challenge
Extra Content 1/5 - Challenge Mode, lacking multiplayer of any kind, worthless achievements, could have been so much more, low value even for $30
Equivalent to a score of 57% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating)