Bev Chen
22 May, 2011

Puzzle Bobble Universe Review

3DS Review | We hope this isn’t all the universe has to offer.
Ah, Puzzle Bobble. We remember it as being the reason that a lot of time was wasted during our schooling years. We remember the first time we felt really pleased with ourselves when we cleared a level in a clever way. We remember the frustration when we were one bubble away from clearing a level, only to have the ceiling lower past the fault line. What we don’t remember is when the games became a series of rehashes, which is why when we booted up Puzzle Bobble Universe, the latest of the titles, we were expecting something magical. Sad to say, we had to walk away disappointed.

The main difference between Universe and its predecessors is, obviously, the fact that it is on a system that has 3D graphical capabilities. If you are one of those who is getting it based purely on this feature though, prepare to be disappointed. Universe could have been a game where the 3D effect would have resulted in a visually unique game, but instead the use of the technology results in a flat image sitting on top of another flat image. At best it’s the developers ‘playing it safe’; at worst it’s the developers being lazy. This can be applied to the game’s music as well. Each stage uses the same music each time, but changed slightly to better suit the level.

It is very tempting not to help, especially if you keep popping up on my screen like that.

It is very tempting not to help, especially if you keep popping up on my screen like that.
The story is an improvement, albeit a small one, and involves familiar characters Bub and Bob finding an unmanned spaceship. Unfortunately for them, the spaceship is a trap and Bob gets captured by a boss. Meanwhile, doors are opening in nearby planets, releasing floods of bubbles that turn into space debris and threaten the safety of the universe. It’s up to Bub to rescue his brother and stop the debris from spreading. While we do think that this story is quite a clever way of tying the narrative and bubble popping gameplay together, Universe isn’t very good at telling it. The little animations seen at the beginning of every level (in which a palette-swapped dinosaur gets captured... yes, at the beginning of EVERY level) are repetitive and don’t offer any sense of story progression. There wasn’t any kind of satisfactory narrative conclusion either – just a credits roll. “That’s it?” we asked out loud. Yes, that was it.

We were hoping that to make up for it, the game would unlock a new mode, but to no avail. While this might be a case of counting our chickens before they hatch, the reason for our wishful thinking is the meagre offering of game modes that Universe has. Aside from the aforementioned story mode, the game features a challenge mode, in which players can tackle a non-stop shower of bubbles or see how many they can pop in one hundred or three hundred seconds. In other words, much of the same that would have been experienced during a story play through. Story mode is likely to last you a fair while though; there are eight worlds to work your way through, each with eleven stages (one being a boss battle). Each world also sees you trying to free a ‘friend’, which is done by successfully collecting keys in certain stages. Fail to rescue your friend or destroy the boss in each world and you won’t reach 100% completion.

The laser bubbles come in handy when tricky stages rear their heads.

The laser bubbles come in handy when tricky stages rear their heads.
Boss battles are one of the major gameplay additions to Universe, and involve shooting and matching identically coloured bombs on the outer shell of a boss. It is an interesting take on the standard gameplay formula (for those uninitiated, this comprises of players shooting bubbles onto a board while trying to match three or more of them in the same colour in order to make them vanish), even if all battles could be won by simply pressing ‘A’ as fast as possible. In addition to this there are three stages of powerup bubbles which are available as you fill up your gauge: spark bubbles, which change all bubbles in a certain radius to one colour; wild bubbles, which act as a multi-coloured bubble; and laser bubbles, which destroy all bubbles in their line of sight. These powerups are earned as you burst bubbles. It has to be said that these powerups are very well thought out and manage to keep the game balanced. Challenge mode, while also making use of this powerup system, also has gimmick bubbles, which are activated when you burst bubbles connected to them. These have various effects such as destroying bubbles in a certain radius, pushing all bubbles further up or giving you bonus points. Of course, all the familiar tricks like ricocheting, subtle nudges of the pointer and dropping numerous bubbles at once still apply in Universe.

It’s hard to say what the most disappointing aspect of Universe is, simply because there are so many to choose from. There is the uninspired use of 3D effects, the repetitive music and lack of content. There’s also the issue of the aging gameplay, though to be fair, Universe does a good job of ushering it in for a new generation of gamers. This may seem like a cynical outlook, but Puzzle Bobble Universe might be an example of games to come for the 3DS, i.e. tacked-on 3D and very little substance to back it up. We do hope we are proved wrong.
The Score
Puzzle Bobble Universe’s main faults lie in the lack of content and uninspired 3D effects. However, the gameplay will still be fun and appealing to a lot of gamers, especially those that haven’t had the chance to experience a Puzzle Bobble game before. 5
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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