Puzzle Bobble Universe (3DS) Review

I’m a huge Puzzle Bobble fan, so when I heard that publisher Square-Enix were bring one of my favourite puzzle game series to the 3DS, I knew I had to get it, however I’ve grown a bit weary of Taito’s efforts to port the series to almost every platform in existence. And I use the term ‘efforts’ loosely, as it seems that the development team are content to just rehash the same game with a few new features here and there and then call it a day. But this was a brand new game for a brand new handheld system with the promise of 3D graphics, so how could I not be just a little excited? Could it be possible that with Universe, Taito will finally bring something new to the table gameplay-wise, apart from fancy stereoscopic 3D? In short, the answer is no. In fact it seems that although the 3DS has extra cartridge space to fit in more of that lovely bubble bursting goodness, the developers have actually taken out parts that would be expected of a Puzzle Bobble game, leaving a puzzler that seems stripped down to the point where it feels like a DSiWare game.

I’m pretty sure that everyone has played Puzzle Bobble at least once in their life, however, for the two or three who haven’t I’ll do a quick rundown of the gameplay. The top of the 3D screen is filled with bubbles of different colours, and you have to shoot your own bubbles at them to match at least three of one coloured bubble. Upon matching the colours the bubbles will pop, with any bubbles hanging off them popping as well. If you pop a bunch of bubbles off the screen using this method then you’ll go into extra time, where the clock stops and you can fire off even more bubbles without any of them popping until the end of extra time, resulting in chains of bubbles being popped and falling off the screen. Gameplay is spiced up a bit by the fact that you can bounce bubbles of walls, and every so often the bubbles will move closer to the bottom of the screen, but apart from that it’s as straightforward as it sounds. This gameplay is exactly what I love about the series; it’s simple, it’s fun and is the main reason behind Puzzle Bobble’s success as a series. New developers Arika only made a few changes to this formula in the form of powerups, which I will go into later on.

Puzzle Bobble Universe only has two modes: Puzzle, and Challenge. Puzzle mode is what you’d call the main meat of the game. In it, you must save your dragon friends from an evil villain. This mode is split up into eight worlds, each with 10 rounds and a boss at the end. Power-ups serve to make the process of popping all the bubbles on the screen a little more fun, and are obtained in a way similar to Tatsunoko vs Capcom’s Hyper Combo guage. By bursting bubbles you fill up your ‘Special Gauge’. The Special Gauge has three levels, and depending on how many times you have filled your Special gauge up you will get one of three power-ups. During the rounds you must find and pop bubbles containing keys, which, upon obtaining all of the keys, will free your dragon pal, which in turn lets you fire rapid-fire bubbles at the end-of-world boss once you get up to it. The bosses in this game involve you shooting bombs at your opponent until its shield breaks, Put simply, these levels are extremely disappointing, not only because of the fact that they pose almost no challenge (especially if you have collected all the keys prior), but also by the fact that if you somehow don’t beat the boss, you still move on to the next world anyway. The biggest downside of this mode is its length; I beat the entire mode 100% in just under three hours. Sure, I wasn’t expecting a massive amount of levels to play through but I would have liked the main game to have lasted at least twice as long, especially since this is a full-priced 3DS release.

Challenge mode gives an option of a 100-second, 300-second, or endless game. The problem I have with this is that in endless mode it’ll take about an hour of playing before the gameplay gets even mildly difficult. The 100 and 300-second modes feature the same difficulty curve, meaning that you won’t have much of a challenge for the short amount of time you’ll be playing it, unless you turn up the difficulty, which only means that you don’t have a guide to see where you’ll shoot your bubbles. Power-ups also feature in this mode, however, they’re slightly different to the ones in Puzzle mode, instead appearing as bubbles on the screen that you have to pop to use.

Strangely absent is a multiplayer mode, which is oftentimes where most of the fun of Puzzle Bobble lies. So it’s a bit disappointing to see that it’s missing from a game that clearly could have supported it. There are no online leaderboards either, which could have really extended the rather short life of the game, although there is an ‘Awards’ system, that is essentially an achievements system with 60 awards to be acquired, although there’s no real reward for getting them.

The visuals and 3D effect are nice, with most of the game being made out of 2D sprites that really pop off the screen, but overall the developers took the smart decision of not making the 3D too in your face, but enough to make you notice it. The music is a standard Puzzle Bobble affair – fun, chirpy and happy. There are 8 different arrangements of the main theme that play depending on the world you’re in, and provides a nice variety.

Graphics 7.0

Bright and colourful, the 3D effect works well and is subtle enough to not be annoying.

Gameplay 7.5

Its Puzzle Bobble, so despite all the shortcomings, I still had a lot of fun with the game while it lasted.

Sound 7.5

None of the tunes were particularly annoying, with no looping problems and plenty of variety. Sound effects remain unchanged from the original, and I love them for it.

Tilt 3.0

The Puzzle mode will last you about three hours, and for most will have little replay value. Challenge mode is also flawed in its difficulty curve, and the lack of multiplayer means this would probably be a better fit for a $5 3DSWare game.

Value 7.0

While it didn’t last very long, the time that I was playing it I enjoyed it immensely.

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Final Thoughts

Puzzle Bobble Universe is a really fun little puzzler, as are all Puzzle Bobble games, however if the developers had put just a little bit more content and modes into it or made it a downloadable game then I would recommend this game in a flash. However, the lack of multiplayer and content in general make this a really hard game to recommend.

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Adrian Verna

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