Publisher: Square Enix / Developer: Taito / Played on: Nintendo 3DS / Price: $29.99 / ESRB: Everyone (Comic Mischief)
The ubiquitous Bust-A-Move puzzle series has appeared on nearly every home console since the first game’s debut in 1994. The series, starring the cute dragons from Bubble Bobble, has changed little in that time. Despite this, someone must be buying these games since they are seemingly churned out for the public’s consumption at a faster rate than most paranormal teen romance novels. Case in point is the Nintendo 3DS launch title, Bust-A-Move Universe. Does this incarnation of Bust-A-Move use the 3DS hardware in an innovative way or is it a tired rehash of an almost twenty-year-old franchise?
Following the adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” or more likely “eh, whatever,” Bust-A-Movie Universe doesn’t stray far from convention. Fans of the series will be instantly familiar with the gameplay. For the uninitiated, this consists of firing variously colored bubbles from the bottom of the screen in an attempt to hit three of a similar kind in a row. To accomplish this you aim your bubble launcher with the help of an arrow. Often you must bounce bubbles off the sides of the stage to place them into the correct position. Over time, the un-popped bubbles at the top of the screen are gradually pushed toward the bottom. If the bubbles cross the line at the bottom, then it’s game over.
Bust-A-Movie Universe features two gameplay modes: puzzle and challenge. In challenge mode you must pop as many bubbles as possible in an allotted amount of time. Puzzle mode involves completing a series of stages, consisting of ten puzzles each. Each stage exhibits a particular theme (like outer space or a desert) but are concluded with a pitifully simple boss fight in which you must rapidly fire bombs at a large enemy.
Essentially Taito has released the same Bust-A-Move game we’ve played for the past decade. Given this lack of variety, it’s difficult to believe that even series novices will find Bust-A-Move Universe entertaining. At the very least the game should have included a multiplayer option. It doesn’t, and as a result feels like a step backwards considering that Bust-A-Move Bash! for the Nintendo Wii supported up to eight players!
Taito attempted to take advantage of the Nintendo 3DS hardware by incorporating some 3D effects into the gameplay. The backgrounds feature rolling scenery and the puzzle screen itself appears elevated. Yet, the graphics are decidedly the same two-dimensional (albeit colorful and charming) sprites that fans have seen before. Thus, the 3D aspect of Bust-a-Move Universe feels like an afterthought. Notching down the 3D settings does nothing to affect the gameplay. Overall, Bust-a-Move Universe is not the title I would suggest playing to show off the Nintendo 3DS to your friends.
The game’s sound effects are the typical chimes and bleeps you expect from a puzzle game. The music, although remixed to fit the theme of each stage, is the same basic tune. One wonders why, if so much effort was put into remixing the same instrumental song, couldn’t Taito have simply composed new tracks?
The game’s simple controls adequately serve the gameplay. You line up your bubble launcher with D-pad or circular analog and then fire the bubble with a press of a button. Stylus support is relegated to navigating through menus. In fact, the touch screen is hardly used at all during actual gameplay.
Bust-A-Move Universe – from the puzzles to the music – feels stale. There simply are not enough new features to warrant purchasing it. In addition, the lack of multiplayer features is a huge letdown for fans. Overall, Bust-A-Move Universe reeks of an attempt to rush a product out the door simply to hit the Nintendo 3DS launch date. Anyone who absolutely must play the game will still have a hard time justifying the full price.