A portable launch can always use a good puzzle game. Whether it’s Tetris or Lumines, the genre’s great for short sessions, easy to learn and hard to leave home without. In the 3DS’ rather-robust launch lineup, Bust-a-Move Universe stands alone in the genre, and that makes things… interesting.
Why? Bust-a-Move, the Taito (now a part of Square Enix) puzzle series, hasn’t really evolved over the years and, at least on its face, there’s no real reason to play it in three dimensions. The gameplay, if you’re unfamiliar, has you shooting colored bubbles at a descending formation of bubbles, trying to create clusters of three or more of the one color to remove them and clear the field. It stars Bub and Bob of Bubble Bobble fame, but really only in the way Dr. Mario was about a plumber, which is to say it’s all secondary aesthetics.
The game, as its predecessors, features two modes: Puzzle Mode, with specific formations to clear, and a random mass of bubbles in Challenge Mode. Clearing bubbles builds a meter with special attacks. The low-level special changes all bubbles around a target to one color. The medium attack is a wild bubble that counts as any color that completes a chain. The top one? It wipes out an entire swath of bubbles, and in puzzle mode, it’s an easy way to wipe out the few bubbles holding the entire formation to the ceiling. (Of course, you don’t get points for that, either.) Clearing a formation that also removes a large segment of connected bubbles gives you “bonus time,” essentially an invincibility mode when you can rapid-fire bubbles and all of them are removed at the end of the time regardless of whether they matched anything.
Puzzle Mode’s worth a playthrough, and you can go back to increase your score in any given area if you’d like. Each area is capped by a boss, but the gameplay in these areas are more like a simple fixed-position shooter than anything else, and they seem a bit incongruous. Challenge Mode is good for sucking a lot more time, as it’s all about survival instead of finding the perfect solution.
Of course, why would you want to play this in 3D? We’ve played it, and it’s hard to say. For the most part, it’s pleasant, as the bubbles rise from the background when reaching their initial position, and the various planet backdrops make for interesting wallpaper. Developer Arika kept it subtle, and that’s a good thing. Just one gripe, though: the series’ signature screen-shaking to indicate that the bubbles are about to get pushed downward? We found that this regularly kicked our eyes out of focus. It could have been a bit more understated and not caused this.
Still, there’s not that much game here. What’s on the card is polished, though, and Square Enix priced the game at a lower $29.99 price point, so that gives it a few breaks. What’s more, it’s Bust-a-Move, and we can’t think of much they could add to give it more value later, so that makes it a smart choice as a launch title. In a launch field of flawed designs, it’s hard to fault a game that’s just not that ambitious.
Pros: Perfectly-functional version of a game many know and love
Cons: Our Pro was “perfectly functional,” which doesn’t get your heart pumping