If I had to classify each genre with a level of difficulty, puzzle games would probably rank down at the bottom. Why? For the most part, puzzle games have a way of starting out insanely easy, and then having so many levels to figure out that the learning curve moves at a crawl. As always, there is an exception to every rule, and obviously I wouldn't mention that unless this game were that exception.
The concept of the game is this: You're sitting at the bottom of a Tetris-esque playing field, looking up at a group of colored balls (the cameos of Bubble Bobble's Bub and Bob would lead you to believe that they're bubbles, but they're too opaque to be so named), and your job is to fire more balls from a cannon-like contraption in the hopes that you make 3 or more of the same color stick. Doing so, you make all those balls, and whatever other balls which are hanging from them, drop out of play.
Simple? Hardly. Although the first level of the "quest" mode is simple enough, the game gets tough real quickly. After defeating said opener within 30 seconds, it took me about 10 tries to beat the next level. I am not a novice player by any means, thus I know it's not my ineptitude that's causing me to fail so quickly. Other levels, such as the "challenge record" mode, which is to this game as the A-type is to Tetris, and the Vs. Mode (and especially the Vs. Mode) also tend to fast-forward the challenge to get to the tough parts.
Most frustrating is the part of the game that really should be most entertaining: the head-to-head competitions, in which you challenge another player or the CPU at ball-dropping. Unfortunately, any fool who thinks they can win in that game is likely to be soundly defeated by the flunkies you have to get past first. While sabotage is a common theme for any puzzle duel, it seems to be overdone in this game - that is, you can be severely handicapped since your opponent managed to fell five orange balls instead of three, thus sending two extra balls for you to contend with, most likely in the inconvenient spots, including behind your "drop dead" line even when other spots are available.
One of the irritating rules of the game is that numerous identically-colored balls can stick together and not drop - one of the same color must be shot from the cannon and stick to the bunch for that to happen. This would not fly in any other puzzle game: If a random capsule fell to make a 4-in-a-row in Dr. Mario, those pieces would be eliminated. If you were enslaved during a match of Yoshi's Cookie, and during that time your opponent moronically made a row of cookies for you, not only would they count, the "Slave" would end automatically. I hesitate to think why Taito could bend the rules to the point of shattering just to create more awe-inspiring chain reactions.
Although the challenge is enough to scare away those who lack sufficient lateral thinking - for to succeed in this game requires you to envision where a ball will go before you shoot it - veterans will find the game mildly entertaining, if not for a number of relatively frustrating parts of the game. One more irk - in the "Quest" mode, you only have so many continues. That alone is not a problem, but they even carry over when you use a password, which is a problem. Isn't that the point of passwords?
The rating is saved, however, by some nifty audiovisuals. While I hammered the initial release of Bubble Bobble for being cute enough to have "quite possibly spawned Barney," the saccharine presentation is more appealing this time around, largely because it isn't overdone. The game itself isn't cute; its surroundings are. As for the music, the Vs. Mode and Challenge Record tunes are OK, but the "quest"* mode music is catchy, upbeat, and liable to get stuck in your head.
The play control is for the most part, pretty good. You have plenty of time to shoot your bubble (approx. 10 seconds) so speed in not an issue. What is, though, is the fact that those balls are so darn sticky. Try shooting a ball into a gap between another ball and the wall and you'll know what I mean. Even worse, mistakes in this game are much more difficult to rectify than any other puzzle game I can recall.
Once again, I caution against buying this game if you're a novice, or even a borderline amateur. Only the true puzzle experts will be able to handle this game effectively. But it doesn't mean you can't try...
* - Technically, it isn't the "Quest" mode - the game has it listed as the 1P mode - but this is a more suitable term.
|Play Control: ||
|Technical Score: 14
|Aesthetic Score: 13
|Overall Score: 75%|