Besides Space Invaders and Bubble Bobble, Bust-a-Move aka Puzzle Bobble is another one of Taito’s popular series. The Bust-a-Move series started a trend of cutesy anime puzzle games that lasted for a few years or so. The first game in the series was released in 1994 for the arcades and ported to home consoles the next year, like the Super NES and most unexpectedly the 3DO. A few years after the game originally came out, there were already 3 sequels made for the arcades. Later games in the series would be ported to the PSX, N64, etc. Even when there are several sequels, does the original still hold up? Well, let’s find out.
When the game starts up, we see a nice intro of Bub & Bob in a hand-drawn look. Then the title screen appears and we see full sprites of the two playing around. Getting past that, there are a few options: 1P mode, versus mode, challenge record, and options. In 1P mode, you must pop all the bubbles in the level before they get below the line. In versus mode, you must make sure the bubbles get below the opponent’s line before the same happens to you. Only by “popping n’ dropping” bubbles will bubbles appear on the opponent’s side. Challenge record is like endless mode from Tetris DS since you have to pop as many bubbles as possible in a single level. Options presented in the game are self-explanatory.
The gameplay should be familiar to anyone that has played a Bust-a Move game before. A pattern of bubbles consisting of various colors rests at the top of the screen and you must pop them all to clear the stage. The bubbles will only pop if one of them collides into at least 2 or more of the same color. When a bubble hangs below other bubbles, it will drop down once those bubbles have been popped regardless of color. After a certain amount of moves have been made, the ceiling and existing bubbles will lower and if you’re playing challenge record, a new layer of bubbles will appear on the top. You’ll lose if the bubbles get below the line. The scoring system in this game is pretty well-done. For each bubble that was popped, you’ll earn about 10 points each. However, dropping bubbles (they hang below the bubbles that will be popped) can earn you many more points. For each bubble that was dropped, you’ll earn 20 points plus double that for each additional dropped bubble. For example, dropping 2 bubbles earns you 40 points while dropping 3 bubbles earns you 80 points. If you’re good at the game, you’ll be able to achieve an extremely high score. There are also some special bubbles in the game. Fire bubbles for example, will clear out all bubbles surrounding them up to a certain distance, the lightning bubbles can clear out an entire line of bubbles, and so on.
There isn’t much to talk about in terms of music. It’s mostly lighthearted stuff and gets the job done. As expected, the main theme is in the game and sounds just as good as it ever was. It would be nice if there was more music available during gameplay however. The graphics aren’t the highlight of the game or the series either. The sprites of Bub & Bob on the title screen look pretty good for a 16-bit game. The backgrounds obviously are simpler than the ones in later games in the series. There are also some nice little graphical details like the enemies being stuck in bubbles and then falling down once those are popped. You can see either Bub or Bob operating the bubble cannon. Besides those 2, enemies from Bubble Bobble make an appearance, mainly as opponents you fight in versus mode as well as being trapped in bubbles.
The biggest problem with this game is that there isn’t much to it. Later games in the series added stuff such as branching paths, the ability to pick characters, a story mode, etc. Why pay around $10-$20 for this game when you can get Bust-a-Move ’99 and Bust-a-Move 4 each for the same price or even cheaper? Not only that, but the game can be a bit tough for newcomers, especially in versus mode where you and your opponent are constantly under pressure from each other. Spend some time in the 1P and challenge record modes before you head to versus mode. Last, but not least, it can be pretty frustrating to line up a shot for a good combo only to have the bubble land in another position, thus screwing up your chance to get a good score in 1 shot and possibly costing you the game at some points.
Overall, there’s still some fun that can be had with the game, but the sequels can be had for a cheaper price. There’s really no point in playing the original aside from curiosity’s sake. I would recommend getting either Bust-a-Move ‘99 for the PSX & N64 (also called Puzzle Bobble 3) or Bust-a-Move 4 for the PSX and Dreamcast.
3 out of 5 stars.