Oh, what a small universe it is.
My usual review tack is to start with an anecdote or innocuous and possibly inane observation that (with fingers crossed) relates in some way to the game in question. After that I’ll try to slip into the positives before slinging the dirt around – all in all, a nice, neat, little formula. However, I just can’t do it with Bust-A-Move Universe. The only course of action that I will allow myself this time is to get the one huge, glaring, giant matzoh ball of a defect out of the way first.
[image1]This is a puzzle game without multiplayer. It’s peanut butter without jelly; Han Solo without Chewbacca. I can’t fathom a single reason that a new Bust-A-Move would be released on a fresh system in this day and age without a versus mode. There are no online multiplayer, no local multiplayer, no StreetPass functionality – one is the loneliest number indeed.
And there’s really no excuse because, after all, this is a long-running franchise that has already established versus mode in earlier installments. It probably took Taito more work to design the 3D than it would take to code in a mode that’s already been designed! Add the fact that it costs more than other versions that did include multiplayer, like options on WiiWare and XBLA, and there’s very little reason to give this launch title a look.
The only modes that the game does offer are Puzzle and Challenge. To anyone familiar with the Puzzle Bobble gameplay of shooting bubbles to create groups of three or more to pop them before a slowly descending ceiling crushes you, the Puzzle mode’s eight worlds of ten levels each will last all of two hours.
[image2]The gameplay gets a little tweak this time around, at least, in the form of power-ups that you earn as you keep popping: Spark Bubbles change all of one bubble’s surrounding bubbles to the same color, Wild Bubbles count as all colors simultaneously, and the all-powerful Laser Bubble can decimate half the screen in one shot. Dropping six or more bubbles at once will also start bonus time up, in which you can rapid-fire bubbles for a few seconds which all get destroyed en masse at the end.
There’s good news in the form of boss battles at the end of each world. The bad news, however, is that they’re laughably easy, made even easier if you freed a dragon buddy by popping “key” bubbles during the world – it basically devolves into rapid-fire blasting until the boss is dead. And even lamer, failing to kill the boss in the time limit doesn’t impede your progress at all; the only thing you lose is some piddly bonus points.
The Challenge mode isn’t as fun as Puzzle mode, either. You can go for a high score in 100- or 300-second time limits, or try the insanely boring non-stop challenge. The problem with non-stop is that it takes forever for the game to pick up in difficulty. I mean, you’ll be playing for an hour and a half minimum before those dastardly bubbles even come close. You can quick save during non-stop mode, but you can’t play any other mode upon returning until you either finish that game or delete the data and lose all the points you built up. Just walking around town collecting play coins with the 3DS’ pedometer (or maybe just watching paint dry) would be a better use of your time.
[image3]The 3D is used mildly, but it’s not bad. I’ve found that 2D sprites seem to pop out better on the 3DS than actual 3D models do, and the various 2D pictures of Bub (or is it Bob?) that are briefly overlaid on the screen when you score well during bonus time are fun to look at. The rest of it, like seeing the world rotate beneath the playing field, is nice but totally irrelevant for a puzzle game.
Bust-A-Move Universe is a tiny game that costs full price. The only replay value comes in the form of awards, which are your everyday run-of-the-mill Achievement equivalents. But even the awards are just text saying you earned them; there aren’t even unique icons between awards. With no multiplayer to be found and half-assed single-player modes that entertain for maybe three hours if you’re lucky, this is one of the sorriest puzzle games I’ve seen in a long time.