Review: Bust-A-Move Plus (WiiWare)

Bust-A-Move Plus
Publisher: Square-Enix
Developer: Taito
Genre: Puzzle
Release Date: 07/06/2009

I hate Bust-A-Move. Rather I hate the name. I prefer the franchise under the Puzzle Bobble name. I mean, it’s a Bubble Bobble spin-off, featuring Bub and Bob. Why not leave the connection apparent. Plus Young MC was so two decades ago.

Unlike the Bubble Bobble Series where you take two dinosaurs kids through 100 levels of monsters and mayhem, Bust-A-Move is a vertical “Match Three” based puzzle where Bub or Bob turn a bubble launching crank to hurtle bubbles in each other in an attempt to get through a maze of varying levels. The game has seen over a dozen incarnations, including one that was one of the earliest titles for the Wii that sported awful controls. I bet those people who paid fifty dollars for that game are kicking themselves two years later with this six dollar release, eh?

This is Taito’s third WiiWare title after Bubble Bobble Plus and Rainbow Islands: Towering Adventure. IS this latest attempt to rekindle the Bub and Bob duo back into mainstream recognition worth a Lincoln and a Washington tag team, or is it a waste of space?

Let’s Review

1. Modes

There really isn’t a story to Bust-A-Move as it’s just guiding Bub (But not Bob) through a maze 25 zones, each of which contains five levels. You’ll play through six stages for a total of thirty levels . You’ll have to go through the game multiple times to play through every one of the possible 125 levels in the game.

Your other option is “Battle Mode” where you can play against a friend or the CPU. Here getting bubbles matched or a chain where bubbles fall of the screen temporarily speeds up the rate of your opponent’s ever descending wall, but that the only real Vs. aspect.

If you were looking for a lot of variety, you’re not going to find it here. However you’re getting a remixed version of the original Puzzle Bobble for six dollars, so 125 levels and two modes is actually pretty good. You also have the option to download extra games for a mere two dollars each. You can choose pack one which is Puzzle Bobble 2 and pack two is both Puzzle Bobble 3 and Super Puzzle Bobble. WOW. I know last year both Mark and I thought it was a bit sleazy that Square-Enix included a lot of downloadable content right off the bat for My Life as a King, but this is different for three reasons:

1) You can enjoy Bust-A-Move Plus without downloading either pack, whereas you pretty much needed the My Life as a King downloads.
2) Both packs are entirely separate stand-alone games that feature the same gameplay.
3) They are two bucks each, whereas the DLC in MLaaK totaled more than the original cost of the game, spiraling it over thirty dollars for the whole game. With BaMP, your grand total is a whopping ten bucks, and for a superior game to boot.

So it appears Square-Enix has learned its lesson with DLC and then some. For only four follars, you can get three more versions of Bust-A-Move which increases the replay value of this game, but really brings back a lot of nostalgia for long time Bub and Bob fans. For six dollars, or ten with the DLC, there’s actually a lot of content, stages, and variants of the game to play through.

Modes Rating: Enjoyable

2 . Graphics

Bust-A-Move Plus isn’t going to blow your mind visually, but it is quite pretty. You’ll never a better looking Bub in your life as he walks along the map between stages. I’m a sucker for Taito’s cute little dino dudes, and Bub looks great even while he’s turning the crank that controls the pointer for your bubble launcher.

Each of the twenty five stages has their own background, but you’ll see that static background for the of the stage’s five levels. There’s not a lot of detail or depth to them, but if you were to waste any time looking at the backgrounds in this game, you’d be dead.

The bubbles in the game come in eight bright and shiny colours, and it’s really nice to see a game making this much use of colour. Unlike the original version of this game, you can’t see the original bad guys from Bubble Bobble in the cubes, which is a bit of a disappointment, but at least it doesn’t take away from any of the fun.

Really, there’s not much here to gape at. It’s a match three game, for crying out loud. Still, what the game lacks in detail or 3-D character models with a ton of polygons, it makes up for it by retaining the charm of the original versions of these games.

Graphics Rating: Decent

3. Sound

If there is any really flaw with this Puzzle Bobble remake, it’s with the sound. The original music from these games is missing. This is a shame, because the original music, sound effects and voice overs were adorable and a good part of the fun. Even worse, the replacement music is pretty bad. It doesn’t fit the feel of the game at all and feels quite dull. At times it can even be annoying, especially if you were looking forward to the original. It’d be like changing the Bubble Bobble theme, except I think Taito and S-E know that would be as a kin to video game blasphemy as it gets.

Sound effects are nothing special. It’s serviceable bubble popping noising or a “You lose” sound when the wall gets too far down. Overall the aural aspects of Bust-A-Move Plus were a real let down, especially as the original games had such great music and sound is one of the things (along with visuals) Square-Enix is best known for.

Sound Rating: Bad

4. Control and Gameplay

Controls are pretty simple: just hold your wiimote like an NES controller, use the D-Pad to aim and the 2 button to fire off your bubble. Remember that you have to fire off your bubble in a certain amount of time or the game will do it for you, because it’s EVIL like that. Again, your goal is to clear the screen of bubbles my match three or more bubbles of the same color together. When you do this, the bubbles disappear. If there is anything hanging from the bubbles you matched, those fall off for bonus points. Repeat until you win or lose.

There are special bubbles that can help you, like exploding bubbles which, well, explode, or star bubbles which disintegrate every bubble of the particular color you launched it at. There are also bubbles that can hinder you, such as rainbow bubbles that can’t be destroyed until you match three, and then it becomes a bubble of the colour you just eliminated. Annoying! There are also wooden support blocks, which can’t be destroyed save for exploding bubbles or by falling off the screen. Although they don’t kill you when they hit Bub’s level, they do an amazing job of impeding your progress. You will swear like a sailor at U-4. Just trust me on this.

The controls and gameplay are almost exactly the same as they have always been before, save for these special bubbles, which debuted in later Puzzle Bobble/Bust-A-Move games, so they make their first appearance here. My only actual complaint is that the aiming of the crank seems slower than in previous versions of the game. I even tried my Saturn and PC versions of the game to test this theory, and lo, it is true. Due to this slowness you might find yourself struggling on puzzles you used to ace, if you can even remember them, but it’s just a matter of getting faster and thinking a move or two ahead.

The gameplay in Bust-A-Move is as classic as ever, easily learned, but tricky to master.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Classic

5. Replayability

With branching paths and 125 total puzzles in just the basic version of this game, there’s a lot to see and do here. However, when you factor in the ability to download three other Puzzle Bobble games for four more dollars and things expand dramatically. It’s quite feasible that you may never encounter a particular stage just because you keep forgetting to choose that letter!

I’m still a bit taken aback at how affordable Square-Enix made this. With so many puzzles and classic gameplay, it’s hard not to think about booting this up each time you turn on your Wii, even if you were planning on playing another game altogether. I can’t really imagine anyone playing the game more than one play-through in a sitting as it can get quite frustrating, but you’ll keep coming back to it time and time again.

Replayability Rating: Good

6. Balance

For the most part, Bust-A-Move Plus is a pretty easy game. Although the bubbles you get are completely random, you only ever get ones that match colours already in the game. However unlike previous versions of the game where the bubble frequency and ratio is balanced, BAMP could have used a bit more work. There have been times where I’ve gotten six of the same colour in a row when that colour everyone BUT what I needed. There was even one time (U-5) where I can document I actually did get colours other than what was in the game. Instead of red or blue or orange…I got green out of nowhere, which is the biggest WTF you can possibly have in a Bust-A-Move game. I’ve never even heard of something like this happening before, but there you go.

Another issue is that although the game is very easy for most of your playthrough, your last stage ramps up the difficulty so much, you’d swear the game has SNK Last Boss Syndrome. I would go through the game without dying once, but regardless of the last stage I would be dying up to a dozen times in a row per level. That’s a huge jump in difficulty that comes without warning and as such, it may frustrate a gamer to no end, or even turn them off the game entirely. However, when you beat the game it’s a real feeling of accomplishment because of this.

Some of the puzzles and especially the bubble color ratio/frequency could have used some tweaking as it is noticeably off, but not enough so that it ruins the game or even strongly hampers it. Instead, it’s merely you losing your high score for that stage by having to use a continue. Such is life.

Balance Rating: Mediocre

7. Originality

Bust-A-Move Plus is a remixed remake of several Puzzle Bobble games. As you might imagine this tends to kill the concept of innovation right there. Bust-A-Move is arguably the second most ported/remixed game ever after Tetris. There’s a reason for that. The games are quality fun and never get old.

However the fact I had severe deja vu on a lot of these puzzles really does spell out how bereft of originality this particular game is. The only thing new here is that you can get all the classic Puzzle Bobble games via internet download for ten bucks. Which admittedly, is awesome.

Originality Rating: Worthless

8. Addictiveness

It’s hard not to get sucked in by Bust-A-Move games. The gameplay is so simple and so charming you’ll find yourself breezing through a few puzzles in mere seconds, only to be confronted by one that stumps you. This stumper usually comes late in the game and although you COULD just walk away, you find that you can’t. You’re so close to the end, and a set of five puzzles only takes about five minutes so…

Thirty minutes later you beat that particular puzzle. The rush that comes with it is exhilarating and you’re so proud of yourself that the positive energy lasts…until you come to another stumper. Repeat until the game is beaten. It’s amazing how such a simple game with only two movements and one button press can keep you glued to your screen for hours. Bust-A-Move is a perfect example of how simple and straightforward is sometimes better than complex and convoluted.

Addictiveness Rating: Great

9. Appeal Factor

Bust-A-Move has survived for this long with over a dozen variants for one reasons – it is amazingly fun. I’ve never encountered anyone who HASN’T enjoyed this game. Bub is adorable, the bubble popping is simple yet fun, and it’s one of those games you can pick up even if you’ve never played a video game before. It’s intuitive and addicting and is the type of game that appeals to everyone, regardless of your age, skill level, country of origin or genre preference. Not liking Bust-A-Move is like not liking air or life; it automatically pegs you as a crazy deviant. Whether you’re playing by yourself or against a friend, Bust-A-Move Plus is guaranteed to entertain.

Appeal Factor Rating: Unparalleled

10. Miscellaneous

Here’s the awesome thing. If you tried to buy all four Puzzle Bobble variants that you can get in this game, you’d have to pay more than six dollars. If Square-Enix and Taito released them on the Virtual Console, you’d be paying at least twenty dollars for the originals. For half that, you get all the games with some slightly remixed puzzles, brand new visuals and well, less than enjoyable music. Tell me that’s not an amazing deal! The fact S-E was willing to release so much high quality content for a fraction of what the originals would cost has more than made up for my grumpiness towards My Life as a King. An awesome remake and/or compilation, depending on if you buy the DLC, across the board.

With this, the Bubble Bobble and Rainbow Islands WiiWare games along with the DS getting Space Bust-A-Move in a week, this is really shaping up to be the year of Bub and Bob. Now, can we talk about changing the name back to Puzzle Bobble here in the states?

Miscellaneous Rating: Unparalleled

The Scores
Modes: Enjoyable
Graphics: Decent
Sound: Bad
Control and Gameplay: Classic
Replayability: Good
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Worthless
Addictiveness: Great
Appeal Factor: Unparalleled
Miscellaneous: Unparalleled

Short Attention Span Summary
It doesn’t matter whether you call this game Bust-A-Move or Puzzle Bobble, it doesn’t changes the fact that this latest rendition of the franchise is chock full of awesome. For only six dollars, you’re getting a remixed and repainted version of the original game, and for only four dollars more you can download three more complete Puzzle Bobble titles in two DLC packages. With classic gameplay, characters and visuals, I can easily say that Bust-a-Move Plus is up there with Bubble Bobble Plus and Gradius: Rebirth as the best games released for the WiiWare this year.



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