Review: Space Bust-a-Move (Nintendo DS)

Space Bust-a-Move
Genre: Puzzle
Publisher: Square-Enix
Developer: Taito
Release Date: 07/28/09

If there is one constant in gaming, it’s the Bust-a-Move series. The series has appeared on nearly every console out there with few changes to the fundamental gameplay. Part of the reason is the fact that the addictive puzzle game hardly requires any changes as the mechanics of the original are so solid. It’s like Tetris, the original is so well done that there are only so many changes that can be made to the game before it actually makes things worse instead of better.

Take the previous Bust-a-Move for the DS as an example. Instead of using the time tested gameplay mechanics they decided to use a slingshot mechanic for shooting bubbles and the ability to swap between the current bubble and the next in the queue. This made it harder to aim, and yet at the same time removed a lot of the challenge of the game.

Hell, one of the PS2 versions of the game completely removed Bub and Bob in favor of some lame generic anime characters. Luckily Bub and Bob are back for this game and all the poor gameplay choices of the other DS game are long gone in favor of the classic Bust-a-Move gameplay.

If you are unfamiliar with the Bust-a-Move games then here’s are the basics. At the bottom of the screen there is an arrow that you can move left or right with a certain color of bubble right underneath the arrow. On the top of the screen there are specific patterns of colored bubbles. The goal is to launch the bubble from the bottom of the screen to the top and match up to at least three of the bubbles together. Once you do they fall down. With some modes the longer it takes the more bubbles fill the screen and it will constantly move downwards so that you will need to constantly need to clear bubbles. Near the arrow at the bottom you can view the color of the bubble that will come up next.

It’s based on those simple mechanics that the rest of the game is built around. There is a basic single player Story Mode where Bub and Bob are charged with saving the universe from something evil, which they can only do by collecting Cosmo Bubbles. There are different planets to visit and each one has three different stages with 5 levels per stage. During one of these stages a Cosmo Bubble will appear. You collect the Cosmo Bubble by destroying the bubbles that are connected to it, while also trying to avoid destroying the Cosmo Bubbles. This is occasionally trickier than it seems and while you can proceed and beat the levels without collecting the Cosmo Bubble, you will not be able to fight the end level boss without them.

That’s right, it’s a puzzle game with boss battles. These are typically done with the boss on the top screen with a layer of bubbles on the bottom. You pop the bottom layer in order to clear the way to the top so that you can pop the bubbles that are rotating around the boss. Some of the bosses will have abilities linked to different bubbles which will effect the way you play in the same manner that items during multiplayer will. It might mean that it will invert the arrow controls, hide the arrow completely, speed it up or slow it down, or with the later bosses some or all of the above. This provides a great challenge on top of the standard story levels.

That’s not all though, where Space Bust-a-Move excels over previous Bust-a-Move games is in the amount of variety in the gameplay modes.

There’s a Puzzle mode which is basically the story mode puzzles without the story.

There’s Endless mode, which as the name suggests the game just keeps continuing to throw bubbles at you to pop until you can’t do it anymore.

There’s a single player Versus mode where you can choose a character and then challenge a gauntlet of other Bust-a-Move characters. This mode challenges you to beat all of the other characters in the best of two out of three rounds, after which if you win you then face the next character. You earn points for this mode that increases with each new opponent. Different characters also play differently so it constantly stays interesting and challenging as you continue.

Then there’s a Challenge mode that pits you against a set time limit to try and get the highest score that you can in the time provided.

Pressure mode is the most difficult as you are given specific pattern to clear with only five shots to use, so it’s one of those modes which will cause you to restart over and over again just to clear a board. But it is also one of the more rewarding modes in the game.

Factory mode is sort of like Puzzle mode. You are given a set puzzle and a certain amount of shots to clear the puzzle. In some ways this is the most frustrating of all the puzzles as you might think you are doing really well only to screw up all the remaining shots.

Then there is versus against other players. Super Bust-a-Move supports the Nintendo WiFi network so you can play with people online or you can play with up to three other players locally even if you are the only person to own the game. Actually let me veer off the main course of this review for a moment and give a shout out to DS developers in general:


As you can tell, I think this style of multiplayer is great for a DS game. You can play your friends and Bust-a-Move is such an addictive game it’d be shocking if they didn’t run out to buy a copy of their own . Personally I love any DS game where my wife and I can play where I don’t have to buy multiple copies of the game, so go Bust-a-Move.

This isn’t even getting into the fact that every mode earns you points towards unlockable content.

Space Bust-a-Move has a ton of modes to keep you coming back for more, even if some of the modes are more punishing than others.

Graphically the game is good for a DS game. One of the more impressive feats for the game is the fact that you can unlock a bunch of different visual styles for the bubbles. You can have little snack bubbles or numbers or Japanese characters, there are a ton of different styles to unlock. Otherwise the visual style is the same the game has used for the last 15 years. The biggest problem is the fact that it tries to squish everything down into a tiny screen. Trying to aim when you are used to playing on a larger screen at first is complicated, and setting up complicated shots by bouncing it off the walls seems near impossible, however once you adjust to the screen size it is fine.

That is also a control issue. The game controls perfectly once you adjust to the screen size, but until then this can be an issue. It is hard to make minute decision with the arrow when a fraction of distance can mean the difference between passing a puzzle and failing. This is a learning curve, but once you adjust it becomes second nature.

The audio works perfectly for the game but is also pretty simple and nothing amazing. You’re not going to be searching for the soundtrack, except for the lonely one or two of you who might actually do so.

Every mode gains you points, which is fortunate as you’ll spend those points in a store to unlock other graphical themes and modes. Initially the Puzzle, Pressure and Factory modes are locked, but they do not cost much to unlock and the different modes give you a lot of reason to go back and play the game over and over again.

The bottom line is that Space Bust-a-Move forgoes the asinine decisions that hampers the previous DS game and instead went with the classic gameplay, a ton of modes, single cart and WiFi multiplayer, and lots of things to unlock as you progress through the game. Honestly I consider it one of the best, if not the best, Bust-a-Move game ever. For the amount of content in the game and the low price this is a no-brainer. If you like puzzle games and own a DS, and haven’t played the dozen other Bust-a-Move games, than you owe it to yourself to pick up this game.

The Scores

Modes: Classic
Graphics: Very Good
Audio: Good
Gameplay: Classic
Replayability: Amazing
Balance: Classic
Originality: Poor
Addictiveness: Classic
Appeal Factor: Classic
Miscellaneous: Classic

Final Score: Great Game

Short Attention Span Summary:

Space Bust-a-Move is not just a great game in a classic series of puzzle games, it might just be the best one yet. It’s portable, features a ton of modes and several unlockables, Space Bust-a-Move is pretty much a must own game for the DS if you are interested in this style of game at all.



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One response to “Review: Space Bust-a-Move (Nintendo DS)”

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