Review: Bust-A-Move LIVE! (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Bust-A-Move LIVE!
Genre: Puzzle
Developer: Taito
Publisher: Taito
Release Date: 09/30/09


It’s honestly a bit of surprise it has taken this long, but Bub and Bob have finally splashed down on the Xbox LIVE Arcade service. We saw this one week with the warm reception we gave to Bubble Bobble Neo, but now the other well-known half of the franchise has touched down with Puzzle Bobble now being made available on the Xbox 360. This new entry, entitled Bust-A-Move LIVE!, delivers the classic gameplay to the Xbox 360 and definitely accomplishes what it sets out to do – the action here is as pure as it gets, but if you own a dozen of the series’ other titles and are looking for some new feature that will shake the series up, you might be able to pass up on this popping puzzler.

Bust-A-Move LIVE! offers up everything players typically expect from a puzzle game this generation: You can tackle a puzzle-based story mode (with 135 puzzles and future DLC additions), face off against a gauntlet of CPU opponents, play until you fail in endless mode, enjoy local two-player versus matches or take the game online to face another Xbox LIVE user. Sure, there’s nothing new or earth-shattering here, but the expansive amount of modes gives the player some value in their $10 purchase, especially if they truly enjoy the Bust-A-Move franchise. No matter what mode you choose, however, everything remains the same: Players fire colored (or various specialty) bubbles up into a playfield and by matching three or more bubbles of the same color, players can remove those pieces from the field. Sure, it’s never really explained to the player why they are doing this, but what more do you really want from a fun and easily accessible puzzler?

The major downside to the title is if players have experienced most of the franchise, most particularly the later installments, there will be no surprises to uncover in this title, it will just serviceably provide more of the same. However, at a lower price point and through its digital convenience, Bust-A-Move LIVE! should to be tough to pass up for any puzzle game fan. Even though no liberties are taken to freshen up the franchise, what is provided here plays just like the classics and is executed really well. The tricky bounce shots are still nerve-racking, the controls are still simple and very responsive, the title is still quite a time sink and players that only experienced the very early installments of the series may find some new life in a few of the mechanics such as the specialty bubbles. With the line of achievements, multiplayer and span of game modes, the title will likely have most players coming back time and again, just like most other entries in the series.

With most of the title being pound-for-pound identical to other entries in the franchise, I’ll put more focus into highlighting what has changed for this installment. The most obvious upgrade the title has received is in its high-definition graphical facelift, which, admittedly, is very noticeable even in a simplistic game such as Bust-A-Move. The iconic 24-bit sprites from the series’ origin have come a long way with vivid, colorful art, which even gives the bubbles more flair. The hardware jump also allows for more lighting effects which create some satisfying bursts as players match up their bubble pieces. While the graphics certainly won’t rival any of the powerhouse games on the system aiming for a realistic look, this is definitely the best I’ve seen the series look and it really gives the title’s art some character. Most of the sound does go unchanged, however, but that’s not a bad thing considering the franchise has some very memorable jingles and sound effects. The music and sound in the title fit right in with the series’ themes and round out an already impressive presentation.

A few other additions haven’t been implemented without a few issues, however. The Xbox 360 version of this title works in the hardware’s avatars as in-game cheerleaders, which, normally, would be perfectly fine, if not appropriate. However, these avatars in versus mode are placed at the bottom-right-hand corner of your playfield, and when the game gets down to the wire, this character model can actually obstruct your view of one to three pieces on the playfield. Also, while versus play is made available over Xbox LIVE, I witnessed some strange occurrences where the game fails to communicate the real-time gameplay, showing the opponent losing the round. However, the gameplay continued because the opponent had not actually lost, so both players had to just stay alive as the lack of communication also stopped the flow of attack bubbles from reaching the opponent’s playfield. Granted, this didn’t happen with every gameplay, but it happened enough for me that it became a crippling issue.

Also, while puzzle games are inherently tough against calculating CPU opponents, Bust-A-Move LIVE! doesn’t hold back at all, creating virtually no balance. The CPU opponents become brutal fast as they nail the most appropriate shot with superhuman accuracy at all times. I was sweating as soon as the second opponent, which really throws off the balance of the title. However, given how easy it is to get into the other modes of play, there is something everyone can enjoy, perhaps making the CPU versus mode the final step on the performance plateau. Even so, playing the title with another human being is where the franchise has always shined, so if you’ve got some company, chances are you’ll never even touch any of the other modes, let alone the versus CPU mode.

The Scores
Story/Modes: GOOD
Graphics: GREAT
Sound: VERY GOOD
Control/Gameplay: GOOD
Replayability: VERY GOOD
Balance: ABOVE AVERAGE
Originality: DREADFUL
Addictiveness: GOOD
Appeal Factor: VERY GOOD
Miscellaneous: ENJOYABLE
The Final Rating: ENJOYABLE GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
Much like any other Puzzle Bobble entry, simplicity serves as the hook to reel in puzzle gamers and those that enjoy casual games. While Bust-A-Move LIVE! is another offering of what is essentially the same game I’ve played at the local bowling alley in the “Ëœ90s, its gameplay and fun factor has kept it relevant and fun even to this day. The lack of additions to the formula and a few technical and balancing hiccups might turn some gamers away, but there have definitely been worse entries into the Puzzle Bobble series. As always, the multiplayer will take you a long way if you wish to spend $10 on another entry in the series, but there is still a handful of other modes and more than 100 levels to experience for your purchase. Bust-A-Move LIVE! doesn’t do anything to revolutionize the game, but even with a mix of pros and cons, the title still proves to be enjoyable.

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