Review: Bust-A-Move Universe (Nintendo 3DS)

Bust-A-Move Universe
Developer: Arika
Publisher: Square-Enix
Genre: Puzzle
Release Date: 03/27/2011

I’ll admit it. I’m a sucker for anything featuring Bub and Bob as long as it’s not Rainbow Islands. If it’s got those two adorable chibi dragons, I’ve played it. Hell, I own at least one version of Bust-A-Move (or Puzzle Bobble as I prefer to call it) or Bubble Bobble for every system I have, from the venerable NES to my Neo*Geo. Now that doesn’t mean I’m blind to when Taito lets Bub and Bob be attached to a stinker. Bubble Bobble Revelations is one of the worst games I’ve ever played and the only thing that has ever given me motion sickness. Bust-A-Move Bash! for the Wii was a stinker too. But when a new game in either Bobble series comes out, I know I’ll be playing it.

When the 3DS lineup was announced and I knew I’d be receiving one, Bust-A-Move Universe was my number one pick for the launch game I was going to purchase. Thankfully though, Square-Enix was kind enough to provide me with a review copy of the game before the official launch of both the system and it is now my third straight 3DS review. So far it’s been a push with me enjoying Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars, while finding Super Monkey Ball 3D to be less than desirable. So does Bust-A-Move Universe rival Space Bust-A-Move as one of the best incarnations of the series yet, or is the latest Puzzle Bobble title just a bust?

Let’s Review

1. Modes

Bust-A-Move is one of those classic puzzle games like Tetris that is still basically the same game as it was in 1994 when it first came out. Yet somehow, the game always managed to make each incarnation feel fresh and different enough from the previous version. In this case of course, you’re playing Bust-A-Move in 3D. Don’t think that’s the only change though.

The main mode, as always, is Puzzle Mode. Here you’re be progressing through eight stages, each containing ten rounds of bubble busting action. Now this is different from older versions of the game where there were twenty-six stages that you would pick and choose your way through in order to get to an end stage. It was a “Choose Your Own Adventure” if you will. It’s more streamlined here, but you’re also getting more puzzles per stage. The general rule of thumb was five levels per stage in most Bust-A-Move games, so you’re getting more content crammed into each stage, even if you’re not losing a bit on the replay value.

One of the big things added to Universe is the addition of a Street Fighter like special gauge. The gauge can hold three levels of special, with each level triggering a different bubble based power. This really changes the game and makes the newest version of BAM stand out from the pack. Puzzle Mode also features a boss fight at the end of each world, which is still relatively new for the series, along with a “Save Your Friend” bit that comes up in various rounds in a world. If you get all three keys spread throughout ten rounds, you will successfully rescue your pal and earn rapid fire attacks against the boss in the process

Challenge Mode is where you try to clear a specific set of bubbles in a one shot deal. This mode is highly customizable. You can select 100 seconds, five minutes or unlimited play along with three different difficulty settings , each of which makes Challenge Mode play noticeable different. This is a great option for when you’re tired of or frustrated by Puzzle Mode. You can spend hours just playing Challenge mode.

Now these are the only two modes in the game, but both are pretty deep and a lot of fun. Sure it’s no Space Bust-A-Move, which was the most recent version of BAM before Universe, but that game is pretty much the pinnacle of the series. For thirty dollars, you’re getting a very different version of the standard version of the game while still holding on to all the classic trappings of the series. It’s also ten dollars cheaper than any other 3DS launch title which makes up for some of the lack of content. A multiplayer mode and some of the extra mini games found in SBAM would have been nice, as would the customizing shop, but Taito and Square-Enix obviously decided the remixing of the classic game and the 3-D visuals would be enough to sate most gamers. It IS, but after Space Bust-A-Move, it does feel a bit lacking.

Modes Rating: 5/10

2. Graphics

I have to admit, I was shocked by how pretty Bust-A-Move Universe was on the 3DS. I guess it’s because the visuals have changed so little since 1994 but everything was so bright and vibrant. With new animations, backgrounds and a higher level of detail than in previous Bust-A-Move titles, I was more than happy with what I saw on my screen. Giant Bub in 3D is also well worth experiencing.

Now the visuals obviously don’t push the graphical capabilities of the 3DS. It is just bubbles after all, and there is only so much you can do with that, but the game does look very nice for what it is. It’s an update of a classic. Nothing more, nothing less.

Graphics Rating: Enjoyable

3. Sound

I love the music to Bust-A-Move. The most famous track from the series, Paopaotou E Ikou!, is is my top five gaming tracks of all time and the remixed version in Universe is probably the best version I’ve heard yet. In fact, ALL of the music in Universe is amazing. I wish there was a way to just get the soundtrack to this game because the entire score is just so upbeat and happy that I could simply listen to the game and be thoroughly entertained. Taito titles, like SNK ones, tends to have some incredibly soundtracks that are both overlooked and underappreciated. Out of all the launch titles so far, Universe definitely has the best soundtrack.

The sound effects in Bust-A-Move Universe are equally wonderful. Every little noise is understated, yet they all add up to a wonderful aural experience. Like all BAM titles, the game is almost as much fun to listen to as it is to play and whether it’s the sound of a massive bubble explosion or the weird little “Ready? Go!” noise that has stayed with the series since the begin, Universe is a joy to listen to.

Sound Rating: Unparalleled

4. Control and Gameplay

Puzzle Bobble/Bust-A-Move is sometimes cited as the first “Match 3” title. This is incorrect. Columns actually gets that nod. However Puzzle Bobble was a far more successful and popular game and while Sega eventually lost interest in their primary puzzle series (Anyone remember Sega Swirl?), Taito did not and Bust-A-Move has become the most famous and best-selling “Match 3” type game of all time, and that’s because nothing really comes close to the gameplay.

If you’ve never played a BAM game, it’s pretty easy to learn how, but it can be quite tricky to master. Your character of choice (almost always Bub) uses a bubble launcher to shoot bubbles at a bubble collective at the top of the screen. Your goal is to make all the bubbles either pop or fall off the screen by knocking them down. You can aim your bubbles with the launcher and you have two different speeds. One is fast for quick placement, while the other is slow and precise for getting just the right shot in by using the sides of the screen to act as bumpers for the bubble. Over time, the ceiling will descend and if you take too long, and the bubbles touch the ground, it’s game over. Bubbles pop when you create a chain of bubbles that are three or more of the same color. YOU have to make the chain though – if there are three or more bubbles on the screen when the game starts, they don’t break automatically. You are given a score based on the size of the chains you make along with how quickly you finish a level. It should only take you about five seconds to figure out the gameplay, but some levels can be pretty tough, ensuring that you’ll have to replay them multiple times before you figure out the solution.

The special gauge I mentioned earlier in the review really makes the game feel different from previous versions. Now instead of hoping and praying for a random super power based bubble, you can have one when you need it most…unless you spent it earlier. Deciding when to use the special gauge and what level to shoot off really can make or break a level and I really love this addition as it adds a whole new tactical level to the game.

As always, the seventeen year old gameplay of the Bust-A-Move series holds up perfectly and you can easily see why this is the second most successful puzzle series of all time after Tetris.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Unparalleled

5. Replayability

Although there are only two modes in Universe, they are also the two most popular forms of Bust-A-Move. The main version of the game features eighty levels and you’ll get a lot more playtime (as well as replay value) out of Universe than Super Monkey Ball 3D, which is also ten dollars more expensive. Challenge Mode can be customized in a variety of ways to ensure you’ll keep coming back for more. Look I spent TWO HOURS on just a single game of “Endless Bubbles.” TWO HOURS of Bust-A-Move and that was only a single round of endless play. In that entire time I could have 100%’d SMB3D. There’s no denying that the game is a little light in content compared to the versions of Bust-A-Move for the DS, but what Universe does have is very well done and will keep most gamers coming back for more.

Replayability Rating: Good

6. Balance

With more than a dozen versions of the game out there, Taito has had a long time to perfect the game in terms of balance. Each level is slightly harder than the last and then each world is slightly harder than the one before it. There will be levels you can just breeze through and some that it takes you a dozen or so times to get past until you finally figure out what you’re doing wrong. A good portion of the game not only involves see what bubble to have to launch, but the one coming after it. As well, with the addition of the special gauge you’re now in complete control of what, if any, special powers you use, as well as when you use them.

The levels where you save a friend or fight a boss are an excellent example of how the game adds something new without ruining the difficulty curve. You can clear a save a friend level without actually saving them without anything negative happening to you. You have two goals that you can accomplish – both of which allow you to proceed. One is easier but gives you a normal reward, while the other is more challenging and nets you help in the boss battle. Boss battles are also quite interesting, especially when you start having to deal with multi-colored bombs that you have to fire and make sure that different colors don’t touch.

The game has a very easy learning curve, and the difficulty increases just enough that you can tell it’s happening without ever letting it overwhelm you. I honestly can’t think of a puzzle game series that has lasted as long as Bust-A-Move and that’s primarily because the game is so well balanced that developers can keep thinking up new puzzles without either repeating themselves or getting trapped by the conventions of the series. Bust-A-Move Universe is wonderfully balanced and ensures that a gamer will be challenged throughout their time with the game.

Balance Rating: Unparalleled

7. Originality

Well, this is one area where the game fails to impress. Sure, Puzzle and Challenge Modes are both a lot of fun, but they’ve been done repeatedly over the years. Puzzle mode adds a few new twists like the friend saving, the boss battles and the super gauge, but it’s still most the same game as it has always been. Challenge Mode is pretty much untouched from the versions that have existed in the past. As we saw with Space Bust-A-Move, Taito can pack a ton of new content into this series and still have it feel familiar and fun – along with budget pricing. Bust-A-Move Universe has less content for more money, albeit it content with 3D visuals…but that’s just like every other game for the 3DS. At least Taito has renovated Puzzle Mode with a lot of new elements. That helps keep the game feeling somewhat fresh.

Originality Rating: Bad

8. Addictiveness

Bust-A-Move under any name or in any of its forms is a hard game to put down. The puzzles can be done in seconds or minutes, depending on one’s skill level and/or the difficulty of the puzzle itself. Even though I have Super Monkey Ball 3D and Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars sitting here as my launch title triad, Bust-A-Move has been in my 3DS since I got it and it’s not coming out any time soon. The game is that good…and that addicting. I FINALLY got the chance to start playing Dragon Age II Friday night. That lasted about an hour before Bust-A-Move Universe called me back with its siren’s song. Back to the Future: Episode Two hits PSN Tuesday and we’ll have to see if I can spare the ninety minutes or so to beat that or if I just stick with the adventures of Bub and Bob.

Now as I said at the beginning, I love this series. Universe might not be as good as Space, but with all the changes to Puzzle Mode, I keep coming back to see if I can beat my high score on a level as well as my best time.

Addictiveness Rating: Great

9. Appeal Factor

I’ve yet to meet anyone who hasn’t enjoyed a Bust-A-Move or Puzzle Bobble game. Even if it’s not their favorite game of all time, it seems to be a series everyone either respects or enjoys dabbling with on occasions. It’s honestly my favorite of the launch titles so far and it’s one that a lot of gamers will be more than happy with if they pick up. Factor in that universe is ten dollars cheaper than all the other 3DS launch titles and many a parent on a budget will no doubt pick this up just due to that.

So we have the cheapest of the launch games actually being one of, if not THE best title for the system coupled with name recognition. The end result should be a game that sells pretty well as well as one that should make anyone who picks it up a pretty happy camper.

Appeal Factor: Great

10. Miscellaneous

The 3D in Bust-A-Move Universe is some of the best that I’ve seen on the 3DS so far. It’s crisp, colourful, vibrant and the images leap out at you without any tearing or blurriness. The bubble screen really leaps out at you and everything looks great. The 3D is probably at its best when you are in Puzzle Mode because after each screen clear you are treated to a high res image of Bub (and sometimes Bob) in a cute little pose. Bub just flies right of the screen at you and although it’s a static image, it does give you an idea how nice 3D cartoons will look on the 3DS.

The downside is that the 3D aspect of the game don’t add anything to the overall feel. The game is pretty motionless except for your bubble launch or when things burst and all those it feels neat to be playing Puzzle Bobble in 3D, it also doesn’t really add anything to the overall experience. So the 3D looks great and it has the least amount of blurring or tearing in a game that I’ve played so far, but it also doesn’t really add anything to the experience . It’s neat but unnecessary, you know?

Miscellaneous Rating: Decent

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

Short Attention Span Summary
Bust a Move Universe is a bit shallow in terms of modes of play, but everything else about the game is simply wonderful. While the gameplay is changed slightly by the addition of a special bar, it really puts a whole new spin on the strategy of the game. Universe also looks great in 3D with vibrant graphics that leap off your screen and it has an insanely catchy soundtrack to boot. Best of all, it’s ten dollars cheaper than other 3DS launch games, so it’s relatively inexpensive along with being a sure-fire hit. The only real downside is that you can get Space Bust a Move for $19.99 for the regular DS (if you can find it…) and it has far more content and is also considered the best version of Bust-A-Move yet. Because of that, you might want to go the non 3D route, but so far Bust-A-Move Universe has proven itself to not only be a game well worth picking up, but once gamers will keep coming back to time and time again.



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4 responses to “Review: Bust-A-Move Universe (Nintendo 3DS)”

  1. Aaron Sirois Avatar

    In your opinion, what constitutes as a match 3 game? I would think the most famous of the that genre would be Bejeweled. (most likely best selling.) Bust A Move could be the most enduring.

    1. Alex Lucard Avatar

      Aaron – I would have thought so too, but looking at sales figures, Bejeweled has only been been popular in the west, while Bust-A-Move has been around longer and is popular everywhere. I have no doubt though, that Bejeweled will eventually eclipse it. Remember, Bejeweled has only been around for a decade while BAM/Puzzle Bobble has been around since ’94. As well, there are 27 versions of Bust a Move, not including arcade versions. So the figures add up quickly for it.

      It’s a lot like Pokemon vs Mario, where Mario has been around for since the early 80s and Pokemon since 96. Pokemon’s sold 210 millions copies of their games total (not included B&W, which will bring it up to 215 so far) while Mario has sold 240 million. So even though Pokemon has grown faster and is far more popular than Mario games, Mario has an edge in sales figures due to age and the sheer amount of games that are out. No doubt in five or even ten years, both Bejeweled and Pokemon will have surpassed the current titleholders in sales volume, but for now both hold the sheer volume of numbers.

  2. […] only one of seven games for the 3DS I’ve found to be worth holding on to (The others are Bust-A-Move Universe, Fire Emblem: Awakening, Kid Icarus: Uprising, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, Pokemon Rumble […]

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