Stardate: some made up space number that doesn’t mean anything. I find myself seated behind some sort of strange alien artillery. When prompted, it fires large mutli-colored bubbles against an even larger cluster of bubbles, bursting them in a chain when three or more make contact with the same color. I can’t help but feel a sense of déjà vu after each successive shot, but I swear I’ve never explored this region of outer space before. Overwhelming familiarity aside, the terrors of these far dark reaches increase ten-fold when my aim is off; bubbles stack and begin to descend, building up to the black void of a crushing, mangled death.
This all sounds incredibly deadly, but it manages to be comforting at the same time. Besides, Bub and Bob—the squat, bounding protagonists that originated in Taito’s Bubble Bobble—are here to help every step of the way on this neverending journey to the stars.
Space Bust-a-Move is precisely what it sounds like, and the formula will be familiar to anyone that’s either passed through a well equipped arcade or, stacked just like those darn bubbles, a bargain bin loaded with previous iterations released in the 15-year span since Puzzle Bobble‘s Japanese debut. This time, Bub and Bob have been conscripted to assist in the defeat of Devilin and the return of the Cosmo Bubbles, one of which can be found in each of the game’s stages.
There’s a decent amount of game here for those that fancy bubbles and the popping that comes along with the territory. Each planet in the galaxy is host to three stages, which in turn are comprised of five rounds. Mess up on one of the five and it’s back to the beginning of that stage, a feature that becomes hazardous when the difficulty ramps up in the game’s latter portion. It never gets to the point of being unmanageable, but by the time I had neared the end, I was consistently retrying from small mistakes that wouldn’t have been so devastating in the beginning. Fortunately, as the stages got tougher, so did my crack corner trick shots. Bang!
Each planet has a boss battle, as well, typically involving some giant cartoon beast throwing down assorted bubble patterns as obstacles to their own bubble-clad weak points. The real challenge in the game, however, is securing those Cosmo Bubbles in each stage. Destroying them ruins any chance at capturing them, so they have to be dropped safely from other bubble clusters, and all of them are required to truly face the last planet and put an end to Devilin’s wicked threat.
To be honest, I thought I had played enough Bust-a-Move in the past to last for the rest of my life, but I was surprisingly entranced throughout my galactic voyage. Maybe it’s the lasting charm of Bub, Bob, and their children’s storybook tale, but I would recommend this to any fan of a solid puzzle game. There are a ton of options in the single-player package, and that’s not even getting into the multiplayer offerings, which come in handy after thoroughly conquering Story Mode. Taito could (and maybe they will) release another Bust-a-Move next week, but this should be all the bubble popping anyone needs for the time being.
System: Nintendo DS