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Bust-A-Move Universe (3DS) artwork

Bust-A-Move Universe (3DS) review

"What Arika doesn’t appear to have realized is that players will want some substance, even if they’re ready to forgive the lack of a three-dimensional twist. Past Bust-A-Move games have provided all sorts of bells and whistles that kept people playing for a long while, but here there’s very little reason to keep playing beyond the first few hours."

When Nintendo released the 3DS system, people predicted that in time, we would see games arrive on the platform that ignored the highly-touted 3D mode in favor of more traditional play, much as we saw games for the original DS that chose to ignore the available touch screen. Already, there are titles announced that will prove those people right, but those games aren’t available yet. Until they arrive, the closest we’ll see to a game that ignores the handheld’s 3D functionality is Bust-A-Move Universe from Square-Enix.

The Bust-A-Move series doesn’t need three dimensions. It has thrived for years with only two planes. It is, after all, a puzzle game franchise. The goal is to stop a descending wall of bubbles by placing three or more bubbles of the same color so that they connect. Then those bubbles will pop and any that are hanging from that cluster will fall off the screen, sometimes resulting in a huge boost to your efforts to rid the screen of those menacing bubbles of doom.

Bust-A-Move Universe does absolutely nothing to mess with that perfectly functional and engaging formula. There’s no 3D mode with a new perspective. One might imagine bubbles descending toward the player, growing larger as they get closer and making for a frantic play experience as you pop them and get a look at the wall’s higher regions. That’s not how things go, though, and it’s not how things needed to go. Arika, the developer who handled this latest iteration instead of series creator Taito, wisely realized as much.

What Arika doesn’t appear to have realized is that players will want some substance, even if they’re ready to forgive the lack of a three-dimensional twist. Past Bust-A-Move games have provided all sorts of bells and whistles that kept people playing for a long while, but here there’s very little reason to keep playing beyond the first few hours. There are a total of eight “worlds” here. Each consists of 10 stages. Along the way, you can find keys to rescue imprisoned friends and then at the end of each world, there’s a boss encounter that you win by sending rapid-fire bubble bursts toward a moving target. You can retry any stage within each world as often as you like if you get stuck, so odds are pretty good that you’ll reach the end of the game--in spite of the gradually increasing difficulty--within a few short hours.

In Arika’s defense, the development team did include a few incentives to replay those stages. Acquiring the keys that you’ll need to obtain in order to free your pals--who have no apparent purpose in the game except to be rescued--means that occasionally you must play differently than you otherwise might. You can’t just drop a cluster of bubbles that contains a key off the screen. If you do that, you miss out on collecting the key. No, you’ll have to actually pop some of the adjacent bubbles to grab the key. That fact comes into play in some of the later worlds, but it’s never a big deal.

To provide further incentives, the developers also included an in-game achievements system. There are 60 awards that you can unlock by doing some fairly obvious things. Beat a world and you get an award. Do so without continuing or using “special” bubbles along the way and you’ll get another award. So it goes, but you’re likely to earn the bulk of the rewards without even thinking about it, just by playing good Bust-A-Move.

Power-ups add an extra layer of complexity to the game, but they’re for the most part unnecessary. You’re quite likely to forget that you even have them at your disposal. Some will cause adjacent bubbles to burst. Others will clear away a line of bubbles wherever you choose. You gain new power-ups as you play, but it’s almost more fun to pretend that they don’t even exist.

Besides the main “Puzzle” mode, outlined above, the game also includes a “Challenge” mode. It’s not as exciting as it sounds. You choose between three difficulty levels and a few time limit settings (including infinite) and then you try to complete as many stages as you can within that time limit. There are some new special bubble types, including some that shift all of the bubbles left, right or up. The more stages you complete the higher your score climbs. The game keeps track of your best score in each game mode. For people who just want a relaxing round or who want to challenge themselves to get a high score, it’s a nice feature. It’s also the sort of feature that the game couldn’t have really justified excluding, though, so its inclusion doesn’t really count as a perk.

Though Bust-A-Move Universe keeps things simple, at least it does what it does proficiently. There’s no special 3D mode, as mentioned, but you can adjust 3D so that the bubbles stand out from the background. It looks sort of cool, even if it has no impact on the gameplay. The controls are responsive and allow for the needed precision. You can move your bubble shooter quickly left and right with the d-pad or the circle pad, or you can make smaller movements with the left and right shoulder buttons. A dotted line reveals the path a bubble will follow if you shoot it, so there are no unfortunate surprises due to a slight miscalculation.

Ultimately, the only real strike against Bust-A-Move Universe is the lack of supplemental modes and personality. It’s neat that you can free dinosaur buddies, but who cares when you never see them again or even get to select them as avatars? It’s neat that there’s 3D, but it doesn’t affect the gameplay in the slightest so it doesn’t really matter. The result is a package that gets the job done, but it’s hardly something that merits a recommendation if you already have a previous version of the game in your collection. Newcomers to the series could do a lot worse, though. It’s just hard to look at the $29.99 price tag--which is already lower than other launch titles by $10--as anything other than a price tag that needs a little more trimming.


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (April 24, 2011)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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pickhut posted April 24, 2011:

It's really hard to remember the last time a really good Bust-A-Move game was created. It just seems like they're cranking them out now whenever a new gaming console or handheld device is released.

Good review, btw.
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honestgamer posted April 24, 2011:

The Bust-A-Move game from Majesco for the original Xbox (Ultra Bust-A-Move, I believe it was called) was more robust and a better all-around experience. If you were to hunt down any of them, that would be the one.

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