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Puzzle Bobble 3D: Vacation Odyssey (PlayStation 4) artwork

Puzzle Bobble 3D is as its name implies, taking the series concept of matching three bubbles of the same color into the third-dimension. If you so happen to be new to the series, Puzzle Bobble involves having the twin brother dragons, Bub and Bob, aim and shoot random bubbles out of a cannon, towards a ceiling constructed with bubbles of varying colors. All of the games prior perform this on a 2D plane, similar to something like Tetris. In 3D, the abstract bubble structures are no longer attached to a ceiling, instead glued to a core floating in the background, all while the Bubble Dragons and their cannon are positioned in the foreground. In this game's case, the objective is to dig towards the core to destroy it, which can be done when only one bubble remains attached.

There's a catch: the 3D in the title doesn't just mean the visuals, as it also applies to the bubble structures themselves. Some bubbles are facing your direction, some are diagonally slanted in all types of angles, and there's even bubbles out of your view. So then how does something like that work from a gameplay standpoint? Can you move said structures around with one of your analog sticks? Nope. The only way you can "move" them is with each shot you make; if you shoot at something on your left, the whole structure will spin in that direction upon contact. That's... pretty much how you move the back bubbles to the forefront.

Okay, so how does something like that work from an entertaining gameplay standpoint? It doesn't. The biggest problem with 3D isn't that it presents a beloved concept into a new format, but how it fails to translate that into a fun game. Now if it was done under the guise of a leisure, unpressured pace it, well... it would still be an average product. Instead of a more relaxing flow, you're usually handicapped with such rules as completing a stage with only 15 or 20 shots, and in others you're under a brief time limit that normally lasts less than two minutes. Given those restrictions, gameplay becomes frustrating under the new format. Every shot has to count, yet the game basically forces you to waste shots just to rotate a structure multiple times.

Oftentimes, you're in a situation where you don't want the structure to rotate; you've already hatched a plan to destroy a particular part of the structure because you know it's the quickest way to victory. This is a common strategy in previous titles, yet it's discouraged here. The Puzzle Bobble series has always had an element of random luck incorporated into the gameplay, but skill-based actions always prevailed in the end. Got a color you don't want? Just cast it underneath another bubble, then bust the bubble above to get rid of both; two birds, one stone. Seemingly impossible scenarios unravel with patience and ingenuity, one smart move at a time. This game, however, punishes you for "wasting" bubbles with its limited set and you can't even toss unwanted bubbles away into the background, because they'll turn around and land on a random spot of the structure.

Unlike its predecessors, 3D sadly favors luck more so over skill.

Even when you understand this new system and try overcoming it with dexterity, the game does everything in its power to make for an irritating experience. When you're aiming and shooting, this is accompanied by a line showing where it will land, not to mention bubbles of matching colors will glow if you're over them. However, due to your cannon being stuck in one place, paired with the design of the structures, this poses issues. Positioning can take longer than needed for each shot because the line is erratically bouncing around spots, due to the structures being in 3D. It gets worse as the rumble function occasionally disrupts your positioning, since it shakes every time you move the line on a bubble. Annoyingly, there's no option to turn it off. You can imagine how well this goes over in timed stages.

In this stage, a larger structure broke off into several smaller structures. One of them decided to break forward, obstructing most of the view. This is the absolute worst possible scenario considering the bubble shot limit in the top right...

Given these problems, you're probably thinking at least the game doesn't force you to shoot at a structure that moves on its own. Th... this holds true for the first 13 stages. Out of 100. During this long journey you're usually introduced to a new gimmick every ten stages or so, such as minus or plus bubbles that change your remaining shot count, or colored barriers that have to be destroyed before you can access the actual structure. Some of these are actually interesting gimmicks, but the problem is that they're placed on top of an idea that isn't that well-designed. Others actually make completing a stage more irritating because of how buggy they are. Case in point, if a barrier just so happens to be on a bubble with the same color, there's a likely chance your shot won't connect with the barrier and make it vanish; instead it will phase through the barrier and connect with the bubble.

It's genuinely difficult finding something positive about 3D, because nearly every new aspect or modification is just a worse version of a standard Puzzle Bobble game. Shooting bubbles out quickly is no longer a possibility, as you literally have to wait for an animation to play out of Bob tossing a bubble to Bub for every shot. Suffice it to say, you will lose many a timed stage due to the blue guy not tossing you one fast enough for the winning shot. This also applies for power-ups, going through several steps before you can use them. First you have to select a power-up with the d-pad, sometimes twice because the first didn't register. Then you have to actually activate it with another button. Then you have to watch Bub go through an animation phase of activating said power-up. Then you can finally shoot it.

But wait! They shoved in an optional VR mode that includes making shots with the controller sticks in first-person. Could this possibly improve the gameplay experience in some way? Admittedly it's neat seeing the game from a different viewpoint, especially since you get a closer look at the structures, not to mention you make shots in the motion of a slingshot. Unfortunately every single flaw follows into VR, especially the sensitive-twitchy positioning when lining a shot; the stick controls actually intensifies the problem since you're moving them around constantly. VR just further cements that no matter how much stuff you throw on top of a very flawed core, it doesn't change the fact that you're still playing a game with a very flawed core.

Really, if you're itching to play a Puzzle Bobble game for your PlayStation console, you're better off purchasing the ACA NeoGeo Puzzle Bobble 2 port done by Hamster. It's cheaper and much more entertaining than the misguided design of Puzzle Bobble 3D.

dementedhut's avatar
Community review by dementedhut (September 22, 2022)

I am 'fraid of 3D bubbles.

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JoeTheDestroyer posted September 26, 2022:

Every time I log on here and see this review, my brain reads it as "Vatican Odyssey" and I think, "What a strange direction to take a franchise about bubble-spitting dinosaurs..."
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dementedhut posted September 27, 2022:

I was gonna comment that there's a Pope enemy in Bubble Bobble, but realized I was actually thinking of another Taito game, The Fairyland Story.

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