For those who aren't familiar Puzzle Bobble is a late-90s arcade puzzle franchise from Taito featuring Baburun and Boburun from Bubble Bobble. Fans in the rest of the world may remember this game better as the ill-titled "Bust-A-Move." It's had five arcade iterations, two of which were ports on the Neo Geo MVS (Bust-A-Move and Bust-A-Move Again) and numerous home console and handheld releases.
The game doesn't disappoint in terms of the actual content: you get a new set of Puzzle Bobble levels using the 3D rendered character model from Bubble Bobble Wii and the usual series of chained colourful bubbles (all containing Bubble Bobble baddies) that you try to pop by shooting your own coloured bubbles at them in an attempt to make groupings of three or more. You have a timer that counts down and the platform the coloured bubbles hang from will descend incrementally to pressure you as you attempt to clear the screen. As was typical of the series following the first game you get to choose from a couple dozen levels via branching paths arranged in an inverted triangle formation so that there's plenty of replay value since you'll only experience six or seven of these in a single game -- assuming you can clear all of them! If the default difficulty doesn't suit you there's an option to change to Easy or Hard from the default Normal difficulty.
If that wasn't enough there are two extra puzzle packs. As with Bubble Bobble Wii these aren't actually extra downloads, but unlockable content -- only a new 1 block file is downloaded which contains the unlock data -- and they are 200 points each as with the Bubble Bobble Wii extra level packs. For a moment I was quite excited about these because going into the game shop area the first was indicated as "Puzzle Bobble 2" and the second "Super Puzzle Bobble" and "Puzzle Bobble 3" -- for a moment I thought this meant I was going to get emulated versions of these arcade games, but I was slightly disappointed to find that actually these are a selection of levels from these three games. All told you're paying 1200 points and get three different single player Puzzle Bobble games that fit in 254 blocks. Not too bad!
Of course there's also Battle Mode which in typical Puzzle Bobble fashion can be played against a 2nd human player or against the computer. Against the computer you face a series of 8 enemies from the original Bubble Bobble game and can choose from 8 different play modes every time you play. Your opponents will increment through boards labelled A-H which have different properties that increase the difficulty by having different colour patterns, causing bubbles to appear when opponents clear groupings, adding rainbow bubbles which act as blockers until adjoining bubbles are cleared, and having bubbles decent with more to clear after set intervals. It's a good way to allow the player to control the level of challenge faced.
The basic menu presentation is a bit lacking and the music isn't as catchy as the music in Bubble Bobble Wii, but the in-game backgrounds are nice space scenes with constellations and crystals and the game itself looks and plays well. I would like to have seen the full cast of crazy characters from Puzzle Bobble 2-4 in the Battle Mode with the accompanying story, so I'd still like to see emulated versions of the Puzzle Bobble arcade games, and given that a four-player version of Puzzle Bobble has appeared on the Dreamcast -- and the presence of four-player play in Bubble Bobble Wii -- limiting Battle Mode to two-players seems odd. Those issues aside, my Puzzle Bobble fix has been provided. Cheers, Taito!