Review: Puzzle Bobble Plus! (WiiWare)

The third Bubble Bobble series remake to hit WiiWare. Is it any good after the somewhat disappointing Rainbow Islands?

Puzzle Bobble - or Bust-A-Move as it's known in North America - is perhaps the most well-known game in the Bubble Bobble series. Almost everybody's played it in some way or form, with multiple versions and a ton of rip-offs over the years. With that in mind, does this newest version offer anything appealing for those who've played the other instalments or is it best left alone?

As always, the general gameplay is completely unchanged - as Bub from Bubble Bobble (strangely, Bob is missing in this version), you spin a large wheel which shoots bubbles. You have to aim these at other bubbles attached to the ceiling, which will slowly come down - match up three of the same colour and they'll disappear. You have to clear all bubbles off the screen before they descend all the way to Bub and his wheel, or you lose!

There's a total of eight differently coloured bubbles, but you'll only shoot those of the colour which still need to be eliminated: for example, if all red bubbles are completely gone (or there were none in the first place) then red bubbles will never be loaded into the machine to fire. A very useful gameplay mechanic is that you can bounce bubbles off walls, and you can use this technique to get bubbles into hard to reach spots. If you manage to destroy bubbles closer to the ceiling, which are "holding up" lower bubbles, the lower bubbles will have no more support and will instantly drop off the screen and be cleared as well.

For Puzzle Bobble Plus!, Taito has decided not to stick with the bare basics of the original arcade game - aside from the regular coloured bubbles, some stages will also have "guard blocks" and "support blocks" scattered between the bubbles. The guard blocks are indestructible metal blocks which usually hold bubbles up from above, with the only way to get rid of them to eliminate all surrounding bubbles. Support blocks seem to be made of wood, and they do pretty much the same thing, but the big difference is that if they reach Bub, you won't lose: they'll simply fall off the screen and no harm will be done. They can also be destroyed with fire bubbles (explained later), unlike guard blocks.

It seems that these two blocks just do nothing but needlessly frustrate you, however. There's multiple stages near the end of the game where there are literally tons of support and guard blocks, and there's absolutely no way to beat those stages unless you get extremely lucky and get nothing but the bubbles you need, which means you'll have to restart those stages many times. Keep in mind that if you lose even once you also lose your current score, so a single stage with a lot of support/guard blocks can instantly put an end to your high score attempt.

Your bubble-shooting machine will occasionally be loaded with one of four special types of bubbles from other recent Puzzle Bobble games. If the star bubble hits a coloured bubble, that bubble and all other bubbles with the same colour will be eliminated from the screen instantly; the fire bubble will destroy all bubbles and support blocks in a 1-space radius; the silver bubble will eliminate every single bubble in its path until it hits a guard/support block or bounces off the screen, and the rainbow bubble will stick to other bubbles. If you burst bubbles which touch the rainbow bubble, it will turn into the same colour bubble you just popped, basically leaving more of a mess for you to clean up!

Puzzle Bobble Plus! only has two real gameplay modes: the single player mode lets you go through 125 different stages spread across 25 different "zones", meaning there are 5 stages in every zone. After clearing a zone, you can pick one of two more to go to next. All the zones are divided into increasingly big "tiers": at the start of the game you can pick one of two zones. The next tier has three, but you'll only be able to select between two of them, depending on which zone you chose before. Aside from different stages, there doesn't really seem to be any difference between which zones you pick. The music is completely new and very unmemorable (and the original theme isn't even there!) and the background in every zone in the same tier is the same.

Naturally, a game of this nature can't go without a battle mode. You can play against increasingly difficult CPU opponents but be warned - they're extraordinarily hard and even the first opponent will likely completely annihilate you. You may want to play against a friend instead, although it's offline only, sadly! Against both CPU opponents and friends, popping more than three bubbles at a time or causing bubbles to drop off the screen by destroying their support will temporarily cause the bubbles on the opponent's screen to descend faster. As in most puzzle games, this mode can make for some fun times but is ultimately nothing special.

When you're done with the main game - which you probably will be quite quickly - there is once again some DLC for you to get if you'd like to have some more content. Puzzle Bobble Plus! has two packs, just like Bubble Bobble, with the first pack containing every stage from Puzzle Bobble 2, with the second pack including the developers' favourites from Puzzle Bobble 3 and Super Puzzle Bobble. For 200 points per pack both are definitely worth it, considering they give you just as much content as the standard game does!

Conclusion

Bubble Bobble was a great remake, while Rainbow Islands was a bit disappointing. With Puzzle Bobble, it seems Taito has covered all grounds, because it's right in-between: it's good, but not exactly worth getting very excited over. If you've never played a Puzzle Bobble game before it's worth getting, but if you've played multiple games in the series this one really won't do anything special for you. The developers' decision to keep some of the more questionable gameplay elements from recent games in the series in might put you off as well.

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