Originally released on the PC, the first and second Tumblebugs games were relatively well received. However the series failed to attain the mass popular appeal of similar games such as Zuma and Luxor as well as others. Tumblebugs is not even the first in this genre on WiiWare: that distinction goes to Magnetica Twist, from the makers of the very first marble shooting game, Puzz Loop. Now making its debut on WiiWare with a port of the second game, the series arrives somewhat late to the party, but well ahead of the serious competition.
When we reviewed Magnetica Twist, we felt that the game was “one of the finest puzzle experiences currently available on WiiWare”. But the emphasis there should be placed on the word “currently”, as a lot has changed since the summer of ’08. Although that game featured numerous play options as well as local multiplayer, it also featured substandard graphics and, most unforgivably, poorly thought-out motion controls that detract from the fun of playing the game. We believe that a WiiWare game should offer better today as gamers have so many high quality puzzler options to choose from now. Mercifully, Tumblebugs 2 avoids both of these problems with pretty graphics and a control scheme that is intuitive and easy to use.
First let’s look at the controls. As one would expect in a port of a PC mouse-based game, players use the Wii Remote like a mouse pointer and simply point to aim and then click the A button to shoot. It could not be any simpler and seeing it in action we’re even more baffled as to why Magnetica Twist ever experimented with that “twisty” control scheme in the first place.
Aiming is slightly more difficult than using a mouse as the Wii Remote pointer does not feel quite as precise, and playing for extended periods of time can still tire out your wrist in a way that playing with a mouse resting on a desk never will. But even so, the problem is as tiny as a bug compared to the strain that Magnetica Twist put on gamers’ wrists, and we can’t imagine any alternative control scheme that would improve play.
As for the graphics, colours are bright and vibrant and the detail is exquisite. Although the 89 levels on display here are all still images and therefore not exactly a strain on the graphics card, they are far more appealing to the eye than the barebones scenery seen in Magnetica Twist.
The art style is unashamedly ripped straight from Zuma, but given that Zuma has nearly achieved genre-defining status due to its far greater popularity over the original that they in turn ripped off, we’ll let that slide. Also, there is a lot more detail here along with cute outdoor themes complete with real-life items such as garden utensils and lawn gnomes that can serve as obstacles. At times these subtle touches are annoying because it can be difficult to determine where the obstacle begins and ends, but taken strictly as art Tumblebugs 2 has to be one of the prettiest-looking games in this genre.
We mentioned that Magnetica Twist had numerous play options. Well, there are three here in Tumblebugs 2, although there’s not much difference between them. In the regular story mode you progress from one level to the next in order of difficulty and get a little bit of story after each step. Your progress is broken up by a couple of bonus levels at the end of each round. One is a variation on clearing a small pre-designed screen in a short time limit, and the other challenges you to shoot as many rings (coins to you Zuma players) as you can before time runs out. These bonus games are fun and help shake things up in an extended play session, but cannot be accessed outside of the main story mode. Aside from the story mode, the other two play options are Endless mode, which challenges players to stay alive as long as possible, and Rescue mode which seems to be a lot like the main story mode but harder.
Speaking of difficulty, Tumblebugs 2 is considerably more difficult than Zuma. We’re not talking about the differences of playing with a mouse versus a Wii Remote here, but that the design of the levels is just plain harder. In Zuma, players face an even difficulty curve that starts off easy enough for beginners and then progressively gets harder. But here, the presumption seems to be that players already have some skills in this genre and the difficulty level is accordingly spiked. It gets to the point where beginners have very little, if any, time to get acquainted with this style of gaming before getting punched in the face with a level packed full of three chains of bugs looping around each other and into and under onscreen obstacles. An experienced Zuma player will see this as a challenge and will enjoy having to work for the win, but someone without that background may be better off learning somewhere else first or frustration may set in before those skills have time to develop.
Like the art-style, the game play is about 99% identical to Zuma. The biggest differences are that there are various original power-ups in play, and instead of switching around between two marbles, you can now hold three at a time and switch between them to choose just the right colour. The extra marble gives you more options to work with, but it doesn't make things any easier because you now have to keep track of which marble is in which slot. If you are used to Zuma's two-colour system you will likely make the mistake of firing the wrong one here, as you cannot switch back and forth between the same two here but rather must cycle through three different marbles (er, bugs).
Although we say the game plays like Zuma, that’s not to say that there aren’t lots of new innovations over and above the core Zuma gameplay. There's lots of clever touches, such as the ability to warp your bug shooter to other pre-set locations on the screen at will in order to get a better shot at long, convoluted chains of bugs.
But one of the biggest problems is the lack of any multiplayer option. Although such a feature is uncommon and some would argue unnecessary in this genre, the fact remains that Magnetica Twist did feature local multiplayer and it was a lot of fun, controller issues notwithstanding. With no multiplayer here in Tumblebugs 2, the game has somewhat less long term appeal than its competition.
Tumblebugs 2 takes a very successful (and overcrowded) genre and adds some new power-ups and flashier graphics to the familiar formula. Other than those upgrades, there is nothing here that cannot be found in countless other similar games... on the PC. Here on WiiWare there are only two games of this genre to choose from: this and Magnetica Twist. Given that choice, we’re confident that Tumblebugs 2 is the wiser choice for everyone if only because the pointer-based controls are so intuitive compared to Magnetica’s weird twist on controller options. Even so, buyers should beware, as there are fewer options included here than in Magnetica Twist, including a complete lack of multiplayer, and the difficulty curve is not beginner friendly.