Bloons has already made an appearance on WiiWare, where it didn't exactly bowl us over. Now it reaches DSiWare with a few much-needed improvements, and in places it's quite the fun little puzzle game: it's challenging enough to captivate fans of the genre and other serious gamers, but might be a bit too difficult to maintain the attention spans of more casual players.
The object is to pop a certain number of balloons with a limited amount of arrows, modifying the strength and trajectory of your shots to achieve your goal. Along the way, the layout of each level becomes more complex, special balloons entering the mix and creating brand new dynamics with which to experiment. Some explode, others freeze their surrounding comrades solid, and others still contain an object like a weight or a laser gun that you trigger when eviscerating its latex prison. These all add a lot to the experience and make it quite interesting and challenging to plot your course, the only exception being the highly flawed Boomerang tool. Encased inside a balloon and subsequently launched on your first move after its liberation, the course it takes is frustratingly difficult to predict and often times it inexplicably disappears into thin air.
Speaking of frustration, brace yourself for lots of it: the more difficult levels will have you beating your head against a wall until you blackout. It takes a lot of patience to shoot arrow after arrow when you are so unforgivingly limited in supply that one mistake – and it's easy to make mistakes – can cost you the whole shebang. Throw three or four incredibly precise actions into one level and you've got yourself a vexation that many players won't be willing to de-vex. Would it be so hard to include an extra arrow? Add to this the jeers of your invisible, ever so difficult to please audience and it might all be too much for some. This was every bit as much a problem in the WiiWare release, so it's disappointing to see it rear its ugly head again now.
One small tweak to save you bashing your head in is the ability to press X to restart the puzzle swiftly, your monkey pointing his arrow with the same direction and strength as you set up before rebooting. Players thus have the indispensible option to start with that perfect angle/strength combination that they've discovered instead of having to search for it over and over again, and to use it on their brand new first move instead of after making one or two errors (which is, to say, far too many). However, even after all of the irritation (and, of course, due in part to it), at the end of the day there's just nothing like the nirvana of conquering one of the game's most hellish challenges. It is the very definition of satisfaction.
On the other hand, most of the levels aren't abnormally tough, and quite a few are overly simple. These latter puzzles, with their explosions of simultaneous popping and frequent Mouse Trap-esque dynamics, are fun enough to excuse their simplicity. The pacing of the levels may frustrate some as it's not a gradual incline – a real migraine of a mission may follow an extremely simple stage – while a great many others will like never knowing what to expect next. Having to solve the most frustrating puzzle to continue, only to be faced with a ridiculously easy challenge isn't exactly great design and might make this game a much shorter experience for some.
The control is simple: the D-Pad alters your angle and strength and the A button fires. Bloons regretfully attempts to employ the stylus as a control option, which feels about as precise as manipulating a thumb puppet. This jerkiness adds another level of frustration to the mix, and there's just no more room for any of that in this game.
Presentation-wise, the graphics are simple and charming, displaying backgrounds of bucolic hills and trees at daytime and dusk while clouds waft by in the breeze. The music, however, leaves something to be desired: while most of the lineup is inoffensive, one of its numbers is so obnoxious that it almost makes listening to the rest not worth it. If you wind up in Hell, this is the tune that you'll hear for eternity. Still, it's not beyond tuning out, but if a better soundtrack accompanied the visuals, a perfect frame would form around Bloons. It regretfully doesn't. The end result is somewhere between happily placid and neutral, which really isn't so bad at all. Just watch out for that one track, especially when an especially challenging puzzle has drained you of the majority of your sanity. What's left will be no match for this melody.
Lastly, the Level Editor function definitely merits mentioning. It allows you to create and save up to twenty custom puzzles per player profile, which adds up to a hundred potential puzzles in all. Designing these can be a lot of fun, especially if you have friends on whom to test your inventions. Most, however, will stick to the main game, but even if it's not up your alley, its mere existence shows a level of commitment that should reinforce your desire to give these balloons your best shot.
Its biggest fault being the extreme difficulty of its more challenging levels, Bloons is otherwise a simple, moderately enjoyable puzzle game. Those ready to face the frustration will find a challenge worth committing themselves to – unless its most obdurate stages cause them to be committed. It features a good amount of variety, and most of the levels aren't too headache-inducing, but all the same you may want to remember there are far better puzzle titles on DSiWare before you pick this one up.