The hardest part of starting Bubble Pop World might be remembering where you left the “?” box AR card you’ll need to play it. Precious few 3DS games have taken advantage of the system’s augmented reality feature, with the majority employing it just for an amusing little extra. Developer Cypronia, however, has fully dived into AR to create a rare experience, albeit not one without some flaws.
Bubble Pop World primarily involves matching three or more like-coloured bubbles to clear them from the stage, a goal familiar to any Bust-A-Move fan. The overarching difference is that while Bust-A-Move has always dealt in flat playing fields, Bubble Pop World features full 3D structures to dismantle.
The ability to sidle around a puzzle and fire bubbles at it from different angles is a fun concept, and being able to rotate and change the size of each puzzle with the Circle Pad is superbly smooth. You may still sometimes need to move yourself and the 3DS around the puzzle for certain shots, and doing so can be a bit finicky. Slow, steady movement while training your 3DS on the AR card will keep things running smoothly, but the puzzle can jostle a bit on your screen. You will also want a decent amount of room and, ideally, a circular table — this game is not very road-friendly.
Fortunately, even with some hiccups, ensuring your bubbles hit the right targets is not that challenging. An aiming reticle and a shadow are both available to line up shots. Holding the A button down will bring the shadow up, while releasing A will fire the bubble, reducing the jolt from jabbing buttons that may send your shot off course. It’s a subtle yet brilliant setup on Cypronia’s part.
Although the core gameplay is sound, the way it’s executed in Bubble Pop World’s two main game modes is a mixed bag. Puzzle Mode deals up a gallery of more than 60 puzzles, each needing to be cleared using a finite set of bubbles. While some puzzles can be rather easy, with a single shot able to destroy the bottom and release every other bubble above it, others demand strict placement, order, and the use of special rainbow bubbles that can combine two differently coloured clusters. The puzzles are colourful constructs, but can sometimes cause a pause in the action since you can’t proceed until all affected bubbles in a turn pop. A well-placed shot can involve several hundred at once, taking a number of seconds.
Arcade Mode is a different fish altogether, alternating puzzles with mini-games. The puzzles here offer an infinite number of bubbles, but failing to create a match during a shot will make your main character fugu start to bloat. Every three times this happens, extra bubbles form next to those already on the stage. This may sound reasonable at first, but if you’re down to a few sparsely placed bubbles at the end, just setting up for a match will contribute towards the penalty and you can find yourself spending tedious minutes at the end mopping up expanding groups of malignant bubbles. You have to get rid of every single one, too, because there are no time limits or ways to “die.” There are power-ups that can be purchased with coins earned by completing levels, however, that can help in these situations.
One of 8 random mini-games is played after each puzzle in Arcade Mode, starring other creatures of the ocean. Sadly, these are mostly unoriginal timewasters such as whack-a-mole, shell games, or melody repeating that wear out their welcomes quickly. The reward for completing each puzzle/mini-game set is a piece of a panel to a story-based comic, but sometimes there isn’t much difference between two consecutive panels. You do get some surprisingly informative blurbs on the sea creatures you meet, though.
Aside from the two modes, players can also build their own levels and share them through QR codes, storing up to 128 on a single system. The editor is rather simple, allowing construction by shooting bubbles as in the main game. Bubble colour can be chosen, as well as the number and order of bubbles provided to complete the puzzle. It would have been nice if a couple more options were provided for building, however, such as changing the colours of bubbles that have already been added instead of removing and replacing them.
Bubble Pop World’s graphics are not heavily detailed, but more than serviceable in an AR game. The way your fugu zips around in 3D between levels can be a bit annoying at times, though. The music has a peppy lounge feel that matches the theme well.
The fact that Cypronia took the opportunity to create a 100% AR-based game is laudable in itself, and it works well enough that those who are heavily into the technology or big into building and sharing levels might want to consider laying down $4.99 to fish in this pond. Unfortunately, a few of the choices made in the game modes take some of the fun out of the overall experience and leaves it rather flat in some areas.
Regardless of whether you choose to use them or not, though, your AR cards deserve better than to be used as coasters. Seriously, stop that.