In the future, nests of hornets will be the least of pest control's worries. Tumble Pop is filled with strange beasts, from living skeletons to little grey aliens, manic clowns and Sweetums from The Muppets. In this arcade platformer, it's your job to clean them up with nothing more than a trusty – and presumably engine-powered – vacuum cleaner.
Each stage is filled with intricate mazes of platforms and monster gates that unleash the undesirables. With your over-powered household cleaning machine you've got to corner enemies and suck them up, then throw them back out again as lovely stars. Platforms can be jumped through, both up and down, by both you and enemies, so it's best not to stand above or below a monster for too long lest they leap and cost you a life. The level is complete once you've cleared it of all ghouls before the time limit runs out.
The concept is sound, but Tumble Pop's enemies have a tendency to fall to the same tactics every single time, which means that once you've mastered the timings it can all get a bit dull and predictable. Many of the bad guys act similarly, with a few later on getting their mitts on projectile attacks, but however they move it's easy to beat them by hopping in front of them and holding down the vacuum button. They're temporarily stunned as you suck them up; all you have to do is make sure that nothing can creep up behind. It's possible to swipe up entire groups of four or five foes at once, completely decimating their threat in one motion.
The boss characters that cap each world have similar issues of over-familiarity in that once you've learned how to defeat one, you can beat them all – a couple of exceptions aside, the bosses usually appear on the right of the screen and lob enemies or projectiles at you which must be swept up and sent back to damage them.
The only thing you need to do then is remember to eject the contents of your dust bag quickly before it bursts and kills you. Any enemies spat back out are converted into energy stars, which helpfully can dispatch other opponents in the vicinity too. There is a bit of strategy to how many creatures you suck up at once: if you choose to grab one you get to use a projectile faster, which can be necessary in a pinch, but it'll be weak and dissipate after crashing into an enemy or wall; gather up two or more and a stronger attack will be at your disposal, able to bounce off walls back and forth several times and only vanishing once it's struck an enemy, though you're left in a vulnerable state for longer as you build up power.
There are eight worlds to explore in Tumble Pop, set on boats, spaceships, snowy mountains or in circuses. There's very little difference in aesthetic between these areas, aside different enemies, but they do evolve and add new elements as you go along, such as spike pits, moving platforms and blocks that can be broken with a bit of star power. It's not enough to alter your strategies, but it's an attempt to keep things interesting at least.
Worlds can, to an extent, be tackled in any order; the map is split into two, so you have to beat the first four areas before you can get at the next three, and all seven have to be beaten to access the last. They each have multiple routes too, so you don't necessarily have to conquer every level in a world to challenge the boss. You can go back into a world and replay any level whenever you like, which is helpful if you're having trouble with a particular stage and want to go and stock up on items elsewhere before trying again.
The items available include rollerskates to increase your movement speed, a POW block that improves the force of your vacuum cleaner and a clock to halt the timer temporarily. They drop out all the time when enemies die, so it's really easy to build up a plentiful stock of goodies. Your currently selected item is activated by tapping Select; you choose which item you want to use by first pressing Start and picking from a list. The letters that make up the words 'Tumble Pop' can be collected as well; get them all and you instantly finish the level and are transported to a bonus land where items rain from the sky. There are also coins to be grabbed, and on the main map you can hop into a shop and buy extra power-ups if you need them. Or you could sell all your power-ups and buy tons of lives, which does the job just as well or better.
Aside the main campaign there's Construction, a mode that lets you create your own levels. It actually comes down to a series of menus where you can define number of enemies, lives and movement speed more than anything. A pre-made level is placed before you after filling in the options, and you can remove or add parts of it to customise before testing. It's a bit clumsy, isn't explained – you have to hold B to select different block types, just so you know – and doesn't disallow broken levels, but it's nice to mess around with. It's a shame there's no way to share these with passwords; incidentally, a password save system is in place for the main game, but you'll probably end up using 3DS's restore points either way.
Tumble Pop's music is pretty indicative of the time: typically for an arcade game it's bouncy, encouraging and short in loop; perfect hum fodder. Much of the soundtrack is a variant on the same piece of music, approached slightly differently depending on the theme of the world. The visuals, particularly the animations, impress the most. The sprites are cute and perfectly formed, and each enemy reacts differently to an attempted vacuum cleaner assault with funny animations that display a lot of character and, sometimes, comically wide eyes.
It's fun for a time, but Tumble Pop does get repetitive as the tactics to win are consistent throughout. It's not a bad game by any means – it's polished, there are no real glitches and the mechanics are fine — but it's best suited to small bursts rather than long play sessions. Fans of the arcade platform genre should suck it up for £2.70.