Puzzle Bobble stands alongside Tetris and Puyo Puyo as one of the most iconic puzzle games of all time. It’s had five arcade installments and numerous iterations on consoles and handhelds, so it comes as no surprise to see Puzzle Bobble make an appearance on Nintendo’s WiiWare service.
The core “match 3” goal is simple to grasp and the requirement for precision added by having the player shoot coloured bubbles at patterns of other coloured bubbles makes for a challenging and addictive game. Taito has played it safe and not mucked about with this game as it did Rainbow Islands and the result is much more satisfying for it.
The presentation is the same as with past Puzzle Bobble outings: your character is one of the dinosaurs from Bubble Bobble and you begin at the bottom of an inverted triangle of levels indicated by letters of the Roman alphabet. This means that whilst there are a total of 26 levels you’re only going to play through a half-dozen in a single session — if you’re good enough — which keeps the game fresh upon subsequent replays. If that wasn’t enough there’s a battle mode for playing against another human or against a series of 8 AI players represented by the baddies from the Bubble Bobble game and the option to unlock a further two sets of levels for 200 points each.
After choosing your level you play through a series of boards using one of three control methods (wiimote+nunchuk, wiimote on its side or Classic Controller) to aim a bubble launcher and launch coloured bubbles at ones hanging from the top of the screen arranged in various patterns. The goal is to match three or more of one color which causes them to burst. There are sometimes other objects these bubbles are attached to which may need to be destroyed (by clearing attached bubbles, natch) to clear a level or simply acting as an obstruction.
Clearing levels rapidly grants time-based bonus points and clearing many bubbles at once by clearing bubbles others are hanging from also grants bonus points. After clearing five boards your total score for the level is shown and you’re returned to the level select screen where your dino advances to the spot you chose previously and you get to pick from the next branch of two levels.
In addition to the coloured bubbles you’re trying to match (in a nice touch they all have various Bubble Bobble baddies inside them which can be seen moving about) there are three special bubbles: a rainbow bubble which sticks to other bubbles and changes to the colour of any attached bubble that bursts (useful in creating chains), a flame bubble that destroys any bubbles or other objects it touches and a star bubble that busts all bubbles matching the colour of the one it touches. All of these add to game strategy as does the ability to bounce bubbles off of walls billiards-style to get your bubbles into just the right spot.
Of course the game starts out at a leisurely pace, but each shot is timed; if you take too long the bubble will launch of its own accord. In addition some levels begin with bubbles quite low down and precision is required right from the outset. If you’re unable to make chains that remove bubbles from the playfield you’ll find bubbles extending down to the bottom where your character is. If the bubbles extend below the line at the bottom the game is over. In addition to the other pressures indicated, the platform the bubble are attached to at the top of the screen will slowly descend over time for added challenge.
Battle mode is a best of three match with changeable parameters that control the number of colours featured, whether or not bubbles automatically decend from above over time or are added from below when your opponent clears bubbles (or both), and whether or not the level starts out with special bubbles or non-bubble obstacles. For the single player the AI opponent can be quite challenging; the game automatically progresses in series through the different enemy characters giving the opportunity to change the conditions to enhance the difficulty before each bout. Given that Puzzle Bobble games featuring more than two players have been produced in the past, it seems a bit odd that the Wii of all platforms only has a two player mode, but possibly this is to avoid too much overlap with the Puzzle Bobble disc game.
The weakest part of the package is the high score tables. For a game that puts so much focus on score (your score resets if you dare to continue a game) not recording player names or even providing profiles seems a glaring omission. The top 5 scores and the level reached (or opponents defeated in the Battle Mode ranking table) are all recorded; it would have been nice to at least be able to put your name up, let alone have a WiFi leaderboard like Bubble Bobble Wii does.
The core game itself is solid and hasn’t been altered in execution. The numerous branching paths, choice of three difficulty levels and Battle Mode means you get a good amount of play for the initial 800 point investment; the unlockable content effectively adds two more single player games making it excellent value for points. Wi-Fi would have been nice as would the Story Mode and numerous characters from the arcade games, but hopefully we’ll see those in the Virtual Console Arcade someday. Puzzle Bobble Wii is a classic puzzle game that anyone should be able to enjoy and I’m sure many people will be looking forward to a release of this title in North America and PAL territories.