Bubble Bobble: Double Shot
- Publisher: Rising Star Games
- Developer: Dreams
Disclosure time: I've never played Bubble Bobble in my life. Not the original and certainly not the previously terrible DS effort Bubble Bobble Revolution. Like a trip to Glastonbury and a decent haircut, it's one of those things that have passed me by in life. Can't say I've missed them, but my life might have been a bit more enriched if I'd had a go. That said, it at least lets me approach this game from the perspective of the modern gamer who's never heard of the bubble-blowing dinosaurs until today. So, no nostalgia to ruin my memories of the past, but fortunately - or rather unfortunately - there's plenty to ruin my present.
Initially it's clear that Double Shot is geared more towards the hardened nostalgist. Hop around platforms and trap all the enemies in bubbles to clear the level. Three lives, collecting fruit for points and a stage-by-stage structure played in single-player or co-op says something for its gnarled arcade roots. The only significant new feature in the main game sees some monsters surrounded by coloured stars that can only be defeated by selecting the dinosaur which matches its colour (stalwarts Bub and Bob being joined by a third red chum called Bubu for this adventure), integrated into proceedings without too much imbalance.
Yet all this is scuppered by some atrocious level design. Half of the levels feel like they went through a random generator, while the other half were designed by drawing pictures of things like swords out of platforms with no thought of how they would affect play. Consequently, both you and the monsters get stuck between blocks, unable to reach each other without spending time figuring out which wall will let you through or faffing around jumping on bubbles. Was this a part of the original design? I sincerely hope not. What's definitely DS-exclusive, however, is the dual screen gap of death, the bane of many a game, leading to a despair-filled demise if you're not too careful.
In another inexplicable smack to the chops, there's nothing in the way of a save system. Turn it off and you have to start all over again. And if you do decide to slog through the hundred levels and lose all your lives, the continue system insists that you play a short touch-screen mini-game in order to earn the right to get back to the main game. They're easy, but almost insulting in their incongruity. The only drawback for continuing this way is the loss of your high score. Some sacrifice that is if you can't even record it anywhere in the first place.
So I've never played Bubble Bobble in my life. If this is my first experience - a sloppily-handled misfire that ruins the original's reputation - I'm not sure I was missing anything. How awful. Both Pac-Man and Space Invaders proved that such classics can be successfully updated for the modern gamer. Bubble Bobble apparently can't. To mess up one DS remake may be regarded as a misfortune, to mess up both earns you another embarrassingly low mark.
Bomberman Land Touch! 2
- Publisher: Rising Star Game
- Developer: Hudson Soft
Typical. Here I am putting in all the work required for reviewing this sequel and I find out most of it's been done for me. As seems to be the case with games like this, this sequel's practically identical to the first. The premise: wander a theme park, play mini-games, indulge in cute, nonsensical story. Same poo, different day. There are times when I don't know why I bother. Now excuse me while I point you towards the original review, say the graphics are a little sharper, and scarper with my cheque.
Oh, alright. Unlike some of the stinkers in this roundup, I enjoyed this one. Sort of. That's no doubt due to this being an unpretentiously jubilant adventure through a mini-game strewn story that never really stops for breath. With an assured sense of progression it drops a trail of breadcrumbs from one location to the other and asks you to follow them to the end accomplishing tasks on the way. There's always something to unlock, a token to collect, a mini-game to play, or an item to use, and you run around from one place to the other tackling it all in a play area that's small enough to find your way around but large enough to discover something new every hour or so.
As for the mini-games, they're your usual bunch of stylus scratchers, tappers and match the x and y affairs you've come to know and love; intuitive, Bomberman-themed, and nothing new - they've even cheekily taken a few from the first game. To successfully go down the saturated mini-game route requires variety and there's a good selection of games to cycle through that don't overstay their welcome. Aside from an air hockey-style game which crops up several times as a boss challenge, each mini-game only ever needs to be completed once or twice for a token, unless you're after a high score or want to replay them individually with other players.
It's none too offensive, then. There's a good day or so's simple, colourful fun in there for those who can stomach Bomberman's sugar-coated world. To fully justify your purchase, though, Hudson knows that you know that there's only one way you'll ever buy a single-player Bomberman game and, yes, Battle Mode is present and correct. Traditional, brilliant multiplayer Bomberman is available over both Wi-Fi and wireless as per usual. As a matter of fact, it's exactly the same game that came bundled with the bland RPG Bomberman Story, reviewed a few months ago. As we said then, it's your choice what bland single-player game you want to accompany the multiplayer goodness. We're not exactly eating our words now, but in this game's case, we're prepared to upgrade the single-player portion from 'bland' to 'alright'.
- Publisher: Majesco
- Developer: Aquaria Interactive
Your business here is one of fish breeding. Feed your fish, give them medicine when they're sick, cross-breed them to make better models and sell them off to buy new items for your tank in order to breed seven magical fish. That, readers, is the whole game. Now keep that in mind, and then re-imagine it as a wholly horrific, drawn-out affair where absolutely nothing exciting happens.
In some misguided effort to make this more of a realistic simulation, your fish live on even when your DS is off. Leave them for a while and they'll get hungry or sick, forcing you to check back every now and again to find out how they're doing. Now granted, you can turn this feature off if you don't want to, pausing the game effectively, but why would you when there's absolutely nothing to do except wait for your fish to grow.
Even the fastest speed option is still treacle slow. You either wait around impatiently until your pregnant fish give birth or you go play something else instead. Then you take a few hours longer than expected and come back later to find all your babies are dead despite all your efforts. Not so much Finding Nemo as finding Nemo floating like a frozen fish finger on the surface of your tank.
Even if you're on time, your breeding efforts in the early stages appear to kill off most of your sprogs outright without any say in the matter. The ones that do survive seem to starve to death if you don't hit that window of opportunity. On top of that, disease regularly hits your parent fish and you have to spend precious money on medicine. And then you realise the one fish you managed to rescue after all those hours earned 18 dollars towards the purchase of a 650-dollar plant and you cry in despair.
Checking on the developer's forums, I found that there's an effective strategy to follow to win (as well as discovering this is a port of an old PC game, where pottering about in a separate window while you're doing boring office work makes a little more sense), but why aren't there hints in-game? Even if there were, it wouldn't excuse the terrible graphics and extremely limited interaction. Even my girlfriend, who normal gets obsessive about these sorts of pet games, lasted a day before she gave up. "Just let them die," was her uncommonly heartless reply to my query toward her inaction. I'm inclined to agree.
Bleach: Blade of Fate
- Publisher: SEGA
- Developer: Treasure
I'm not quite sure what to make of Treasure these days. Venerated for making some of the most tightly-produced shooters of all time, it now seems to be temporarily stuck in a rut with remakes and semi-sequels. With the ethos it's built for itself, shouldn't we expect more fuel for the fire of invention rather than ideas reheated in the gaming microwave? (Tell me: is the backlash justified? Time will tell, I suppose.)
Until then, Treasure's earning a crust with this, a licensed game based around the popular ninjas-and-demons Japanese anime series Bleach. Such a fight-based confrontational story could only mean one thing: all the major characters from the series facing off against one another in a traditional 2D biff-'em-up. Just like the dozens of other anime-licensed 2D biff-'em-ups. But that isn't to say this is an unthinking cash-in. There are elements here of Treasure's attempt to approach things from a slightly different angle. Unfortunately, that's also where its faults lie.
Those prepared to put the hours in on Virtua Fighter can forget how complex and frustrating the beat-'em-up can be to the novice. Unless you're prepared to pluckily button-mash, there are too many moves to learn and master to easily fight with the big boys. Trust Treasure, then, to come up with a solution. Every special move is mapped to one simple touch-screen button. No more 'down, forward, down, forward, X' when tapping the screen does it for you. In fact, it's entirely possible (but never certain under an experienced opponent) to win a round purely by blocking and spamming those buttons. That's what I call wish fulfilment.
Go ahead and use the traditional controls if you want. The button presses are still there. But bear in mind that you're also constantly exposed to special touch-screen cards which imbue temporary powers on your fighter or hinder your opponent for a short time. I'm not entirely sure I like all this extra hand-holding, considering it can't be turned off, only ignored, but there's no denying that it does allow me to perfect moves more quickly than I ever would, and for those who want it there's still some depth left in learning combos and mastering defence. Really, though, it's a gentleman's agreement whether you want to indulge in its fighting aids, and in a sticky situation it's often too tempting not to do so.
While there are a lot of similarities in the execution of most moves within the fighter's roster, Bleach's universe contains enough characters to broaden the spectrum from light to heavy fighters. There's the occasional barrage of hundred hit combos to activate, yet its fireball and sword slash ethics force some restraint, not straying too far into ridiculous territory.
Single-card multiplayer and Wi-Fi are present, allowing four players to compete at once, or make up the numbers with the CPU. Inevitably, too many fighters turns it into an unholy mess where nobody knows what they're doing to anyone else and lag rear its ugly head. Two-player fares better, but, again, allowing your opponent to poke one special move after another can be a little irritating if you're trying to prove your skills.
To say it's one for the fans is probably damning it with faint praise. But it's fair to say that as much as you don't go to Wii for a hex-based Battle of the Bulge simulator, you don't come to DS for a hardcore beat-'em-up. That said, if you're prepared to ignore its shortcomings and get to know it, there's an approachable beat-'em-up in here, even if it yields to your whim far too easily.
Kira Kira Pop Princess
- Publisher: 505 Games
- Developer: Dimple Entertainment
There's a sense of hope to be felt down here, casting a critical eye over those anonymous DS releases, those ones that don't have a marketing budget the size of Belgium's GDP. We're picking through the trash in the vain hope of finding that quirky classic, and, what I ask, would be a better indicator of that dazzling 8/10-or-above than a Japanese rhythm-action game? It's a veritable goldmine, to be sure. So, bad news, then: Kira Kira Pop Princess ain't that. We cried out in hope, but it looks like the sunlight caught a dull pebble. Sorry.
As the name may indicate, the game's marketed towards the younger teenage girl side of the market, cooking up a story about a kooky avatar on a quest to become the, like, coolest dancer in town. And as is always the way, a series of hilarious misunderstandings and be-true-to-yourself social ambition leads to obligatory dance-offs in order to earn respect. To become more popular, you challenge girls from each fashion district to a bop battle, stunning them with your moves and earning money to buy new outfits.
That's where the rhythm action part comes in. Turning the DS on its side, you tap or slide the stylus along three different bars as they light up in time to the music. It's not complicated and it doesn't take long to realise when and where it wants you to tap. Perhaps it's too simple once you get the hang of it, even if doing well and getting an A ranking are two different things.
The problem with any rhythm-action game, however, is that it lives or dies on its music. Even the simplest button-matching game can be bolstered by a quality tune. But Kira Kira's efforts are a concoction of competent yet forgettable in-game compositions I couldn't even remember right after they'd ended, let alone now.
Beyond the music, the aspirational nature of the game amounts to buying new clothes and changing your style to suit your personality. There's some visual appeal in doing so due to the game's cute 3D characters, yet there's little else to do besides play dress-up. If the songs were better, it could have been a lot more fun, but it quickly loses its appeal. Like, totally.