Version tested: DS
Ah, the Bust-A-Move series. Also known as Puzzle Bobble in Japan, or by Japanophiles who call Pro Evolution Soccer 'Winning Eleven', or something, the appearance of the series on the Nintendo DS was merely a matter of time, with the series having appeared on practically every system other than, um, the ZX81 or the Gizmondo. It's likely that if you've ever played a videogame system, or maybe even just seen one from your car window while driving past a branch of Dixons, that you probably know all about the mechanics of playing Bust-A-Move.
But I'm going to tell you them anyway.
Set in the world of Taito's Bubble Bobble, an excuse to populate your screen with cute little dinosaurs (main characters Bub and Bob, and evil winged antagonist Dev) and others slightly odd, yet adorable characters such as Willy, Bob's 'prized stuffed bear', Bust-A-Move's aim is to beat each puzzle by firing a random selection of bubbles into the playfield, one after another, making groups of three matched by colour. Each time you make a group, they 'pop', until the screen is clear and you move onto the next puzzle. This is the way it's been with the Bust-A-Move series since the very first appearance, and if you're expecting anything different about the core game design, then expect to be sorely disappointed. The game does, at least, feature the handy ability to save a bubble to swap with a less helpful bubble later on, which can get you out of a tight spot or two, but there are absolutely no new bells and whistles to the single-player mode, not even an excuse for a plot.
But as the first appearance of the Bust-A-Move series on the Nintendo DS, it therefore has the ability to use the DSs unique interface to add a little spark to the game.
I've always had a little problem with the Bust-A-Move series - despite being set in the world of Bubble Bobble, the game has never felt very 'bubbly'; it's always felt far more like playing with marbles (albeit marbles that shatter on contact with other marbles of the same colour). This has never been more clear than with the changes made to the Nintendo DS Bust-A-Move - instead of using a strange kind of device that looks like a medieval siege engine to launch the bubbles, here on the bottom screen you use a simple slingshot, dragged taut and aimed by a stylus pull, and the bubbles are launched to the puzzle area on the top screen on release of the stylus.
Immensely pleasing to do, it's a wonderfully tactile way to play the game and really does feel like using a set of marbles and a rubber band slingshot (please note: this is a terribly dangerous thing to do in real life, kids). Sadly, however, I find this method effectively useless on the harder levels, as the speed and accuracy required makes the 'pull back' movement required one movement too many to keep up a good run of bubble destruction.
It's therefore slightly disappointing that the optional digital input seems to be even less accurate than the analogue input, with a greater possibility of a slight error in angle due to the feel that there are certain degrees missing - you'll often find yourself overshooting, thinking that the 'correct' angle is far too shallow for the area you're aiming for, and vice versa.
Thankfully, unlike the tragic port of Bubble Bobble to the Nintendo DS, the game is well aware of the gap between screens, and compensates for this with a small guide line that travels from one screen to the other, to allow you to aim as accurately as you can using only the information from the top screen. You end up with the sensation of a small gap in a single screen, which does decrease the damage that the inaccurate aiming can cause.
On top of this skilful use of the two screens, the game also makes great use of the Nintendo DS local Wi-Fi by offering competitive multiplayer for up to five players from a single cart. It's such a brilliant feature that you almost can't believe it's included, and when you do, you start to grumble there's no online mode, because after all, how hard is it to get four other people with a Nintendo DS in the same room as you? Well, it is hard, even if you take regular showers and have a sparkling personality. It's nice that they've included the ability to play the multiplayer game in single-player, but it's really in the company of others that this game comes alive - with everyone using the same input method, preferably the touch screen, this is a raucous party game, particularly with the ability to attack your opponents with cascades of extra bubbles, and a glittering example of how well single cart multiplayer can work, though it is very unlikely to topple the single cart multiplayer of a title like Mario Kart from the top of the heap.
Despite the inclusion of a great multiplayer mode, over 500 puzzles, and a unique input method this is an incredibly bare bones release. Other than Versus mode and Puzzle mode, the only other option is Endless mode, which, as an utterly random experience, is stripped of the brain teasing appeal of puzzle mode, and quickly feels like a chore, certainly in comparison to the endless modes featured in (admittedly very different) puzzle games like Tetris.
To be interested in this game, you either have to really, really like the Bust-A-Move series and be desperate for more of the same, or have never heard of 'video games', due to the fact that you don't own a car and have never glimpsed them from the window while driving past a branch of Dixons, and yet you find yourself with a terrible hankering for a puzzle game with a huge amounts of puzzles and a pleasing multiplayer mode. It's very good at what it does, but it doesn't offer anything new.
6 / 10