Version tested: PSP
If you were to come up with an all-time puzzle top ten, it's a sure bet that Bust A Move (a.k.a. Puzzle Bobble) would feature somewhere near the top. Like Tetris, and Bejeweled it's one of those absolute corkers that is so utterly perfect in its initial conception that it's become timeless. Trying to match three bubbles of the same colour by firing up the screen while they slowing descend, row by row, is one of those games we'll always have time for; they're just so moreish.
But much like anything timeless, tinkering with the formula only gets you so far. You might come up with numerous variations on a theme that sound good on paper, but after the short-lived novelty has worn off, you're back wanting the classic version you always loved.
In Bust A Move's case, there's just two modes you'll ever need - either the classic 'puzzle' mode where you have to clear each screen of bubbles, or the two player mode - preferably against a human - where your must effectively cram your opponent's screen with bubbles quicker than they can do the same back to you. That Bust A Move Ghost has about over 1000 puzzles and ten times as many modes can only be a good thing, right?
Well, yeah. Ish. In single player terms, there's an absolute ton of stuff. How does over 500 puzzles in classic mode sound? Good, or just overwhelming? Maybe a bit of both, in truth, as even the biggest BAM fan can have too much of a good thing, though we can't knock a game for having an embarrassment of content.
Elsewhere, the 'new' modes largely fall into the novelty category we always dread. Take 'Blind' mode for example. You're given a bunch of blank bubbles to fire at, with the colour only revealed once you've made your choice, making the whole process a bit of a fruitless game of trial and error that's not the greatest fun you can ever have. 'Mix 'em up' mode is a similarly chance-ridden affair, where the bubbles you're firing at change colour every few shots. Sometimes it can work happily in your favour, but most times your best laid plans are undone - making it too random to be satisfying.
Another slightly rubbish new mode is 'See Saw' where the field of play is built like one. Wherever you fire a bubble has a proportional effect on the see saw, meaning the field of play teeters in that direction. Fire too many bubbles on one side, and the whole thing topples over and the game ends. As much fun as it sounds, it's actually quite twitchy and results in fairly short games that - ultimately - aren't that much fun. The 'Running Launcher' mode is a bit better in that it sticks to the same rules you're used to, except has a launcher that's constantly moving from left to right and back again. Again, it's a little distracting in practise and is about as much fun as trying to play it while your annoying nephew is trying to wrestle a joypad out of your hands. Next!
'Shot Puzzle', meanwhile, requires a bit more genuine skill and gives you just one chance to shoot at the puzzle before you. This inevitably means you have to be incredibly accurate - or else it's game over in five seconds flat. Of slightly more interest long-term is the new 'Ghost Puzzle' mode, where you must use the walls to bounce shots in order to get them to stick to the other bubbles. Simply shooting straight at a bubble passes through them, so you end up with essentially the same game - but with a few interesting twists. Chief of these is the 'heart meter' feature, whereby if you miss a shot your heart rate goes up, while a successful shot brings it down a notch. If it cranks up to the maximum speed of five, though, it's game over, lending more pressure to the normal rules. 'Time Warp' puzzle mode is about the most pointless of all in that it's practically identical to the classic puzzles, with the only difference being that your bubbles launch at varying different speeds.
Multiplayer mode also introduces some new modes, such as the Colour Puzzle, where players must take it in turn to erase a target bubble. This would be fine if it wasn't so bloomin' random, and after a few goes it appears to be mostly random as regards who wins. Unless you're a complete moron, it'd be more satisfying to settle the winner with the toss of a coin - at least you'd feel like you had some control over the outcome. Probably the best multiplayer only mode is 'Count Puzzle' where players once again take it in turns, but try to score the most bubble eliminations.
As with so many puzzle games on handheld systems, the degree of enjoyment will depend largely on whether you have a friend who also owns a copy of the game. If you're on your lonesome, there's always the CPU opponent to rely on, and to a degree it does a good job of holding its own - but it always feels like a hollow victory. With Bust A Move Ghost, there's certainly a decent number of stages in Classic mode to make up for the fact that most of the other single player modes aren't even that much fun, but the inability to play two player on the same machine feels like an oversight for a machine well suited to such a thing (left, right and shoulder button for fire would make it possible). With limited copies in circulation, it's doubtful if you'll even find someone to play against, making it an expensive exercise in getting handheld multiplayer going. If you're guaranteed to be able to play it wirelessly, though, it's one of those games that would be perfect to while away train journeys and lazy summer holidays with if you've got a willing companion.
As long as you're prepared to take the new modes with a pinch of salt, and as long as you didn't pick up Bust A Move Deluxe, there's still an all-time classic to be had here at the right price. If you've always hankered after a handheld version of one of the best puzzlers there's ever been, then this is a serviceable port that does the job, but just be aware that you'll probably want to skip over the new modes very quickly.
6 / 10