Just how many versions of Bust A Move does the world need? Faced with row upon row of Wii games in your average game store, yet another version of Taito's relentlessly repackaged bubble bursting puzzler isn't exactly going to jump out at you. So what's special about this one, then?
If you were a betting man, you'd probably put your life savings on the "intuitive", "innovative", and "mostly underutilised" Wii remote being used in order to aim your 'attack bubble' with fluid precision. Ding. You are a winner.
Initial impressions are pretty favourable. The core bubble matching premise of yore remains utterly unaltered, meaning the entire point of the game is to simply fire bubbles upwards, and eliminate those above by matching three or more of the same colour. Simple, instantly playable, and massively addictive. Or so you'd imagine, anyway. What could possibly go wrong with this timeless formula?
Whether you plump for holding the remote like a baton or point it at the screen like a gun, the targeting system responds instantly. Not only is it possible to launch a bubble at your intended target more reliably than the usual digital system, the ability to delicately perform left/right movements with all the precision of a mouse pointer makes it feel like the game has finally found its natural home.
I'm forever busting bubbles
But as silky smooth as the controls undoubtedly feel, there's an instant feeling that something's not quite right. It's just not especially challenging. Thanks to the presence of a guide line and a target reticule that tells you precisely where your bubble's heading, it's pretty tough to mess up.
Admittedly you can turn off the reticule, but the guide pointer remains, and any semblance of guesswork and skill is removed. As a result of this, a barrage of helpful power-ups and some sloppy, easy level design, and level upon level in the game's Puzzle mode come and go with barely a whimper of resistance. The first fifty fly by in blur in under half an hour. Another fifty. And another. And so on. In the first few hours you'll have probably licked hundreds of levels without even really trying, and clock up scores well into the billions.
After the first 250 levels, another 250 unlock - and that's if you haven't floated off into a bubblicious coma that the Corona gang would have been proud of. Possibly mindful of the more 'casual' audience of the Wii, it appears that developers Happy Happening (great name, guys) has made it accessible to a fault. As Louie Theroux might have said: "No challenge."
Sure, it's gets a bit more testing as it goes along, but you've got to wade through so much elementary fluff to get there, it's hardly worth the effort; especially as it's a 13 year-old game with almost zero new additions.
The visuals are as rudimentary as you're likely to see in a full-price release, with backdrops so basic they have to be seen to be believed. Even the terrifically annoying level music is rehashed from previous games, which is enough to put us in therapy right there.
If there were a bunch of new modes worth a damn, we might have been a little more impressed, but it's mostly throwaway in the extreme. For example, the shooting mode (lifted from the bonus round every 10th level) is about as basic as Wii mini games get, and makes some of the stuff on Wii Play look fearsomely advanced. The idea? Match the colour of the bubble that's floating across the screen with the colour of your reticule (which you cycle through with the dpad). It's immediately tedious, and yet represents one quarter of the modes in this shallow, underwhelming version of an ageing game.
Elsewhere, the Endless mode suffers from the same issue as Puzzle mode, in that it's too undemanding for too long, such that by the time it starts getting interesting, you're already bored of the grind. In this mode, bubble endlessly replace the ones you've cleared, and the challenge is to continually keep them from reaching the foot of the screen.
If Happy Happening had the brilliant insight to include that fabulous innovation known as variable difficulty level, the game might have proved to be more interesting than it is. The truth is, through, more than half an hour of remote pointing and bubble bursting, the chances are your arms are going to ache a little, (though the baton control method proves to be a more sensible long term solution to Wii ache), though boredom will most likely win out beforehand.
Even versus mode is a bit of an anti climax. The back of the box boasts in an explosion of unnecessary capital letters of it being "The Ultimate Eight-Player Bubble Bursting Bash". Eight players? On a Wii? Well, if you can gather up all your Wii remotes, nunchuks and Classic Controllers (collective price = probably more than the console itself) then you can engage in wild bubblegasms, or employ some cheery AI players to fill the empty slots. But is it worth it? Not really.
The idea is that everyone simultaneously fires off bubbles from the bottom of the screen and has to burst more jewel bubbles than anyone else within three minutes. It's fast, furious and fun, and other words beginning with F, but an exceptionally limited mode by itself. What happened to classic versus mode from all the previous Bust A Moves? You know, the mode that ends up being the one you play for hours on end and remains the best way to play this timeless little game. Removing it is, at best, careless, and at worst, just plain suicidal.
If you happen to see Bust A Move looking longingly at you from among the rows and rows of Wii titles in your local gaming emporium, don't return its glare. As a cheap, downloadable game, this would be the perfect kind of offering, but as a full-priced boxed game, it's a bit of a joke to be asked part with this sort of money these days. Remember how it once was in its proud mid '90s heyday, not what it's become: a relentless, lazy cash-cow to lure in unwary souls drunk on memories.