Review: Bust-A-Move Universe

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I’ve been extremely pleased by the quality of Taito’s numerous arcade revivals on the regular Nintendo DS, as you can see in my previous reviews of games like Space Invaders Extreme, Arkanoid DS, Legend of Kage 2 and Space Bust-A-Move. So to see Bust-A-Move Universe come to the 3DS as a launch title, I assumed it would become a staple in my early game library. That hasn’t happened.

Disappointingly, Bust-A-Move Universe is perhaps the worst kind of launch title there is, because it takes an established and respected franchise, strips it down to the bare minimum, and fails to utilize any of the new hardware features of the system it’s released on. What’s left is fundamentally enjoyable, but ultimately missing the spark to make it worth seeking out.

The basics of the game are no different than previous Bust-A-Move titles. Universe is a bubble-popping match three puzzle game in which different colored bubbles fill the playing field on the top screen, and you fire bubbles from a launcher at the bottom of the screen, with the goal being to match three or more bubbles of like color until you’ve cleared the entire screen.

As you clear bubbles, a tiered power-up meter also fills, and at each level you can use a special ability, such as a bubble that changes all adjacent bubbles to the same color or a laser beam that zaps away everything within its blast range. If you drop a large number of bubbles in one shot, you can also earn a short bonus time during which the gameplay pauses so you can chain together long bubble strings.

The gameplay retains the ease of control, addictive charms, and bright, cheery audiovisual trappings of its predecessors, and for once I actually approved of the subtle 3D use for the added background depth and ‘pop out of the screen’ effect when bubbles burst off the play area. But unfortunately the game never does anything new or different with the extra 3DS control or wireless capabilities, and at the same time only provides a fraction of the content found in the previous game.

Space Bust-A-Move, from two years ago on the DS, was loaded with modes and features, nearly all of which are missing in action in Universe. Gone is the online play, and multiplayer altogether. Gone is the in-game shop with unlockable bonus modes and extra customization options. Gone is the CPU Versus mode.

The only remaining modes are a main Puzzle campaign consisting of eight stages, with 10 rounds plus a boss for each stage, and a Challenge mode with options for 100-second, 300-second and endless rounds. That’s it. Well, the game does come with stat and score tracking charts, along with achievement-style awards, but in terms of playable modes it is as shallow as a drop of water. I completed the puzzle stages within an hour, and after that playing the quick challenge rounds seemed fruitless without any online leaderboards to post high score to or some form of bonus content to shoot for. It just seems like such a missed opportunity that 3DS features like Mii integration and wireless connectivity, including StreetPass and SpotPass, were left out. The game doesn’t even attempt an improved touch screen control scheme. Very little, if any, effort went into tailoring this game to the 3DS.

At its core, Bust-A-Move Universe is a fun and bubbly match three puzzler, and it would have at least been acceptable as a cheap, downloadable eShop app. But its addictive gameplay, colorful graphics, and upbeat personality are wasted on a wobbly structure that gives you far too few modes and far too few options to work with. You’d be better off tracking down an old DS copy of Space Bust-A-Move on the cheap.

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Pros:
+ Match three bubble popping is still good fun
+ Bright, colorful graphics and presentation

Cons:
– Skimpy mode offering
– Doesn’t even try to use any of the new 3DS system features
– No unlockables or customization options to keep you coming back

Game Info:
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Taito
Release Date: 3/27/2011
Genre: Puzzle
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!