Review: Space Bust-A-Move

SBAM Box Art.jpg I hate to sound like “Captain Obvious” here, but Space Bust-A-Move is, well, Bust-A-Move…in space. Adorable twin dragons Bub and Bob are back for another bubble-popping adventure, this one taking them on an intergalactic quest to collect Cosmo Bubbles and rescue the galaxy. And, well…the game plays just like all Bust-A-Move (aka Puzzle Bobble) games before it!

And that’s a very good thing, because the Bust-A-Move franchise is widely regarded as one of the true classics of the match-three puzzle genre.

For those who haven’t played a Bust-A-Move game before, it’s really quite simple. A formation of different colored bubbles gradually falls down the screen and you have to fire bubbles up at the sinking formation to clear the playing field before the bubbles hit the bottom of the screen. You do this by matching like-colored bubbles in clusters of at least three, and as you play you’ll learn different strategies that help you clear bubbles faster and earn higher scores, such as ricocheting bubbles off the side walls to angle them into tight groupings and finding ways to clear bubbles high up in the chain to trigger those that are underneath to fall from the screen on their own.

As you get further into the game and the difficulty cranks up, luck of the draw occasionally plays too much of a role in whether you win or lose – sometimes you’ll start a level with a string of colors you simply can’t use, and by the time you get the colors you do need it’s too late and you fail – but all in all the Bust-A-Move formula is great fun and wildly addictive.

Specifically relating to Space Bust-A-Move, though, I do think Taito could have come up with a better touch-screen interface. The game is supposedly compatible with the DS paddle controller Taito released in Japan (I don’t have one so I couldn’t test it to confirm), but if you’re not an importer you have to choose between regular D-pad controls or a somewhat clunky touch-screen method in which you use the stylus to tap left/right arrows on your ball launcher to aim and fire. The controls work, but they aren’t exactly ideal. Thankfully the D-pad mechanics are much better.

On top of the fun bubble-popping gameplay, Space Bust-A-Move is absolutely bursting with modes and unlockables. The main story mode has you trekking across the galaxy to eight different planets, each home to three stages and a world-ending boss battle. There’s also an Endless mode in which you keep popping bubbles for as long as you can, a Challenge mode in which you can play either 3 and 5-minute timed levels and chart your daily scoring performance, a CPU Versus mode, and unlockable bonus modes Pressure (you have only one bubble to clear each stage), Puzzle (same basic gist as the main play style, the bubble formations are just trickier) and Factory (clear each stage with a set number of bubbles). The three bonus modes must be bought from the in-game shop using earned in-game currency, and you can also buy other extras like a music jukebox and a wide variety of customization graphics altering the look of the bubbles and bubble launcher.

Multiplayer is a huge part of the game as well. Single-card download play is supported for up to four players, which is always great to see, and you can also play against other live players online via the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. The online performance isn’t fully optimized – there’s this persistent lag causing the frame rate to run a fraction slower than the offline gameplay – but once I got a few games under my belt it didn’t bother me. It throws off your timing a little bit, so you just have to adjust.

Space Bust-A-Move is more like a baby step up from the previous DS installment Majesco put out nearly four years ago rather than a true evolutionary leap forward, but that’s OK because the time-tested bubble-bursting gameplay mechanics are still as fun today as they were when the series started many years ago, and the added online support and unlockables shop, along with the colorful, upbeat presentation, only sweeten the deal.

At only $20, Space Bust-A-Move is one bubbly puzzler you shouldn’t let float away!

BuyIt.jpg

Pros:
+ Fun, addictive match-three puzzle gameplay
+ Loaded with modes and unlockables
+ Multiplayer supports online and single-card play
+ Bubbly, upbeat presentation
+ $20 price hits the sweet spot

Cons:
– Somewhat laggy online play
– Touch screen implementation could have been better
– Luck factor can be frustrating sometimes

Game Info:
Platform: DS
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Taito
Release Date: 7/28/09
Genre: Puzzle
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1-4
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!