Review: Puzzle Bobble (Neo Geo CD)

Puzzle Bobble (Bust-A-Move in North America) is a simple puzzle game originally released in Japanese arcades in 1994. The Neo Geo CD version was released less than a year later, in May 1995.

Like most Puzzle Games, Puzzle Bobble is a deceptively simple game. The goal is to match 3 or more colored bubbles on the screen, which then disappear. You win the round by clearing all of the bubbles off the game field. Each round starts with bubbles randomly placed on the game field. At the bottom of the screen, you control a pointer and press A to fire a bubble onto the game field. The bubbles shoot in a straight line, but can ricochet off the sides of the sides of the game field.

The game play is incredibly simple and moving the pointer works equally well with a joypad or joystick. On the first level, or after you use a continue, the game provides a dotted line on the screen showing you where your bubble will land at that particular pointing position. I found this to be a very helpful way to get new players quickly up to speed on the game mechanics.

There are 30 levels total, and an hour to 90 minute session should be enough to complete the game. The levels vary from having a bunch of bubbles all clustered at the top of the screen, to a single strand of bubbles down the middle of the play field. The play field is 8 bubbles wide. The vertical aspect of the play field gets shorter and shorter as the match progresses, and you lose once the uncleared bubbles reach the bottom of the play field.

As the top of the game field moves downward, and the bubbles get closer to the bottom of the play field, the music gets faster and faster, which creates good tension. Sadly, Puzzle Bobble only has one musical track. While it is an pleasant and catchy song, it can get a bit tedious after extended play. I expected a bit more from a CD based game.

Graphically, the game is very colorful. There are 8 different colored bubbles. Each bubble also has an enemy from the original Bubble Bobble arcade game, inside. While this is a cute touch, it actually helped me discern the difference between the different colors; I am color blind. Besides the bubbles, there really isn't a lot going on. There are half a dozen colorful backgrounds that rotate as you progress through the game. The final handful of levels actually feature a scrolling background. As those levels progress, that background scrolls faster and faster, which also helps build up the tension. I still would have liked to see more backgrounds.

The game gives you unlimited continues to complete the game. While this may seem cheap at first, but the real challenge of the game is getting higher and higher scores. When you match 3 or more bubbles, they pop. If any other bubbles were hanging from those bubbles, and not attached to game field in any other way, they fall as well. The more bubbles that get cleared with one pop, the more points you get. Additionally, the faster you complete a level, the bigger your time bonus is. This game keeps me coming back because I want to complete the levels faster and faster, and break my old high score.

Like Tetris, Puzzle Bobble gives you a sneak peek at what bubble is coming up next. This helps with strategy. Once you clear out all of one color of bubbles, the game will stop giving you those colored bubbles to shoot. The amount of turns it takes for the top of the field to move down is dependent on how many different colored bubbles are left on the play field. The game flows really well with all of these different game play aspects. Each round starts of slow. As you progress through each level, the music gets faster and the play field gets smaller, building up a great sense of urgency, and relief when you beat a level. This is a very fun and very addicting game.

There is also a nice two player mode. Each player gets there own play field, the same size as the as in the single player mode. When you clear bubbles off of your play field, bubbles are randomly placed on the other player's play field, hopefully messing up them up. If your bubbles reach the bottom of the screen, you lose. The first person to win 3 rounds is declared the winner. The 2 player mode is a nice addition to the game.

Puzzle Bobble has only 1 load screen, which occurs when booting up. After that, there is no break in the action.

Puzzle Bobble is a great game that easily accessible to anyone. It has the easy-to-learn, hard-to-master quality that makes the game very addictive. Puzzle Bobble is a bit lacking in the graphics and music department, but that isn't that uncommon in the puzzle genre. The game is easily obtainable for a reasonable price, and I would highly recommend it to anyone.

Graphics - 5/10
Sound - 4/10
Gameplay - 9/10
Overall - 7/10 Great fun but lacking in a few areas