What can the unique hardware of the Nintendo 3DS do to invigorate the 16-year-old Bust-A-Move (aka Puzzle Bobble) puzzle game series? Based on Bust-A-Move Universe, not much. This is a game that strives to be old-school on Nintendo's modern-day platform.
I played about an hour's worth of Bust-A-Move Universe on the 3DS earlier this week, a game that felt little different from the Neo Geo version I used to play in arcades. You're still controlling a cute, chubby dinosaur, Bub, as he launches multi-coloured bubbles at other bubbles, aiming to match three or more to clear the screen of a spectrum of orbs.
There are a few special bubble attacks in this Bust-A-Move, like Spark Bubbles that fire on a 3D arc, changing the colour whatever bubbles are in its blast radius; Wild Bubbles, a wildcard orb; and the Laser Bubble, a destructive beam. None are game changers. None of them feel all that critical to gameplay.
The 3DS version controls well enough, letting players use the d-pad or circle pad to aim their shots, with precision control handled by the L and R shoulder buttons.
Bust-A-Move Universe implements stereoscopic 3D subtly, causing gears at the edges of the top screen to pop, whatever planet you're orbiting to appear far in the distance. It's easy to give up the 3D features here in favour of a better look at your playfield.
What disappoints about the first hour of Bust-A-Move Universe is its thin feature set. There are two main modes, the story-driven Puzzle Mode and high score-driven Challenge Mode. There's no multiplayer, no wi-fi support to speak of, meaning some of the Nintendo 3DS's more interesting features, like Street Pass or improved online multiplayer connections, will be experienced by Bust-A-Move fans.
At least Bust-A-Move Universe is inexpensive. At $US29.99, it's the cheapest of the Nintendo 3DS launch titles. Perhaps a good buy for younger, more frugal Puzzle Bobble fans, but feature starved enough to probably warrant passing on.