Developer / Publisher – Survios, Taito Corporation
Price – US $19.99 / CAN $22.99 / EU €19.99 / UK £17.99 / AU $24.95
Release Date – May 20, 2021
Input – 2 x Tracked Motion Controllers
Play Area – Sitting, Standing
Store – Oculus
Reviewed on – Quest 2
Puzzle Bobble, or alternatively Bust-A-Move, is a franchise that has been around since 1994 and is a spin-off of one of my childhood favorites in Bubble Bobble for the NES. It’s a franchise with over 20 titles across multiple platforms and now tries its hand at Virtual Reality, begging the question, can a puzzle franchise only ever in 2D make the jump not only to 3D, but VR in one shot?
For those familiar with the series, the base controls are the same save for how you fire your bubbles as instead of just a button press, you now need to place your next bubble into the top of your handheld launcher and then pull said bubble back, like a sling shot. Bub will toss you the next coloured ball and have 1 queued up which you can swap with a press of the ‘X’ button should that colour be of better use. You need to chain at least 3 balls together with any balls that are touching those 3, and are of the same colour, will pop with the goal being to eliminate all the bubbles to get the core and destroy it. Bubbles with stars in it will destroy any bubbles of that color with ones with skulls slowing down your efforts by slowing down Bub while others change the colors of surrounding balls, blow up others and a few more additions as well. When you accrue enough coins, you can purchase single use power ups that can make any individual stage drastically easier with the initial cost being quite high though subsequent purchases cost much less. These can let you blow up a huge cluster of bubbles, change their colors or spin all of them around. There are 3 modes of play with the campaign being comprised of 100 stages, infinite mode let’s you play indefinitely until you fail or duel mode which has you facing off against another player online in some very frenetic efforts.
Puzzle Bobble looks really good as you are essentially taken on a tour of the island, visiting a variety of locales with the cluster of bubbles floating ahead of you. You’ll find yourself playing on docks with an ocean view, ruins, cliff sides and plenty more areas, all taking place during different times of the day which is very noticeable by the stunning lighting effects at play. Long shadows may blanket the landscape around you during a setting sun which also casts a light glow over Bub and your gun, making for some very immersive moments and I couldn’t help but just stop and admire my surroundings and gun as it reflected the fading suns light. Bub is beside you with your next ball at the ready and animates fantastically, as if he were ripped right from a kid’s film, and your slingshot gun carries some fantastic details with little gears and rotors reacting to just how hard you pull back on the launcher. The “story” if you want to call it that, is told by still frame images that occur every few stages but is honestly the most forgettable element in the game as it’s basically just a bad guy shows up, causes some trouble and now you need to play the game to beat him? It doesn’t make sense and it doesn’t really need too as no one is playing a Puzzle Bobble game for the narrative.
Sound design is also on point with what may be the most satisfying sound in the history of gaming when you launch your ball with a massively successful shot. The slingshot gun sounds like it packs a punch and when you knock off a huge chunk of spheres, cheers erupt, and Bub celebrates as well making for a pretty solid audible reward. The soundtrack is mostly harmless, recycling tracks from previous titles as well as some new ones but really is only here to ensure the game isn’t bathed in silence as there isn’t too much going on outside of your slingshot. That soundtrack is a collection of forgettable, but upbeat tunes that keep the mood light and while they do fall into the background, they never really annoyed me so I’m happy with that.
I’m happy to say that Puzzle Bobble makes the transition to VR near flawlessly, staying true to the classic franchise in every way. Repetition is the name of the game here as is trying to get those precious 3-stars by using the least number of shots possible or finishing in a fast time, should that stage give you a time limit. The initial price for those bonus items is hefty and will require substantial campaign play as the other 2 modes are very sparing in their coin rewards. Infinity mode has you trying to destroy ball clusters before they are sucked up into a back hole above you and is fun, bu as I said, offers little reward. Duel was a nice surprise and plays identically to infinity save that you have some competition that you can sabotage by popping large clusters of balls, which, if you destroy enough, will send jammer bubbles to our opponent, making it more challenging for them.
Puzzle Bobble in VR works great, and I think fans of the series will dig this latest instalment despite the dramatic shift in gameplay. If you aren’t a fan of the series, for whatever reason, I doubt this will change your mind as while I do think it’s made better by being in VR, it’s ultimately still the same formula. The duel mode really spices things up however and if you are looking for a slightly more chill experience in a headset, Puzzle Bobble delivers a charming and addicting game.
What would I pay? This is $20 US and worth it for fans of the series as getting through the campaign stages will probably take at least a few hours (I’m still struggling) and the additional modes offer some decent replay value.
Survios provided The VR Grid with a press code for this title and, regardless of this review, we thank them for that!