Bubble Bobble certainly had its day in the sun, earning a direct sequel, at least one remake, and selling loads of copies. However, Bub & Bob's future lay largely in their spinoff games, the most popular being the Bust-A-Move series. Known for their whimsical, addictive gameplay, and occasionally for their nightmare-fueling cover art, these games have been going strong for almost 20 years.
The SNES version of Bust-A-Move is super-simple to pick up and play. Left & right on the D-pad aims the catapult, while up centers it, and any of the face buttons fire the bubbles. The left & right shoulder buttons let you fine-tune your aim, making it easier to pull off those bank shots. You earn a modest number of point for simply popping bubbles, but you can earn huge point multipliers by knocking large numbers of bubbles loose at once. Therefore, it's usually in your best interest to aim for the bubbles at the top, and work your way down. It's also in your best interest to work fast because you're scored on how long it takes to complete each level. Some levels sport special wild bubbles that, when hit, explode, wipe out a whole line of bubbles, or change all nearby bubbles to a single color. A lucky shot on one of these bubbles can make very short work of the rest. My personal record is a three-second, two-shot win.
Bust-A-Move for SNES also sports a vs mode, which can be played with another person or against the computer. Here, the goal is to knock the other player out by filling his screen with bubbles. If you pop a certain number of bubbles at once or cause a cascade of bubbles to drop, a bunch of random bubbles will appear on the bottom of your opponent's play field. In addition, lines of bubbles appear at the top of the screen at regular intervals, keeping you from ever completely clearing your own field. To win the match, you have to keep enough dangling bubbles around as ammo, but not so many that your own field fills up. It's a fast-paced nail-biting balancing act that's a lot of fun, and a big departure from the slower, more deliberate single-player mode. Winning a best-of-three match against the computer bumps you up the ladder to more difficult opponents who are faster, less indecisive and less likely to make mistakes. As with the one player game, you can continue as many times as you like, and save your progress with a password.
There's very little to complain about in Bust-A-Move. It's a faithful port of a very simple arcade puzzle game. I would have preferred to see less wasted screen space, and more variety to the levels in the one player game. The catapult changes angles a bit too slowly for the more fast-paced vs mode, too. That dinosaur on crank duty really needs to get the lead out. Other than that, it's simple, fun, cheerful and addictive.
As I mentioned before, the Bust-A-Move games have been going strong since they first hit shelves and arcades in 1994. They've seen a release on nearly every console and hand-held made since the SNES, so it's easy to find a used copy dirt-cheap. Though the SNES original has yet to appear on the Wii's Virtual Console, a very similar Wiiware version, called Bust-A-Move Plus, is available for less than a sawbuck. Well worth the money if you've never played these games before.
Thanks for reading my review! Next up: Armed with a plastic six-shooter, we're bring law and order to the Old West in Lethal Enforcers 2: Gun Fighters.