First Impressions: Tired of shooting aliens and terrorists? Shoot bubbles instead!
Quick, name five puzzle games for the Xbox... take your time? I can wait?
Okay, so it was a trick question. The fact is there aren't five puzzle games for the Xbox; in fact, there are only three: Tetris Worlds, Egg-Mania and Super Bubble Pop, and all three are mediocre at best. (Well, technically, there are five, but Puyo Pop Fever and Plus Plum 2 are only available in Japan.) For puzzle fans, the Xbox has so far not been the platform of choice.
But in the age of Doom 3, Halo 2 and other multimillion-dollar 3-D gaming sensations, why do simple puzzle games matter?
It all comes down to demographics. Sure, the big names get all the press and sell millions of copies, but for the most part, these games tend to attract the heavy to hard-core gamer. It's a lucrative market to be certain, but there is another huge market that developers tend to ignore: the casual gamer. This gamer isn't particularly interested in running around with a gun blasting baddies, or making the enormous time commitment required to finish a RPG. Rather, the casual gamer is interested in something simple he or she can pick up and play for a few minutes during their spare time. Puzzle games appeal to this demographic because of their easy yet challenging game play, and can quietly be worth millions.
Naturally, puzzle games are not just for casual gamers; even hard-core FPS fraggers enjoy taking a puzzle break from the flying bullets too. It is for all these reasons why Microsoft is developing Xbox Live Arcade, and why puzzle game fans are eagerly awaiting the arrival of Majesco's Ultra Bust-A-Move.
Ultra Bust-A-Move is an update of the popular bubble-popping game from consoles past. On the surface, it is a very basic game; all you do is shoot a bubble into like-colored bubbles at the top of the screen. Join three or more bubbles together and they pop. Clear the screen and you move on to the next round. Almost sounds boring, right? But like Tetris, Bust-A-Move is incredibly addicting and can cause you to stretch a five-minute game into well over an hour as you try to rack up more points and get to the more challenging rounds.
Rather than simply port the classic game to the Xbox, Majesco and developer Taito worked hard to earn the "Ultra" in the title. Graphics have been enhanced, of course, and game play has been updated to include over a dozen special bubbles that can help you clear the board faster.
Perhaps the biggest inclusion is Xbox Live support and real-time global statistics. Yes, you will be able to go head to head with another opponent online and have your bubble-bursting prowess on the leader boards for all to envy.
There are also five new game modes in addition to the classic game we all know and love. Blind Puzzle is a challenging mode where all the bubbles on the screen are colorless and they only briefly flash their true color when you hit them, which means you'll need a sharp memory to clear the screen. The downside? This mode is only available in single player offline, which is a shame because it would probably be a blast to play over Live.
Color Puzzle is a multiplayer game where random colors are called out and the first player to pop that color earns a point. Sounds easy enough, but there's a twist: both players share the same board and alternate their shots, so strategy comes into play as you don't want to set up bubbles only to have your opponent pop them and get the point. Count Puzzle also puts you and your opponent on the same board, but the player who bursts the most bubbles wins. In both games, you can try to snooker your opponent by placing bubbles to block his shots, but you can also end up blocking yourself too.
See-Saw Puzzle is an interesting game where the bubbles have "weight". If bubbles start piling up on one side, the whole board starts tipping in that direction and will eventually keel over and crash if you don't balance the board.
For quick games, the Shot Puzzle gives you one shot to clear the whole board. Sounds simple, but you will need deadly accurate aim to overcome obstacles to win. The quick nature of this game ? you take your one shot and you either win or lose ? will likely make it the least popular mode.
There is purportedly a hidden 3-D mode that you can unlock as well if you're an especially proficient popping pro.
The single player game takes you from A to Z ? literally. You select a letter and clear it by beating a series of boards. Once the letter is cleared, you unlock more letters and progress until you beat the big Z. Along the way, 12 cute characters with names like Pochi and Ms. Killer cheer you on when you do well, and hang their heads in shame when you don't. The cute animations, like in previous versions, add to the fun atmosphere of the game but can be a love-it-or-hate-it affair.
Best of all, Ultra Bust-A-Move will retail for under $20, which makes it a no-brainer addition to any puzzle-lover's gaming library.