|Some confusion over the overseas releases of this latest in the series; as it was about to come out in Japan, "Bust-A-Move Deluxe," to be published in the States soon afterward by Majesco, was announced, and, separately, a title called "Bust-A-Move Ghost" got passed around. It sounded like "Ghost" would be the NA version of UPBP, only with a yet-to-be-announced release date, and I figured they'd be filling in the time with BAMD, which must be a localized version of the earlier "Puzzle Bobble Pocket" (see entry 935). Part of the reason for my confusion was a vague news story on I think maybe IGN a few months earlier, mentioning an upcoming Bust-A-Move version for the US with updated graphics.|
So anyway, I imported UPBP, but as it turns out, BAMD and BAMG are the same game, just localized for the States and Europe, respectively. Still, pretty much everything in the Japanese version is English, except for the auto-save screen text, so no biggie (and "Puzzle Bobble" sounds so much better than "Bust-A-Move," if you ask me).
There's no "Story" mode, like you might have been used to from the older arcade/console Puzzle Bobbles, but there are a *ton* of modes here, many of them new and innovative. Let's discuss them one by one, shall we?
Going through single-player first, you've got "Classic Puzzle" mode, where, yes, you launch bubbles upscreen, matching pairs of three of like color to clear them from the screen. A few special bubble types, like explosive fire bubbles, and shiny genocide bubbles (pop all bubbles of the color they first contact), spice things up. Oh, and the rainbow bubbles, which take on the color of a bubble that pops next to them.
Next is "Ghost Puzzle" mode, which is mostly like Classic, except that the bubbles you launch will go through everything until they've bounced off a wall. So you'll find yourself working backwards, much of the time, bouncing bubbles off the ceiling, to land on the upper side of the bubble cluster you're trying to clear. It's tougher than Classic because all your shots are ricochet shots, and also they take longer to connect, which makes it tougher to score.
Ah, score. So, each of these two modes has a stage selector at the beginning, and you can go to any stage you've cleared. The selector has three digits, and I'm not sure how many stages of each mode there are, but I've heard there are something like 1000 stages of modes in the game, so...it's a lot, I think. Now, if you'll recall, I was quite disappointed with the earlier PSP "Puzzle Bobble Pocket" because it doesn't save your score per stage (the NGPC's "Puzzle Bobble Mini," entry 756, does), just the number of the highest stage you'd reached. Ultra doesn't save score per stage either, which is too bad, but it does save overall score per game. See, it's kind of an arcade feel, where no matter what stage you start at, your score is zero, and it builds between stages until you fail a stage, at which point it's game over. I'd still have liked it to store score/clear time per stage, but oh well.
Now, the scoring for almost all the modes is that if you beat the stage in less than a minute, you get a bonus, but the bonus decreases after I think 5 seconds (I think the max bonus up to that point is 500,000). Popping bubbles in itself will only net you a couple hundred points per stage, so you can see that almost all of your score will actually come from time bonuses. This is a little out of whack on some modes that take a long time to clear. But we'll get to those soon here, if we get back on track.
The rest of the single-player modes don't have a level-selector; you always start at stage one, unless you select "YES" to continue right after losing a stage. They seem to have just a handful of stages each, though (six, for instance, on at least a few of them).
"Blind Puzzle" mode comes next. This mode is mostly like Classic, except that you can't see the colors of any of the bubbles initially on the screen, so it takes some trial and error to get things cleared up. This makes it kind of tough.
"Seesaw Puzzle" is really tough, but I know this one only has six stages (there are actually more than that, I think, but in semi-random presentation, and you only have to beat six in a row). Here, every turn or two the whole stage tilts by a set amount toward the side that has more bubbles on it. More than three consecutive tilts past vertical to one side, and the stage collapses, and you lose. You can get really screwed if you get a puzzle with separate bubble clusters on either side, and end up clearing one of them, while the other has some bubbles left--then sometimes you simply don't have enough time to clear the other, and sideways-spilling doom is inevitable. To beat stages you often have to dump junk bubbles over to the lighter side, just to get the thing upright again before you go back to trying to clear off bubbles. Pretty tough but, with six stages, still pretty short.
"Shot Puzzle" is the one I have the toughest time with, though. You get one shot to clear each stage. Miss, and you have to continue, losing your score. Ouch. On the other hand, since you can clear each stage in one shot, you get a big score each time you clear just one stage, 'cause of the big bonus time (time under 1 minute).
"Running Launcher Puzzle" is the one that I find most frustrating vis-a-vis scoring, because the launcher moves side to side as you're trying to shoot, and usually you have to wait a few moments for the launcher to get into position for the shot you want, so clearing a stage takes as good long time. I suppose if I got really good at it I would work in angling the launcher on the fly, but, eh, then you'll probably still at some point have to rotate it slowly back the other way.
"Time Warp Puzzle" seems mostly pointless, as all it does is speed things up or slow them down randomly, which really boils down to you having to watch where your aim goes when you're trying to adjust it, since if time "speeds up" suddenly, the launcher rotates faster. It sucks to sit through the "slow time" periods. Too bad you can't set the rest of the game to play in slightly faster time... More on that later.
I like "Mix 'Em Up Puzzle" mode, maybe just because it's so random. It plays like Classic, except that every now and then, some or all of the bubbles of one color will change to another color. What very often happens is you end up with a bubble queued up on your launcher that now has no match on the screen, and if you can't dump it, you have to clutter up the screen with bogus bubbles. Kind of crazy.
Vs mode (at least vs CPU--haven't checked vs player) replaces "Shot Puzzle" and "Seesaw Puzzle" with "Color Puzzle" and "Count Puzzle." In these two modes, you and the enemy take turns shooting on the same puzzle. In "Color Puzzle" you score by clearing a bubble of a certain single color; in "Count Puzzle" you score by clearing any bubbles. "Color Puzzle" is a little too random for me, or maybe just too slow, since it often takes a bunch of turns to get even a chance to clear bubbles of the right color; "Count Puzzle" shows how the turn-switching can be interesting, since it is actually in your interest to waste a shot if making it would have given a scoring shot to your opponent. The CPU isn't mean enough to throw shots away, as far as I've seen, so you can usually whup it up, but it's kind of fun to be screwing it over all deviously and stuff.
The non-turn-switching VS modes have simple combos: if you clear bubbles so that bubbles that were attached to them fall free, and those bubbles can match with any other bubbles on your screen to make more three+ matches, then they do that automatically for you. Bust-A-Move 4 (see entry 755) has this, I think.
They also have block patterns that differ per character. There are maybe eight characters or so that you can choose from, both in single and VS. It confused me as to what difference picking a particular character made in single-player modes, but I think what it is, is that they play identically, but when you clear a mode, for instance beating six stages in "Seesaw Puzzle," the character you were using gets a higher level available (now, why you can choose what level of those you've earned per character in single-player is another question; maybe the puzzles in some of the modes are tougher if you pick a higher character level? or give more score?). The levels really kick in in VS, because if you play using a character at a higher level, the bubbles they add to their opponent's side when they clear extra bubbles from their own side are nastier.
I've read that you can also unlock additional characters by clearing all the stages (300?) in Classic mode. I've also read that each character has three levels available.
Graphically, UPBP is one of the best-looking PB games I've seen, or maybe even the best. The bubbles have a great glossy glimmer to them, with little impact and bursting effects when appropriate, and the characters are the cute old Taito sprite style, rather than the whack wanna-be-post-modern style they rolled out for their recent spate of "Super" or "3000" versions of the series.
One thing you'll notice, though, is that the speed is slower than in earlier PB games. It isn't that the framerate is bad or anything, just that the launcher and bubbles move a bit slower than in other PB games. I kind of wish there was a speed option, but anyway, you get used to the slower pace pretty quickly (ooh, unintentional pun or something there).
The background graphics and sound all have a kind of Halloween theme to them, which is a little odd since the game released everywhere in April, but hey, in itself it works fairly well, and maybe it was to go along with the "Ghost" mode anyway.
Ultra Puzzle Bobble Pocket still has that addictive "just one more stage..." thing to it that has carried the series all these years, with an attractive presentation, and a bunch of brand-new modes to boot, some of which are actually pretty neat. This puts it in the running for one of the best PB games of all time--per-table score/time saving and maybe some kind of "Story" mode would definitely have put it over the top.