|I fell in love with the Bust-a-Move/Puzzle Bobble series starting with the DC version (see entry 755), and that grew to obsession with the handheld NGPC version (see entry 756). Then the series seemed to go astray into weird, annoying art and characters in various "Super" editions on GBA, PS2, and GC. Puzzle Bobble Pocket, fortunately, returns to the cute, clean super-deformed dinosaur art style of the originals; but it falls short in other areas.|
Might as well get the graphics out of the way. Hooray, the little dinosaurs Bubblun and Bobblun return, along with their various little cartoon enemies. The backgrounds are rather bright, but of a uniform color that doesn't make it hard to see the bubbles. The bubbles themselves have a nice little animated shimmer to them; not quite as pretty as, say, the DC version, but not far off. The menus are super cute.
The layout of the play field, however, could have been better. The active play area is framed in the middle of the screen, with significant vacant space around it, especially on either side. Taito filled these space in part with weird little bubble designs, and a spot for the character(s) to stand and animate a bit, but it still feels like filler--the game just isn't taking real advantage of the PSP's screen space, and it looks a bit half-assed because of this.
The actual aiming and shooting of the bubbles works very well on the PSP's little controls. You can use the shoulder buttons for very fine control, and the high resolution of the screen makes it very easy to line up precise shots, even if you opt to turn off the guide-line that comes along to help you on the first stage you select.
It's in the stage selection aspect that things start to feel a little weird here, however. "Single" mode gives you access to 500, yes, 500, individual puzzle levels: make triplets of the different colored bubbles to clear them off the screen; once the screen is clear, it's on to the next one. 500 levels is an incredible amount--consider, for instance, that the NGPC version had "only" 100--and you would think that any Puzzle Bobble fan would be in mini-dino heaven here. Well, almost.
Thing is, while the game tells you how long it took you to get through a stage when you complete it, it doesn't actually keep track of that information, or of your score, either total or per level. This in effect renders score and clear times useless, and leaves you with just getting through the stages. This is a big, big come down from, again for instance, the NGPC version, which tracks score and clear time for each stage, so even after you've got through all the stages, you can go back and replay each one over and over, trying to beat your previous scores. You can't do that in the PSP version--unless you're writing the times down or something, but let's face it, who's going to do that, really?--so, once you get through all 500 stages, chances are that you won't be going back to many of them.
And that's a shame.
Vs. and Survival modes put you in split-screen mode against CPU opponents, where popping bubbles in such a way that other bubbles drop off the screen sends patterns of bubbles over to fill up your opponent's side; also, if you have pairs of the same color bubble as one you knocked off, it will loop back up and match against that pair for a chain combo. This isn't particularly new to the series, but it really could have used a difficulty level selection, as the default, and only, difficulty level is, well, difficult. So I have a grand high score of "3" in Survival right now. While the game is kind enough to track this high score, I can't say that I feel incredibly inclined to go bash myself against that bitch of a CPU again any time soon.
And "Endless" mode just has you popping an ever-descending pile of bubbles, giving you a point not for each bubble you pop, but for each one you knock off.
This is nice, but even with a few trick bubbles (a star one that clears all bubbles of the same color as it hits, a flame one that explodes on contact, and a bowling-ball one that clears a path through the bubble pile), the game gets a little monotonous when you no longer have time/score to play for in Single mode. Sigh. I'm going to have to get a (big) sheet of paper and write down my times per stage, I suppose. That's such a mess, though. They should damn well have saved that information per level. Grrrr.
Also, they should'a had WiFi support for Vs. mode. What's a PSP game with a Vs mode but no WiFi? Stupid, that's what. It's funny how Taito managed to make a puzzle game with 500 levels feel half-assed--but it does. Puzzle Bobble deserved better treatment here.