|Reference added: 643
"Bust-A-Move 4 has the same cute art style and characters as the original Bubble Bobble."
I didn't think much of this puzzler for a long time, other than that it had pretty jewel-like balls to bust. But after years of neglect I've just gone back to give it a little try, and found myself playing it obsessively all day long, not stopping to eat or use the bathroom (this doesn't happen to me often, I swear). So yeah, I think it's pretty good.
The thing is that there are so many different modes of bubble-popping madness. I don't think I can even list them. There are Vs. story modes and regular story modes, arcade mode, the second arcade mode puzzle set that you get a code for after beating arcade mode, six unlockable characters for a total of sixteen, a single-player mode with 231 stages where you can pick any stage you want, regular two-player Vs. mode, an endless single-player Vs. mode, Edit mode... and that's about all I can remember. There may be one or two more.
Anyway it's a lot, and to think it all comes down to launching a colored bubble up into at least two matching bubbles to make the group disappear. Repeat and you clear the stage. To mix things up there are blocks that don't pop, rainbow bubbles that change color when nearby bubbles pop, star blocks that take out all of the bubbles matching the color of the bubble you hit them with, pulleys that get weighed down and descend dangerously downscreen as they get weighed down with bubbles, and hm that's all I can think of right now. The pulleys, apparently, are new to Bust-A-Move 4, and are only found in the arcade and story-style modes.
Also new, I gather, is the combo system in Vs. mode. You can turn it off if you're an old-schooler, but I like it quite a bit. Vs. mode is really fun even just vs the CPU for some reason (I haven't played it vs a human yet). I don't normally like Vs. modes with the CPU much, especially in block drop puzzle games, but somehow defeating a series (endless or otherwise) of cute, well-animated freaks with nasty overloads of combo-spawned bubbles is really fun. Combos can happen when you pop bubbles in such a way that other bubbles are free to fall downscreen--the free bubbles loop back up and burst other bubbles, and if those free yet more bubbles, the combo continues. Cool stuff because even a ham-handed puzzle player like me can set up little combos and things.
On the default difficulty the game is pretty darn challenging, and I continue mercilessly (continues are unlimited but you lose your score). Someday maybe I'll get disciplined enough to try playing for score, and good enough to try a higher difficulty. Actually endless Vs. mode isn't very hard on the default difficulty, which is just fine with me. You can make it easier too by which character you pick because, as in Super Puzzle Fighter II X (see entry... wait, I guess I haven't written that one up yet, drat), when you get a big combo and drop vengeful bubbles on the opponent's side of the screen, the pattern of bubbles you hit them up with varies by character, and some characters have nastier patterns than others.
The story modes are fun because of the unique conversations that take place between the combatants. These must vary per each pair of characters, which makes for a lot of variety as you play through the game with the different characters. And they say such cute and funny little things to each other.
The game has a great, classic super-deformed Taito art style that harkens back to the original Bubble Bobble (see, for instance, Bubble Bobble Old & New, entry 643). The huge and well-animated cartoonish character sprites have an incredibly endearing charm, and they even kept their cute little Japanese voice clips in this localized version of the port. The backgrounds are static and subdued in color, and are also somewhat low in the color depth scale, but they have a lot of variety and the subdued tones help the bubbles and characters stand out. The bubbles, as I mentioned, have a lovely jewel-like quality in their rich color and hypnotic little animations of things inside them. A few of the sounds are a little annoying, but mostly they're very cute. The music is sweet and peppy without getting really annoying.
Now, lest you get the wrong impression, the graphics and sounds are clearly born from a mid-90's arcade board, so you won't experience anything like transparency effects, 3D, blur, huge true-color animation, CD-quality audio, high resolution, or anything like that. But if you can dig the bitty look and sound of a classic arcade game, I think you will appreciate the style that Bust-A-Move 4 has to offer.
This is one of those games where I can really get into a zone of just playing and playing, on and on, losing track of time as I get completely sucked into the game's wonderful little world. It's almost frightening, but it's so fun that I don't feel too bad about it. It's very challenging and takes constant quick vision and reflexes, but it has that "just one more play" quality that always makes me want to hit the Continue button even when I really screw up.
Control on the DC pad works quite nicely: the big D-pad moves the bubble launcher's aim in a very responsive way (oh, the little ticking sound as the launcher gears rotate the barrel...), and for fine aim you can use the shoulder buttons to nudge the launcher angle just ever so slightly to either side.
However, in considering the control we come to the part of this little rambling review where I have to talk just a bit about a few little problems with this port. Most outrageously, the game does not work on a joystick--moving the stick back and forth does crazy things like turn vibration on and off, or move the launcher the opposite direction, and the buttons are also suddenly mapped to all kinds of weird functions. It's baffling and just shouldn't have been allowed to happen, but there you have it.
The port is also just plain technically challenged in that it was done in Windows CE. I have yet to play a CE game on DC that doesn't feel sort of sub-optimal, and sure enough Bust-A-Move 4's modest graphics suffer a great deal of slowdown when a lot of stuff is going on, mostly during big combos in Vs. modes. This doesn't stop me from playing (good golly no) but it's a crying shame.
Bust-A-Move 4 also doesn't support VGA, which is too bad, but not exactly unprecedented among ports of older arcade games to DC--Taito's own "Psychic Force 2012" springs to mind, for instance.
Bust-A-Move 4, as far as I can tell by web-based research of reviews, screenshots and movies, appears to be the sweet spot in the series so far. I don't like the newfangled "retro future" style of the newer "Super" games in the series, the new characters just look dumb really and the color sense isn't as good, yet this one while retaining the classic look of the earlier games also appears to boast the most modes, boards and features of any of the older Puzzle Bobbles. As far as others in the series go I've only actually played Super Puzzle Bobble 2, and while it had a nice smooth framerate and lots of background animation and special effects, I don't think it has as many modes as this one, and the style isn't quite as charming, and I don't like some of the new gimmicks like the moving belt walls that alter the rebound path of bubbles. The Saturn one looks pretty nice, from the screenshots. I'm tempted to get the PS1 version of Bust-A-Move 4 to see if it has a better framerate--I haven't read of anyone else complaining about slowdown in any of the games in the series, so it's hard to tell right now how the PS1 version might stack up to the DC version in terms of speed.
This game rules. The technical problems, though far from negligible, just can't hold back the brilliance. Why oh why didn't I play this more before? Thank you, Taito.
|Download added: guide.jpg (77157 bytes)
"If you lose a board, when you continue you have the guide line to help aim. You can turn it off."
The guide-line, come to think of it, causes slowdown on its own. Stupid CE.