Several puzzle games have a “Match 3” mechanic to them. Some more recent examples are Bejeweled and Puzzle Quest. One of the earliest games with this kind of mechanic was Bust-A-Move, which premiered in the US in 1994 in the arcades featuring the characters from Bubble Bobble. Since then several versions have shown up on most of the major and portable consoles. The series is still going strong with the latest iteration, Space Bust-A-Move on the Nintendo DS.
Instead of a group of colors or patterns falling down, Bust-A-Move features a single color “bubble” being shot up towads the top of the screen towards other bubbles. The player aims the direction of the bubble and can use the borders of the area to make bank shots. The object is to connect three bubbles of the same color to each other and cause them to burst. If some bubbles are no longer connected after the bubbles have burst, those drop from the screen. The objective is to make all of the bubbles disappear as quickly as possible before any bubbles cross a line the same level as your bubble gun. The screen may have special bubbles in it, like the Rainbow Bubbles that turn into a bubble of the color of a bubble that bursts right next to it, the Star Bubbles that burst all bubbles of the color that touches it, and the Bomb Bubbles that explode and burst any bubbles it comes in contact with.
Space Bust-A-Move features a story mode where Bub and Bob are strolling along when a space ship crashes in front of them and the passenger asks them to help search for Cosmo Bubbles. This sets the stage where you travel to different worlds with different themes. Each of these worlds have three stages and then a boss battle. Each stage has five rounds, and you have to clear each round to complete eah stage. The Cosmo Bubble is contained in one of these rounds, and you have to be careful not to pop the Cosmo Bubble. However, you can continue on even if you don’t capture the Cosmo Bubble, but if you lose it you will probably want to go back and restart the stage.
The boss battles are a unique twist. The stages only use the bottom screen of the DS, but the boss battles use the top and bottom screen. The bosses are similar to old school bosses where you have a pattern you need to figure out to destroy them, but it gives the game something to break up the previous stages. The bosses also throw out bubble obstacles that you need to burst to attack the boss directly.
A few other modes are available. The versus mode has you choose a character and level and then compete against the other characters in the game, similar to Super Puzzle Fighter II. The endless mode has you trying to burst bubbles until they overwhelm you and cross the line. In the challenge mode you try to get the highest score in three or five minutes. Several mini-games are also included. The pressure mode gives you one shot to burst all the bubbles. The puzzle mode has you five rounds that you need to clear to unlock new stages, similar to the story mode. Finally there is the factory mode where you are given a certain number of bubbles to burst all the bubbles in the round.
If you don’t feel like playing alone, then Space Bust-A-Move has a few multiplayer options. If you have a few friends with their DS close by, then you can play by using the DS Download Play option. This is nice since you can play with others without everyone having a copy of the game. You can also play online with the Wi-Fi connection. Unfortunately, this method still uses the archaic Friend Code system.
The game controls decently enough with just the D-pad and A button, but sometimes it is hard to get the arrow to aim in the exact right direction. Sometimes you want the arrow to move over once, but hitting the D-pad makes it move twice. Most of the time this isn’t an issue, but getting the exact precise direction when under a time limit can be frustrating.