Released by SNK for the Neo Geo Pocket Color in April of 1999, Puzzle Bobble Mini (or Bust-a-Move Pocket) is an addictive,
fun little puzzle game. Yes, this is the same game that has appeared on pretty much every console to hit the street, in one
form or another, but that shouldn't keep the NGPC owner from enjoying this version.
If there is a story behind this puzzler, it isn't readily apparent from loading up the game and playing it. Like Tetris;
however, this isn't a bad thing at all. Too often games get weighed down by having needless story modes forced upon them,
when they are just good, fun, simple games on their own merits.
The game play of Puzzle Bobble Mini is deceptively simple. The player controls a pointer at the bottom of the screen
that shoots various colored bubbles at a slowly encroaching wall, composed of various colored bubbles, that moves from the
top of the screen down toward the player's arrow. The player's goal is to make combinations of three or more same colored
bubbles to destroy part of the wall. The wall must be destroyed before it reaches the player's arrow, or it's game over.
This all plays out over the game's four main modes: Puzzle, Survivor, vs. CPU, and vs. Player.
Puzzle offers the real meat of the single player game. It contains ninety-nine levels of puzzling play, varying in difficulty
from simple to fiendishly clever. While the simple game play is always the same, it's amazing how much variety can be achieved
from simply changing the wall's design. A cool feature of Puzzle mode is that every level has its own top times list. This
really increases the replay value by allowing the player to save their best times and come back later to try and best them.
Survivor is just what it sounds like. The player attempts to keep the oncoming wall of bubbles at bay for as long as
possible while achieving as high a score as possible. Sure, you are destined to lose eventually, but that doesn't keep this
mode from offering a good amount of fun, for a while at least. Due mostly to the length of the games, Survivor mode can quickly
become repetitious. It is not too difficult for a skilled player to keep at a Survivor mode game for thirty to forty-five
minutes or more. There is some replay value in trying to top high scores, but the length of the games seems ill suited for
the portable format.
What puzzle game would be complete without competitive play? Certainly not Puzzle Bobble Mini and so the player will
find the first of two competitive modes in vs. CPU. As denoted by the "vs.", it is a mode in which the player squares
off against a computer opponent. Basically, this is a split screen version of the single player game in which bubbles destroyed
by one participant cause more bubbles to press down on the other until one has failed to keep the bubble wall at bay. Against
the computer, this isn't too difficult, by and large.
Like vs. CPU, vs. Player is a competitive mode. Unlike vs. CPU, vs. Player is against a live opponent. Due to the lack
of market penetration for the NGPC, I don't know anyone else that owns one, at least not within connection cable reach, so
I wasn't able to test this mode, but my guess is that it is a lot like vs. CPU, except against a human opponent that may or
may not offer more of a challenge than the computer, depending on skill level, of course.
Presentation isn't one of Puzzle Bobble Mini's brightest points. It is not bad, by any means, but it is not exactly
pushing the hardware. Graphically, the sprites are generally colorful and have a decent amount of detail, but often it is
easy to confuse some of the colors in less than bright light. Granted, some of this is due to the inherent limitations of
the hardware; namely lack of a backlit screen, but some of it is due to the use of very similar colors for bubbles. While
not spectacular, the graphics are nice and sufficient for the games style of play.
Sound is mediocre as well. It does the job, but it is not anything that is going to win any awards. The basic sounds
that are expected are here and accounted for: a bouncing sound, a popping sound, and the firing noise. It's nothing special,
but it gets the job done and is not annoying. The music is nice and light, but again, nothing memorable. After a while,
I just turned the sound down and played in silence. It didn't hurt the game one bit.
One particular point of note is the controls: They have translated very well to the NGPC's analog stick control system.
They are responsive and easy to use, thus letting Puzzle Bobble Mini retain all the quality aspects of its home console and
arcade cousins. It was a nice surprise, although not completely unexpected on the NGPC.
While Puzzle Bobble Mini may just be another port in the long line of Puzzle Bobble ports to various home systems, it
distinguishes itself from other puzzle games available on hand held platforms in several ways. First, it's variety of modes.
From puzzle modes seemingly endless levels, to vs. CPU, it has a variety of puzzle game to please everyone. Secondly, it
is uniquely suited to a portable handheld platform in that it is simple to learn, simple to play, yet difficult to master.
Also, in Puzzle mode, most of the levels are around two minutes or less making it perfect for a quick gaming fix while on
the go. If you are a fan of puzzle games, and have a Neo Geo Pocket Color, then this game that should be in your collection.
If not, there may not be much here for you.
3 out of 5
Posted on May 12, 2005.