Windows - 1999
Description of Bust-A-Move 4
The games industry is nothing if predictable - at any one time you can guarantee that at least six different development teams are working hard on taking an original and popular game of their own design and seeing just how they can milk it for another five or six sequels. Sequels, that is, which will inevitably turn out to be no better or perhaps worse than the original. Take Tetris, for example - it has spawned bucketloads of unofficial clones and been subject to a variety of semi-official follow-ups, most recently a title called The Next Tetris. The trouble is that one of the key reasons the original Tetris was so good is that is was essentially a simplistic game - you just had to place coloured blocks on top of each other, trying to make solid lines. Adding 'extra features' to the game just served to over-complicate things and make the game less fun to play. But just what does this have to do with Bust a Move 4, the third sequel to the original and highly entertaining bubble bursting game Bust a Move, also known as Puzzle Bobble? Quite a bit as it happens, because Taito, the makers of this title, converted from its arcade format by Agetec have, like the makers of The Next Tetris actually managed to dilute the solid gameplay of the original by adding a bunch of unnecessary extra features. It's not quite as bad a case of sequelitis as the whole Tetris thing, but it just goes to prove that there's no place for original thought in the games industry.
Living in a bubble
The basic premise behind Bust a Move 4 is virtually the same as in the original game. Playing as Bob, a cutesy dinosaur, or one of several other characters, you are given the task of disposing of screen upon screen of increasingly trickily arranged bubbles. It's never explained quite why you're doing this -- there is a story mode, but it's not exactly what you call comprehensible -- still, Tetris didn't need a storyline and neither does this title. You go about disposing of the offending evil bubbles of doom by firing other bubbles at them from the bottom of the screen. The bubbles stick to each other and should you manage to connect a group of at least three bubbles of the same type, there's a pop and all the bubbles disappear. You then repeat this until all the bubbles are gone - it sounds simple, but believe me, it isn't. Why? Well for a start, the bubbles you fire are of different colours and so you may end up needing a red bubble to dispose of the clusters at the top of the screen, but instead end up having to find a space to squeeze a yellow bubble you didn't want into. In addition to this, the bubbles slowly move down screen towards you, and if a single bubble crosses the line at the bottom of the screen, you lose the game - it's simple, but strangely addictive. At least it was in the original game - in this version of Bust A Move, the extra gameplay features that have been bolted on actually serve to break up the flow of the game, and make it marginally inferior to the original game.
Bust a Move 4 sports two basic modes of play - puzzle or versus, either of which can be played in arcade mode or as part of some bizarre, badly translated and largely incomprehensible story. The first mode has you bubbling your way, solo, though a variety of pre-laid-out levels, the bubbles arranged in such a way as to make disposing of them rather tricky. The puzzle mode includes not only normal bubbles arranged in a particular order, but other bubbles too. For example, the star bubble which, when hit by a bubble of another colour, destroys all bubbles of that colour; and also clear bubbles, which can be transformed into different coloured bubbles by hitting them with other bubbles [following so far? -Ed]. You also get to play with a few other in-game features including the 'winch', a device made of two platforms attached to each other via a rope - if the number of bubbles stuck to each platform is not balanced, then the heavier side starts to descend, and if it gets past the bottom of the screen, you lose the game. It seems like a novel touch at first but may get annoying after a while, leaving you wishing Taito hadn't tried to add so many unneeded knobs and whistles to the game.
The second mode of play, 'versus' has you playing against either a human or computer-controlled opponent. Bubbles appear on your bubble catapult in random order, which you have to dispose. In this mode, the screen is split into two halves, one being your area, the other belonging to your opponent. As you pop your bubbles they appear on your opponents screen, so the more you pop, the deeper in trouble he gets. You get to play as one of ten strange characters in this mode, including an animated totem pole, a baby dressed as a frog and other weird people, although the way that your choice of characters affects your game is the order in which your popped bubbles appear on your opponent's screen. New to the two-player mode is the 'chain reaction' feature in which you can pop a chain of bubbles, and if it releases another bubble, this bubble will zoom back on screen, take out more bubbles of the same colour, and so on - it's hard to describe but you can manage to turn around a match by pulling off a particularly fancy chain reaction move. The trouble is, so can your opponent, and it's all too easy to pull these off by accident, effectively trouncing your opponent without thinking about it.
But is it fun?
Well, the answer is - yes, Bust a Move 4 is fun to play. The game is rather addictive, and is one of those titles you can just pick up, have a play with, put down, come back to later, and still find it enjoyable. The catch is that it's less entertaining than the original Bust a Move / Puzzle Bobble, due to the aforementioned fact that Taito have over-complicated the game by adding too many fancy features - Puzzle Bobble 1, available on budget for about ten pounds is devoid of these over-clever features and is a better game for it. As is Puzzle Bobble 2 which is the same price as Bust a Move 4 but bizarrely is published also by Agetec and is out at the same time as this title. If you already have a Puzzle Bobble game then you won't gain anything by buying this one - if you don't, and want a highly playable and addictive puzzle game, buy Puzzle Bobble 1 instead, and leave this unoriginal effort on the shelf.
Review By GamesDomain
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