Windows Phone is just crawling with puzzle games, both of the indie and Xbox Live varieties. Puzzlers are probably the single easiest type of game to develop and they’re well-suited to playing on the go, so it makes sense. Bubble Town 2 from I-Play is one such game, released early on for Xbox Live. It’s an adaptation of a once-popular Facebook game that since been pulled by the publisher. Bubble Town may be a ghost town on Facebook, but is it worth visiting on Windows Phone? Perhaps…
Bubble Town’s got something of a story, aimed at the young‘uns. A bunch of evil aliens called Lumps are invading Bubble Town, and it’s up to the Borbs to stop them. See, even though Bubble Town has the word bubble in its name and is a clone of a spin-off of Bubble Bobble - Bust-a-Move/Puzzle Bobble, the game doesn’t technically contain any bubbles. They’re Borbs. The writing in the pre-level story sequences is about what you’d expect from a cut-rate kids’ cartoon show, though it does at least inject some personality into the proceedings. Impatient gamers can always skip past them anyway.
Shoot past the break for our full review.
The look of terror
Before I say anything about Bubble Town 2’s game play, I must address the game’s biggest fault: the graphics. As you can surely tell from the screenshots, Bubble Town 2 is one ugly game. The Borbs in particular are just entirely hideous – the stuff of nightmares. The game forces players to look upon their frightening visages at the title screen, during story scenes, and upon completing each level.
The actual backgrounds and map graphics look pretty bad too… Everything seems to have been rendered on 3D before having most of its colors removed, which never ever produces pleasing results. t boggles the mind how an artistic team could fail so hard.
I might as well mention here that the music is mostly comprised of a single short, obnoxiously twangy guitar loop. At least it can be turned off! In short, to have any hope of enjoying Bubble Town 2, you must be able to overlook its glaring artistic shortcomings.
But, the puzzles!
Now that we’ve inoculated ourselves against Bubble Town 2’s horrific art, let’s discuss its gameplay. This game is a match-three puzzler. A ceiling slowly pushes a large stack of bubbles, I mean Borbs from the top of the screen toward the bottom. If they reach the Danger Zone at the bottom, the player fails the level. That’s where the player’s cannon, located in the center of the Danger Zone, comes into play. The cannon fires Borbs up at the impending stack. If a fired Borb comes into contact with two or more Borbs of the same color, it destroys them.
Any Borbs hanging from a destroyed set also get the axe, making chain reactions possible. Hanging Borbs destroyed in this way get added to a counter at the bottom of the screen. Each turn, the counter drops by one until it hits zero. Only then does ceiling actually descend, so Bubble Town 2 provides an incentive to make combos other than just extra points.
Aim for the top!
Dragging left or right aims the cannon and tapping fires. Shaking the phone can also be used to fire, though I don’t know why anyone would want to do that. The aiming in general is slow and clumsy, detracting from otherwise solid game play. On the plus side, reflecting shots is much easier in Bubble Town 2 than the game it clones. Arrows appear wherever a shot will bounce off of the ceiling or walls, which really helps with trick shots.
A few levels in, the game introduces an important power-up called the Lob Cannon. Instead of firing Borbs in a straight line, it allows players to lob Borbs toward the top of the stack. The Lob Cannon would be a great addition to the Puzzle Bobble formula, except that its aiming is just 90% busted. You tap and aim a little cross-hair to lob, but the cross-hair appears far lower on the screen than the player’s finger, making the item quite painful to use.
Fighting the frizzies
Bubble Town 2’s Story Mode contains 40 levels of Borb-popping fun. In addition to the traditional game play I already described, there are three other types of levels: Ball, Invasion, and Bosses. In Ball stages, Borbs form a spinning ball in the center rather than coming down from the ceiling. Invasion levels work more like normal ones except that there are two fast-descending columns of Borbs instead of a single stack. Both level types increase the challenge and add a welcome dose of variety.
Each of the game’s four boss battles features a unique mechanic. For instance, before the Cyber Lump can be defeated, players must first clear away the Borbs surrounding his giant melon. Then tapping the screen will destroy the power panels on his cheeks, at last weakening him enough to be harmed from regular cannon shots.
Quick Play and the missing Story Mode save
Quick Play provides a break from Story Mode’s ever-increasing challenge. At least, it’s supposed to. See, players can choose to jump straight into a Classic, Ball, or Invasion level. Ball and Invasion aren’t automatically unlocked from the start; they must first be reached in Story mode. Unfortunately, beating Story Mode actually wipes out the player’s Story progress. This not only makes it impossible to replay old levels without trudging through the Story again, it also means Ball and Invasion have to be unlocked again. Deleting players’ Story Mode file after clearing the game is pointless. I will assume it’s a bug rather than by design.
Initially Bubble Town 2’s Achievements required an active internet connection to unlock, but that was thankfully fixed in a patch. As for their difficulty, only two should present any real challenge. “Bubblicious” requires gamers to detach 14 Borbs with a single shot of the Plunger power-up. That can only be done on a few specific levels late in the game and takes a bit of planning.
“In It to Win It” is the game’s most grueling Achievement - it’s probably semi-glitched. The description reads, “The player must reach a score of 150,000.” But rather than requiring a cumulative score of 150K as you would expect, the score must be reached in a single level (level 10 is best). It took me about an hour to score – quite a hassle. Still, with patience everything is possible.
At the time of this writing, Bubble Town 2 game is the only Puzzle Bobble clone on Xbox Live. Its graphics and controls are sub-par, but the core game play somewhat makes up for those shortcomings. People who like this particular kind of puzzle game and go in with low enough expectations will probably enjoy it for what it’s worth. I don’t regret my visit to Bubble Town, but I hope Taito brings the real Puzzle Bobble to Windows Phone some day.
Bubble Town 2 costs $2.99 and there is a free trial. Pop on over here (Zune link) to get it from the Marketplace.