Squad 51 vs. the Flying Saucers

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Beyond Co-op Reviews: December 2021 - Page 4

Puzzle Bobble 3D: Vacation Odyssey

Review by: Paul Acevedo

While Bubble Bobble is Taito’s most popular franchise, the Puzzle Bobble series of spin-off games is probably more numerous. The latest installment, Puzzle Bobble 3D: Vacation Odyssey, comes from California-based virtual reality developer Survios. Puzzle Bobble 3D doesn’t require a VR headset, though – it can also be played on PlayStation 4 and 5 without a headset.

Puzzle Bobble 3D offers three modes: single-player Story and Infinite modes, plus the online multiplayer Duel mode. Story is the meat of the game, consisting of 100 bubble-bursting levels and very little actual story. Every 10 levels or so, a series of tiny, wordless images reveals a simple narrative involving the little dragons Bub and Bob’s vacation. Given that the game’s graphics are 3D, some 3D cinematic sequences would have fit a lot better than tiny comic panels. Speaking of 3D graphics, they look super sharp on PlayStation 5 – even if everything is zoomed out a bit too far. The music, composed by Taito’s Zuntata sound team, is also quite good – better than Bubble Bobble 4’s soundtrack, at any rate.

Vacation Odyssey’s gameplay is closely based on that of the original Puzzle Bobble games. Each level consists of one or more groups of colored bubbles. Bub and Bob must aim and fire their own bubbles from their cannon on the ground. Matching three or more bubbles of the same color will cause them to disappear. The shift to three dimensions changes things, though. Instead of coming from the top, a level’s bubbles now originate from a mechanical-looking Bubble Core. Most of the bubbles around a core must be popped before the core itself can be shot and destroyed with any colored bubble.

Bubble Cores are rotary in nature, so hitting the bubbles on one side of the core will cause the entire structure to spin around. This really keeps you on your toes since you have to tackle the bubble structure from varying angles. Each level has either a shot limit or a time limit, adding challenge and variety to the campaign. Special types of bubbles create unique effects when shot, such as the star bubble destroying all bubbles of the same color and the toxic bubble causing Bob to lose his ability to swap bubbles for three turns.

The game incentivizes the replaying of levels for higher star ratings as well as coins. Aiming for better ratings is generally fun, but the clunky aiming and semi-unpredictable rotation of the bubble structures caused me to give up on 3-starring levels pretty quickly. As for coins, they can be spent on unlocking three different power-ups. After unlocking a power-up, uses of it still have to be purchased with coins. Not the worst system, but the coin payout from levels is far too low for anybody to be able to afford to use power-ups regularly.

Puzzle Bobble 3D’s real weakness is its controls. Aiming the bubble cannon with a Dual Sense controller works, but it’s slow and awkward. After lined up the shot, the right trigger fires instead of a face button. Failing to fully pull the trigger will result in the shot not going as far as normal, likely missing the mark. I don’t see a benefit to analog firing here – there’s never a reason to aim at a particular spot but not fire at full force. You can learn to live with these clumsy controls, but they slow down the game and make it feel a bit worse than the usual Puzzle Bobble.

Even if Puzzle Bobble 3D isn’t as refined as the best Puzzle Bobbles, it’s still a decent new take on the classic series. The three-dimensional mechanics are actually cool; you just need some patience to master the controls. Playing in VR would likely add some wow factor, but the non-VR experience is worth a shot for players who love to bust a move.

Puzzle Bobble 3D costs $19.99 on PlayStation and Oculus Quest.

Our Rating: 3 out of 5