Sunday 25 October 2020

Bust-a-Move Pocket (Neo Geo Pocket Color review)

Developer: Ukiyotei
Publisher: SNK
Released: 1999

Bust-a-Move Pocket is a puzzle game that was released in Japan as Puzzle Bobble Mini.

The aim is to fire bubbles upward and group three or more of the same colour together in order to make them pop. The main mode is Puzzle where you must clear the entire playfield before the bubbles reach below the red line. A big part of what makes the gameplay so enjoyable is learning more advanced tricks; this means quickly analysing the structure of the puzzle (almost as if it were a game of Jenga) and strategising how to take out as many bubbles as possible within the fewest number of moves. This is endlessly addictive and there's nothing quite like taking out the entire puzzle with a single shot, just by creating a huge topple at the peak of the screen! Likewise, the ability to bounce a bubble by shooting it off the sides adds a unique layer to the action, as it forces you to combine mental-based agility with fast-paced precision... a great hook for enticing you to improve your skills. Furthermore, if you fail and need to retry, the game kindly provides you with a guide line for one level only (basically encouraging you to keep playing). There's plenty of levels to keep you occupied and I love how the playfield expands or decreases in size per round to keep you invested. Whereas Puzzle is a somewhat relaxing affair, VS-CPU (attempt to beat eight computer opponents) and Survivor (endless challenge until you fail) modes are the exact opposite and the tough patterns and opponents add a level of stress that's welcome due to how they contrast from the main gameplay offering. Overall, the controls work great, although (in my opinion) the pointer could have done with moving a little bit quicker across the screen.

Bust-a-Move Pocket is a terrific puzzler on a handheld that's already littered with great examples of the genre, and it certainly holds its own thanks to its wealth of content, addictive gameplay and bite-sized approach. There's something here for everyone whether you're looking for a chilled experience, or a more serious challenge against the CPU.

Random trivia: Ukiyotei also developed Metal Slug 1st Mission (1999) and Metal Slug 2nd Mission (2000) for the Neo Geo Pocket Color.

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