The puzzle genre is to video games what the horror genre is to books; both are fading fast. Like horror in literature, at one time puzzle games were big business. Games like Tetris were popular with gamers because of their addictive nature, and how new and innovative those games were at the time. As time went on though, a lack of innovation in newer puzzle titles led many gamers to get bored with puzzle games. Gradually, the puzzle genre lost so many fans that it went from being a huge genre to what it is now, a niche genre.
While mostly all the puzzle games that come out these days are Tetris rip-offs in one way or another, there are still some fairly original puzzle titles to be found. Chu Chu Rocket for example, proved that you didn’t need to be a Tetris clone in order to get sales.
Another original puzzle series that’s been around for a while is the Bust-A-Move series. Starting in the 32-bit era, Bust-A-Move had seen entries on the N64, PSX, DC, GBC, GBA, when it’s first PS2 entry, Super Bust-A-Move. Though the game didn’t get great marks by critics, it did sell enough copies to garner a sequel, entitled Super Bust-A-Move 2.
SBAM 2 is very much like its predecessors. The goal still is to eliminate bubbles, and with the exception of the new puzzle edit mode, all the modes have been seen before. Finally, like its predecessors, SBAM 2 will likely only appeal to fans of the series and other puzzle games.
SBAM 2’s concept is simple; line up matching colored bubbles in order to eliminate them, using this knowledge work through the walls of bubbles on each board. While this concept is simple, Ubi Soft has worked hard at making the formula fun. Along with changes in level design and special bubbles, Ubi Soft manages to add variety to this rather simple premise. Through careful balancing, Ubi Soft has also made it so the game, along with being varied, also has a very easy learning curve, so anybody can learn to play SBAM 2 like a pro.
Doing all these things, Ubi Soft has crafted a very addictive puzzle game that anyone can enjoy. The game keeps challenging throughout all of it’s one player modes, and is simply a blast to play in multiplayer. The only real problem with SBAM 2 is that it’s not very different than other titles in the series. Every failure and success associated with the series is still in the game, and very little has been added to the core gameplay. It’s even very much like some of the rip-off titles like Sierra’s Placer Racer on the PC, or the similar games you sometimes get on mobile phones. At least this proves the concept is sound, and often copied.
The little that has been added though, comes in the form of a puzzle edit mode. The mode works fairly well for a first outing, as lining up your walls of bubbles is a very easy task, and those who are nitpicky will also be happy to know that SBAM 2 also allows you to fiddle with a bunch of smaller details. The one shortcoming in this category though has to deal with a lack of level boards available. One of the ways SBAM 2 injects variety into the gameplay mix, is to make the boards all very different from each other, by making them big, narrow, multi-chambered, etc. Unfortunately, this variety of boards didn’t transfer to the edit mode, unfairly restricting the types of levels you can make. This lack of boards to choose from acts as a major crux to the level mode, brutally deterring SBAM 2’s only new mode. Sad. Just sad.
Simplistic puzzle games usually have simplistic control schemes to accompany them. SBAM 2 is such a game. Given that all you really do is fire bubbles, the game only really uses the X button and the D-Pad. This minimalism works well though, allowing the gamer to easily play the game without paying much attention to the controller; which is exactly the way it should be.
Beyond basic controls, puzzle gamers have always come to expect bland graphics in their puzzle games, seeing that they have become the norm. Unfortunately, SBAM 2 follows this trend in almost every way. The levels you play on look bland, as the bubbles you fire are simplistic, and there aren’t even any good background animations to ogle at. Ubi Soft also makes little use of the cel-shading format, producing some rather insipid cinemas.
The music also comes off as somewhat petty. Though the game’s electronic tunes do fit with the game, they really are nothing original or amazing. Same goes for the sound effects, although there really isn’t any great need for them in puzzle games.
SBAM 2 is a decent puzzle game, whose only flaw is that it really does not improve upon the series. In fact, with the exception of the newly added edit mode, Ubi Soft really hasn’t changed anything. Knowing this, I’d recommend that any puzzle gamer who hasn’t bought a Bust-A-Move title in a while invest in this game. For everyone else, try renting before you buy.