Monday, September 26, 2005

Sky Bubbles Review

Sky Bubbles, developed by Visual Shape Games and published by Alawar Entertainment.
The Good:Interesting game mechanics, original bonuses, great graphics for this genre, addictive
The Not So Good: Lots of clicking, no multiplayer modes
What say you? Innovative procedure makes this one of the better puzzle games: 6/8

Tetris started a revolution. This Russian product tried to crush capitalism by reducing the work hours of Americans across the nation. The impact of this game can be felt today in the realm of puzzle games. There are an inordinate amount of games where you must arrange colored objects in set patterns in order to achieve the high score and move on to the next level where you arrange more colored objects in more set patterns. This brings us to Sky Bubbles, where you arrange colored bubbles into set patterns called lines. In my experience, puzzle games end up being either addictive or annoying; where will Sky Bubbles end up?

Sky Bubbles features some of the cleanest graphics I’ve seen in a puzzle game. It is important to have slightly flashy effects without getting in the way of the gameplay in a title such as this, and Sky Bubbles succeeds. The sum of the parts, such as rotating bubbles and explosion effects, results in above average graphics. The graphics help to make the player feel special for clearing bubbles off the map, which helps to grab the user into the game. The sound in Sky Bubbles is fairly average when compared to other games of the genre, OK background music with nice sound effects. That pretty much sums that up.

There are two main game modes of Sky Bubbles: single game and adventure. In single games, you can choose between two modes of play. In swap mode, you must switch the positions of two adjacent bubbles to complete lines (vertical or horizontal) of three or more. The difficulty of this game mode results from the fact that every move must result in a completed line. This is different from other games, and can cause some initial frustration before you learn the mechanics. In lines mode, several bubbles appear on an initially blank board during each move, and you get to move one bubble to another location in an attempt to make rows (vertical, horizontal, or diagonal) of five. Bubbles can only move if there is a clear path to its destination, so this is where the difficulty lies here. You can choose to play either of these modes against the clock in action mode, if you want to increase the frequency that you yell at your computer.

Adventure mode is the meat of the game. Here, you play swap mode against the clock, as you must remove a pre-determined number of special bubbles (containing souls) before time runs out. This can be very stressful, as you attempt to figure out how to remove two specific bubbles before the last five seconds runs out. Once you complete a level, you move on to the next, which usually requires the removal of more souls in the same amount of time, thus increasing the difficulty. Once you complete a level, you can assign a bonus point to earn a power-up that can be used during gameplay. There are several categories of power-ups available. Some are activated if you clear the same colored bubbles twice in a row, some add time to complete each level, and others blow up adjacent bubbles. Some of the strategy with adventure mode has to do with selecting the correct power-ups between each level; in fact, if you lose a level, the game takes you back to the store and makes suggestions as to which power-ups to use. There are 25 total levels in adventure mode, and with 16 types of power-ups, there is some additional replay value in Sky Bubbles that other puzzle games simply do not have.

Sky Bubbles clearly falls into the addictive bin of puzzle games. The game’s interesting game mechanics (requiring the completion of a row for each move) and varied bonuses makes Sky Bubbles stand out against the crowd. All too often, you can think a particular puzzle game (such as “the one with the blocks”) but not remember what it was called; this will probably not happen with Sky Bubbles, as it contains fairly unique gameplay elements. I enjoy the game’s slight complexity, which makes Sky Bubbles more interesting than other comparable games which are entirely too easy and suffer from repetition. The power-ups and progressing difficulty keeps Sky Bubbles interesting the entire time you play it (albeit sometimes frustrating when you can’t clear a level, but that’s clearly your fault). I’ll even forgive the lack of a multiplayer or battle mode. For fans of puzzle games, Sky Bubbles is definitely recommended.