I love puzzle games. The good ones are fun, colorful, competitive and addicting as hell. I love how puzzle games appeals to even the most casual of gamers. There’s something about the genre that’s really satisfying and pure. And they’re the perfect type of games to introduce to your special lady friend for some quality couple gaming sessions. Lately, my girlfriend and I have been pouring hours into Tetris Attack, which I consider the best puzzle game on the SNES hands down. But there are plenty of worthy and honorable mentions. For example, look no further than Bust-A-Move. Known as Puzzle Bobble in Japan, Bust-A-Move is an offshoot of Taito’s 1986 arcade classic, Bubble Bobble. Taito struck gold once more as the Bust-A-Move series went on to become some of the most beloved and popular puzzle games of the ’90s.
LET’S START AT THE BEGINNING
Bust-A-Move originally came out in the arcades over 20 years ago in 1994. I didn’t have any memories of it until around 1996. It all started with my cousin Vivian. Growing up, she was the older sister I never had but always wanted. In late ’96, she embarked on a wild goose hunt to find a copy of PlayStation Bust-A-Move 2. I recall watching her walk a groove in her living room one late Fall afternoon as she called up one local gaming store after another. But no store carried this game and at the time we hadn’t yet been fully exposed to the power of the internet. She was never really a big gamer but Bust-A-Move 2 was her absolute favorite game. Somehow, it’s a memory that has stuck all these years later.
She eventually found a second hand copy later that year, and I recall all the crazy bubble bursting competitive fun we had that winter. It was a sentimental time for me as Christmas 1996 marked the last Christmas we spent at Vivian’s classic childhood home — they moved in 1997 so that Christmas proved to be the end of an era. Bust-A-Move 2 was such an excellent game with its simple bright colorful graphics and its mighty addicting bubble busting antics. It was the last time I remember gaming with Vivian, her brother Vince and my brother Kevin. We never really played another game after Bust-A-Move 2… not that I can recall. Good times they were. I can’t think of the Bust-A-Move series without thinking about those special times from a bygone era.
Coincidentally, my next memory of the Bust-A-Move series came nearly five years later. My gaming fandom came full circle in January of 2001…
I saw a Sega Saturn lying on the ground at my buddy’s house when I came over to study for a huge physics exam. Keep in mind that the PlayStation was all the rage back then and by 2001 the Saturn was a long afterthought.
“Hey, you’re the first person I know who has one too,” I said, pointing to his Saturn.
“Oh yeah? I didn’t know you had a Saturn, too. To be honest with you, I haven’t touched that thing in years.”
What’s this? I noticed Street Fighter Alpha 2 and Bust-A-Move 2 beside the system. Both games were looking real pretty in their big bulky American cases. Seeing all that triggered something deep inside of me that I thought was long dead. Suddenly I felt very excited about gaming again in a way I had not felt in some time.
“I still play my Saturn, but it’s been a while too,” I told my friend.
“If you want some of the games, go ahead. Take some. It’s cool.”
I nearly fell over. “Wow. But I can’t do that, man.”
“No, go for it. Really. I don’t play them anymore. Plus I never even bought any of them to begin with.”
“I can’t, really, but thanks…”
“… I’ll just take these two,” I said quickly as the moment overtook me. I lured Street Fighter Alpha 2 and Bust-A-Move 2 out of the pile. I remember seeing BUG! but not caring enough about it. I just wanted some Street Fighter and BAM 2 action!
I found it difficult the rest of the study session to focus on atoms or Murphy’s Law, and who could blame me. The moment of truth arrived when I came home and fired the games up one by one. I cheered for every successful Dragon Punch, and I cringed for every “NO, I AIMED THE FREAKIN’ BUBBLE OVER THERE, NOT THERE!” moment. And it was freaking GLORIOUS.
Street Fighter Alpha 2 blew me away. It played so smoothly and had the right mix of style and substance. Playing Bust-A-Move 2 was like being back at an arcade hall, plopping a quarter into a simple but delightful puzzle game to tide me over until the line for the latest fighting game died down a bit. Ah, good times.
It was an amazing arcade-like experience I had that fine evening. I felt like I was right back in the arcades. It made me think about what other gems the Saturn has to offer. As they say, the rest is history.
HOW TO PLAY
MEET OUR HEROES
MODES OF PLAY
There are four different ways to play. You have the single player quest where you’re given 100 levels of set bubbles. It’s your job to burst them all before the ceiling comes crashing down on ya. In this mode there are three special kind of bubbles, in addition to the eight normal different colored bubbles. Bubble Bobble fans will find these special bubbles familiar…
This mode offers 100 levels of mayhem. A password is given when you lose all of your 7 continues. It’s always fun to see what the next stage might bring. Some of the designs are rather creative. Take this octopus stage for example!
How far can you go before losing all your continues? It starts out easy but quickly becomes a house of horrors. The password feature is a huge help since it lets you finish the game at your own pace.
Next up we have the Challenge Mode. Play on a single screen until you bust. The total amount of bubbles you burst is tracked. This is a simple and nice little mode when you’re in that endurance mood.
Next up is the VS. CPU mode. Perfect for when you want some competition but no one is around to play with.
But the best mode is 2 player versus. It’s super competitive and has that “just one more match” magic. This can suck hours from your life. It’s so cute and fun that anyone can play this and have a good time, even the most casual of gamers.
You damn right it is
AGONY AND TRIUMPH
Part of the agony of Bust-A-Move is the ill-aimed bubble. You’ll try to squeeze it through but ultimately to no avail. It doesn’t get any more frustrating than that. One misplaced bubble can change the tide of battle. For example, I just missed connecting with the four yellow bubbles there.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Bust-A-Move was well received. EGM gave it scores of 7, 7, 8 and 9. Super Play Magazine rated it 84% and ranked it as the 48th best SNES game back in their April 1996 issue. Speaking of Top 100 lists, Nintendo Power ranked it as the 96th best game in their 100th issue. While the ad obviously uses hyperbole to market the game, Bust-A-Move is nothing short of being highly competitive and addicting. It’s kind of a shame that I rarely see this game being talked about much even in SNES circles, but I guess that’s because most people would rather play one of the later renditions. But that doesn’t change the fact that the original is still a winner.
Bust-A-Move is one of those rare games that I can pick up and play at any time. I can go at it solo for 20 minutes or battle a buddy for 2 hours. Aiming the bubbles to align correctly is crazy addictive and it’s awesome when you get locked in the zone. Some people feel the gameplay involves too much luck for their own liking, especially with the wall shots, but there’s definitely a need for skill. There’s more luck involved here than a puzzle game such as Puyo Puyo but that’s part of what makes it different and unique. No matter how good you get, you can always misfire a bubble and lose by the smallest margin of error. It keeps the matches exciting and unpredictable.
While this admittedly isn’t the best rendition of the series you could play, it’s still pretty awesome. I enjoy the Sega Saturn sequel even more, but this game certainly has a place in my SNES library. It has that classic “one more game” quality to it. Few games can match the intensity that Bust-A-Move provides. This is the type of game that will never go out of style and will always entertain. Thank you, Taito, for giving SNES owners a small taste of bubble busting glory.
6 thoughts on “Bust-A-Move (SNES)”
There really isn’t much I can say about Taito’s iconic puzzler that has not been reiterated many times by many others, but there is a beauty to the simplicity of this game’s controls and its levels of charm are off the charts (yay, bubble dragons). =) I’ve always liked the catapult system and the many ways to approach the group of same-colored monster bubbles (do you take the straightforward route or do you make an angled trajectory? Do you take care of the bubble groups one at a time or, given the opportunity, do you try to take everything out at once with the proper angle?) for the possibilities are endless (especially when you’re playing under duress as the amount of space becomes smaller when your options are limited). =) While I concede that the main theme can sound a bit redundant after awhile I’ve always had a soft spot for it for I feel it harkens back towards innocent, simpler times (and I’m glad that it’s thrown into the mix with the sequels’ expanded soundtracks); and if given a choice I’d rather listen to IT over and over than put up with a largely terrible soundtrack (*cough*Bubsy II*cough*Streets of Rage 3*cough*) or a border-on intrusive obnoxious one (*cough*Ape Escape*cough*), but one thing I always look forward to when playing the main arcade mode in this Nintendo 16-bit edition after defeating the final boss is listening to the rendition of the Bubble Bobble theme during the ending/credits (it’s just one of those themes that’s easily capable of bringing so much joy and is such a feel-good theme). To me this game is the best puzzler in the system (and I love the puzzler genre, it’s my third favorite behind platformers and RPGs), but if it’s not the best game the genre has to offer then it honestly ranks among Taito’s best (alongside its direct sequel)! =D
Oh, that NTSC SNES box art, here we go! When I decided to purchase the Nintendo 16-bit edition of this game more than a year and a half ago, I decided to import the Super Famicom version Puzzle Bobble instead of getting the NTSC SNES version Bust-a-Move–I wouldn’t have objected to trying either version otherwise, but if I HAD gone with the American version then I would’ve put up with one of the most unappealing Nintendo 16-bit cover art I’ve ever seen (give me Bubblun or Bobblun, how these characters are known in Japan, any day; RIP, Fukio Mitsuji). XP The gameplay concept is there, but it is presented in the most busily overcrowded and charmlessly putrid way imaginable. Can you imagine even if it’s a highly unlikely scenario where someone who has no inkling whatsoever of Puzzle Bobble/Bust-a-Move stumbled across this cover and judged it primarily by the art (without turning around to see the in-game screenshots of what it actually looks like in the back)? Personally, I’d consider that NTSC SNES cover a turnaway rather than something that draws me in (the sad thing is that the NTSC PlayStation One cover for Bust-a-Move 2 Arcade Edition, in my opinion, would end up being worse; what were Taito’s American distributors thinking making terrible covers for great games??? Were they just racist against all things cute or something? o_O … Actually, I have feeling that if I knew what they felt justified their ill-made decision I’d probably go insane, so let’s not dwell on that). I mean, what a disservice to this excellent puzzler! >=( Hands down one of my least favorite Nintendo 16-bit covers overall alongside the PAL cover of Equinox (absolutely great game, not a fan of the SNES PAL cover AT ALL and is not an accurate representation of Glendaal’s adventure but even if you took THAT away it just looks repulsive to me, the NTSC SNES cover is superior and beautifully apropos imo) and Whirlo (it would take all day for me to explain why it does not work for me personally, but let’s just say that it betrays what Xandra no Daibōken is all about by trying to paint the protagonist and game as something they’re not–I’ll leave it at that). Sorry, didn’t mean to sound mean about it, it’s just… not something I want to look at =(
Well, hope you have a great day, RVGSteve
To each their own
Ah yes, the North American box art… ugh indeed. Totally does the game a great deal of injustice. But it was kind of like that back in the day for quite a few games. BTW, where do you rank Tetris Attack in the pantheon of SNES puzzle games? That’s still my favorite SNES puzzle game (and my girlfriend’s as well). Speaking of the GF, we also played Bust-A-Move this past Saturday. She liked it too but she definitely prefers Tetris Attack. The aiming gave her some fits but hell, it still gets the worst of me from time to time and I’ve been playing Bust-A-Move off and on for nearly 25 years now. As you said, most of the fun comes from aiming correctly. It’s just different from moving around falling pieces or even switching panels in the case of TA. There’s nothing like bouncing a bubble off the side of the screen only to pop a string of bubbles!
I can’t speak for Tetris Attack (even though from what I’ve gathered and looked up it’s got as much to do with Tetris as Alundra 2: A New Legend Begins has got to do with the sadly forgotten 1997 PlayStation One masterpiece–in that, it’s got crapall to do with Alundra to the point where the tone is more lighthearted and the titular character and his exploits are not even mentioned, to name one tangent; not that I’m judging, I’m sure it would’ve been fun all the same but giving it the “Tetris” moniker when it’s got nothing in common with the series MAY have been a bit of a stretch on Nintendo’s part), but I have played the original Japanese version Panel de Pon last year on my birthday. Lovely game! =) Incredibly colorful, charmingly endearing, and such a blast to play (if not difficult to master, but many of the best puzzlers are like this); I’d say it’s up there among Puzzle Bobble and Kirby no KiraKira Kids as some of my top favorite puzzlers on the Super Famicom (the last of which is my favorite Kirby game on the system, just like the original Game Boy version is my favorite Kirby game on the Game Boy, Kirby’s Star Stacker; the Nintendo 16-bit version is made even better by adding a story mode which was entirely absent in the preceding handheld version AND it shares a similar visual aesthetic to Kirby’s Dream Land 3, my favorite of the two Nintendo 16-bit Kirby platformers)! ^.^
I never went the Sega Saturn route, but I have a fair number of puzzle games for my PS1, including: Bust-A-Move 2, 4, & 99, Tetris Plus, Puzzle Star Sweep, Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo. Best is still and always will be Bust-A-Move 2 (Though Puzzle Star Sweep is a reasonable 2nd). Fortunately, all versions (Minus the N64 version) have the ‘Qui Qui’ track, included. Look it up! Find it on your CD of the game or look up ‘puzzle bobble qui qui’ on youtube for THE BEST PUZZLE BOBBLE OST TRACK, EVER! Seriously, this tracks nails just how loopy and fun Puzzle Bobble can be. It’s too bad the PS2 “Taito Legends” version of PB2 totally sucked the life/fun out of it.
While the best best track goes to #2, I still think the best version of the game is the very first one. With all the versions I have played, I think the closest to that version is Space Bust-A-Move for the DS. Something about it (or the # times I have played Endless Mode) feels more like playing the original than most of the other spinoffs.
Tetris Attack can certainly be a lot of fun, but it gets real crazy at higher speeds. Also interesting that they include a password system so you can carry on through the ‘campaign’ (for lack of better word).
Kirby’s Avalanche = Puyo Puyo
Tetris Attack = Puzzle League / Panel de Pon
Bust-A-Move = Puzzle Bobble
Do you own a Nintendo Switch? Hamster recently released the arcade version of Puzzle Bobble (Bust-A-Move) to the Switch digital eShop. I’m debating whether I should get it or not. It would be nice to have the arcade original, but I feel pretty satisfied with the SNES port, visuals aside of course. I’ll have to play against my girlfriend one of these days. I recently introduced her to Tetris Attack and she enjoys that one, although I think she really likes Pieces (perhaps mainly because she tends to kick my butt in that one, lol).
I own Bust-A-Move 2 and 3 on the Sega Saturn and enjoy both those entries as well. I’m just glad the SNES got one version at the very least, and it’s certainly a great one. I haven’t played the series beyond part 3. I like the addition of character choices but to me it felt a little convoluted and there’s definitely something pure about the original that I deeply appreciate.
I do not own a Switch. I stopped at the 7th generation, so I only went as far as DS/Wii (I have my own rant about that sort of thing, but I don’t wanna hijack your blog).
I have played the arcade version on an arcade machine and I found there really wasn’t a lot of difference between playing it and the SNES version. It’s a fairly good port. The PC version (Yes, There are PC versions of Puzzle Bobble 1-3, possibly others) is also a good port of the game + they put all the music on the CD as audio tracks.
Yeah I cannot argue the whole ‘extra character’ thing. It’s more useful with their multiplayer mode since many of them have different setups for what bubbles you send to your opponent when you clear some of your screen.