Few things are certain in the tumultuous world in which we live, and right behind death and taxes is Taito's Bust-A-Move series of puzzle games ranking high on the list of universal constants. A new version of the series' grand, bubble-popping puzzler is coming to the Xbox in Ultra Bust-A-Move. The game will provide some new modes, a new 3D look, and the significant addition of online play via Xbox Live.
Anyone who hasn't played a Bust-A-Move game has likely played some sort of familiar derivative of its type. Colored bubbles array themselves at the top of the screen, and from the bottom of the screen you fire still more bubbles that will stick to their friends at the top. Align three or more bubbles of the same color, and the bubbles burst and disappear. Sometimes there are obstacles to move around, and sometimes there are tools you can use to destroy bubbles or gain bonuses, but the base game is all about carefully banking your shots off walls and aligning bubbles with precision. Ultra Bust-A-Move's classic mode lets you indulge your desire for solo play of this type.
The one-player challenge mode offers some new games with which to tempt fans. One of these is the seesaw game, which is the classic version of Bust-A-Move, but with a twist--the bubbles you put into play will weight the board to the left or right, and cause it to list in that direction. If you keep sticking new bubbles to one side, the board will tip entirely and you'll quickly lose. The key, therefore, becomes to not only eliminate bubbles (and weight) as you go, but to make sure that the board is as closely balanced to the center as you can make it at all times. Another new game is the blind game, which presents you with a board filled with gray bubbles. You won't know what color the bubbles are until you stick a new bubble in, which reveals the color of the adjacent pieces. The shot game gives you one shot to clear a single bank of bubbles, so you'll need to be confident in your billiards-style skills to be successful.
The versus challenge mode is for those with a more competitive nature. You can play against the computer or against one of your unsuspecting friends in the traditional versus game, but there are more options for the adventurous. The color game pits two characters against each other using the same board, with a target bubble color to destroy. You'll alternate turns firing bubbles in an attempt to both net the target drops as well as stymie your opponent. The count game also presents you with a shared board, and it is a little more straightforward--whoever causes the most bubbles to drop will be crowned the victor. The game will also support online versus play over Xbox Live (in addition to being Xbox Live Aware), so you may test your skills of spherical elimination against the world. You'll also be able to see, in real time, the global rankings in the fast-moving competitive world of online Ultra Bust-A-Move.
The game's look has been moved to 3D, which means that instead of cute sprites to cheer you on and weep at your defeat, you'll have cute 3D models of the characters dancing in joy or shaking their heads in anguish as you approach failure. The various backgrounds still have 2D-drawn components, but you'll also see things like moving gears and bubbles that look slightly more round. Whatever dimension it's in, the look is still Bust-A-Move, with sometimes adorable, often bizarre characters, and subtle eye-candy stages. Sounds are also par for the course: popping bubbles, little creatures chirping in glee or trepidation, and the odd fireworks explosion when you've done something particularly excellent.
As an added bonus, Ultra Bust-A-Move carries a retail price of $19.99, so you won't have to shell out a lot of cash to take your puzzling proficiency to your Xbox and Xbox Live. Puzzle fans and Bust-A-Move nuts that absolutely must prove their champion status should gear up to take their game online later this year. We'll bring you more on this game as it approaches release.