Last year, Acclaim released Bust-A-Move 99 (technically Bust-A-Move 4) on the Nintendo 64 and the PlayStation - and now the Dreamcast version has rolled into town under the name Bust-A-Move 4. The game hasn't adopted any stunningly new and original traits or features, and the much-needed four-player mode is mysteriously missing, but the high-res graphics and predictably amusing and addictive gameplay make Bust-A-Move 4 a decent puzzle game to own for your Dreamcast.
If you've played the Bust-A-Move 99 games, you'll find that this version is basically the same. If you haven't ever played the arcade-based series or haven't played it in a while, the latest BAM incarnation offers a bevy of puzzle collections, a pulley system, an edit mode, and one of those charmingly benign storylines that sends you off on puzzle challenges supposedly heightened by your newly found sense of purpose in having to win puzzle matches to bring back the stolen daylight.
There are five modes of play in all. Puzzle mode is the arcade conversion of Bust-A-Move 3, in which a single player works through the levels without an opponent, neither human nor CPU. Within this mode, there's an arcade challenge, in which you play increasingly difficult pulley-style levels; a story section, which is essentially the same as the puzzle mode but displays a storyline element between each level; and a collection challenge, which is a huge, endless stream of homemade puzzles you play in sequence. The player vs. computer mode contains story levels in which you play against the CPU characters. You must beat each character in one match to move on to the next, and if you're successful, you'll "collect all the scattered bubbles and bring light back to the world." The player vs. computer mode also features a win contest level, which is the standard "you vs. the CPU" without the theatrics - more arcade-like. In this challenge, you compete for the number of match wins, not necessarily for points.
The player vs. player, challenge, and edit modes are more of the same for the BAM series. Player vs. player is the standard "you vs. someone else" contest, and the challenge mode is a single-player match where you solve about 25 increasingly difficult puzzles in sequence. Your success will be evaluated at the end, and you'll receive a letter score for how well you played in terms of strategy, speed, and technical skills. The edit mode doesn't really offer anything exceptional. You select from a handful of primary and secondary colors then throw in clear bubbles, stars, block bubbles, and so on. The screen can be adjusted for wide-screen or regular play, and you can save your puzzles to a memory card. The interface for constructing puzzles is basic and intuitive, and it is actually pretty fun to try to determine what makes for a good puzzle - easy or difficult. The problem is, it's just as easy to construct a simple puzzle that brings bubbles smashing down in two moves as it is to build an extremely difficult puzzle by alternating colors and never grouping two together - which can be disappointing.
What's surprisingly gone from the Dreamcast Bust-A-Move 4 is a four-player mode. The N64 BAM 99 three- and four-player mode really added a lot to the gameplay - just being able to take on more than one CPU or human opponent made the game significantly more worthwhile. But while the Dreamcast is the four-player system of choice these days, BAM 4 is one- or two-player only. That's a tough one to figure out, as including a four-player mode - when possible - seems like an obvious feature for a puzzle game. This hurts the overall value of BAM 4 immensely.
On a positive note, the high-res graphics and the improved sound and controls bump BAM 4 up a notch. The colors and objects are bright and crisp to the extent that you feel as though you're playing an arcade game. The sounds are also more noticeable and animated, and the Dreamcast controls are responsive and smooth, making for fewer frustrating "I didn't tell you to go there" moments. The busy backgrounds and the characters jumping up and down in front of your active gamespace are still present and still annoying, but since overall the graphics are better, this doesn't account for much of a dip in the graphics score. The Bust-A-Move 2 control scheme of using shoulder buttons for subtle right and left movements instead of full D-pad moves can be pulled off by using the right and left trigger shoulder buttons on the DC controller; however, unlike in the N64 version of BAM 99, you can't use the analog stick for BAM 4. This is OK, however, as analog doesn't really add much to BAM play, especially if you have the shoulder buttons to work with.
The Dreamcast has a few solid puzzle games, but Bust-A-Move 4 is neither a new breed nor a game that will push the power of your Dreamcast to impressive new levels. It is, however, exactly what most puzzle fans are looking for: a fun, value-packed addictive experience that looks as good as perhaps a puzzle game can or should. If it had the four-player mode, it'd be a must-have for DC owners who like puzzle games, or more specifically, Bust-A-Move. Since that mode is missing, BAM 4 is a good game and a decent purchase, but maybe one to rent first to determine how much you'll actually get out of it.