It would seem that Taito has resigned itself to the fact that there's basically nothing left to do with its classic Bust-A-Move puzzle series than just bring the battle-tested formula of bouncy, colored bubbles and high-level guesstimation to as many platforms as humanly possible. Bust-A-Move Deluxe for the PSP is fully competent, with a fun selection of modes and a clean, straightforward look. At a point, though, there's only so much Bust-A-Move you can play, and if you've already had your fill, this isn't going to whet your appetite all over again.
Bust-A-Move has always been one of the more flamboyant, upbeat puzzle games out there. This comes in part from its cute cast of characters and a generally sunny disposition. And though there's not a whole lot to the 2D graphics, it all looks pretty nice on the PSP's widescreen display. Bust-A-Move's aesthetic went through an intensely weird style shift a few years ago, introducing lots of unsettling characters (the chronically peptic Pukadon, anyone?), but things seem to have since settled down a bit in Deluxe, which returns to a more classic, approachable look. The soundtrack matches the optimistic tone with a handful of cheery loops, and employs the classic nerve-racking technique of speeding up the music as you push toward the edge of defeat.
A lot of Bust-A-Move's funster charm comes directly from the gameplay itself, which, since the mid-'90s, has challenged players to launch brightly colored bubbles at other brightly colored bubbles, ricocheting them off the walls of the playfield and eliminating them by landing them in groups of three or more. It has always required a lot more "feel" than most other puzzle games, and it can turn tough quickly. There are plenty of modes to play in Bust-A-Move Deluxe, either by yourself, against an AI opponent, or against a flesh-and-blood opponent with his or her own copy of the game.
You can play plain-Jane vanilla Bust-A-Move, of course, though some of the variants prove much more interesting, especially for those who've maybe been playing Bust-A-Move for awhile. In ghost mode, the launched bubbles won't become solid until they've bounced off one of the three walls, which makes it possible to pass your shots straight through what's already on the field, but requires you to choose nothing but indirect shots. The see-saw mode sees the playfield itself pitching back and forth under the weight of the bubbles you launch, and if one side or the other gets too heavy, the whole thing topples ass over teakettle, and it's one of the more striking modes available.
Some of the modes offer such subtle differences that they feel like padding, like the time-warp mode that causes the launched bubbles to move at varying speeds, which has effectively zero impact on how an actual game plays out. Others are diabolical from the start, like the running launcher mode that has the platform that your arrow sits on constantly moving back and forth, creating a continuously shifting angle of approach. The shot mode is the purest challenge Bust-A-Move Deluxe has to offer, giving you just one bubble with which to clear the screen.
Short of Internet play, Bust-A-Move Deluxe really has just about everything a Bust-A-Move game can and should have. For all the different modes of play that are available, though, none of it changes the intrinsic nature of Bust-A-Move. The modes can be interesting and entertaining, to be sure, but with the series having kicked around 20 or so different platforms over the past 10 years with little appreciable change, the real question is: Who hasn't played enough Bust-A-Move by now?