If you could toss Space Invaders, Bust-A-Move, and air hockey into a blender, the result would probably turn out something like Monster Bomber. Majesco's latest budget puzzler takes the falling alien concept from Space Invaders and puts a new spin on it. Instead of shooting the descending invaders with lasers fired from a plain old spaceship, you eliminate the colorful ghastlies on the upper screen by flinging like-colored balls at them from the touch screen. There isn't a ton of strategy involved, and there aren't a lot of play modes, but the game's quick pace and hands-on nature should appeal to a number of people, especially those who prefer to get their game on in brief bursts throughout the day.
Like in any decent puzzler, the underlying concept is fairly simple. Aliens on the top screen are slowly working their way downward. If they shatter the shield at the bottom of the screen and cross over onto the touch-screen area, the game ends. Your job is to push them back and obliterate them by flinging balls upward from the touch screen. To generate a ball, you simply have to touch one of the colored bins. You can then position it anywhere on the touch screen and send it sailing by dragging the stylus upward. If the color of the ball matches the color of the alien, the alien will explode. If the ball doesn't match the monster, however, the alien will be shoved backward a little bit and will multiply into two aliens. That sounds like a bad outcome, but it's actually where all of the strategy lies. If you shove one alien into another alien that matches the color of the ball, or if at some point down the line you shove an entire group of aliens into another alien that's the same color as the ball, the entire group will explode. Do you take out the lone aliens with a single shot, or do you try to take out a big group of the little buggers and risk creating more of them? That's the split-second decision you have to make second after second as the round goes on.
Despite the strategy that's involved in taking out whole groups, you can get by a large part of the time by flicking a ball upward and hoping for the best. The play field on the upper screen is so large and there are so many aliens up there that chances are you'll shove one of them into a compatriot that's the same color as the ball. If you're playing in the scenario mode, some rounds involve creating chains of a specific size. Flicking balls randomly won't work in those stages. However, since the scenario mode always lets you pick from two upcoming stages, and one usually involves simply obliterating a certain number of aliens, you can generally stick to the stages that are better suited to random shots if that suits your style of play. Puzzle purists may also be disappointed that the aliens aren't fixed into position as they move downward. Unlike in a traditional puzzle game, such as Tetris or Bust-A-Move, where the pieces are fixed into position, the aliens in Monster Bomber squirm and sidle about as they make their journey toward the touch screen. Since aliens don't stay clustered for very long, it's difficult to set up massive chains. Sometimes, a chain that you thought would occur doesn't pan out because the lynchpin alien in the middle squirmed out of the way. For better and for worse, luck is just as much a factor in Monster Bomber as skill is.
Rounds don't last for hours. The aliens scurry downward at a brisk pace, and they get faster as time goes by, so most rounds take only a minute or two to play out. When the round ends, you can start a new one to try to top your score or simply fold the system up and put it back in your pocket. This is a good game to have along on the bus or on breaks, when you want to get your game on but just don't have a ton of time to kill. Unfortunately, there aren't many play modes to pick from. There's a scenario mode, where you can work through five of 20 different stages and see a short ending sequence, and there's a survival mode, which lets you see how long you can last on any of those 20 stages. The goals in the scenario stages require you to either take out a certain number of aliens or create a certain number of chains involving a set number of aliens, so there's not much variety there. Primarily, you'll keep playing the game because you enjoy playing it, not because it has a bunch of missions and unlockables. Beyond that, there's also a multiplayer mode, where as many as four players can compete to see who can survive the longest. The game uses the DS download play feature, so only one cartridge is required.
As with most puzzle games, the presentation is hardly worth talking about. The selection boxes in the menus are sufficiently large to make traversing the menus and choosing options with the stylus an easy process. During the game, the lower touch-screen area simply holds the colored bins and the launching area, while the upper screen displays a background scene and all of the tiny aliens. The background scenes are static, but the artwork is drawn in a manga style that's charming and appropriate. Besides the ball, the aliens are the only objects in the game that move. They're extremely squirmy, as aliens are supposed to be, but their animated eyes and mouths are also cute and nonthreatening. As for the audio, the music consists of the typical variety of forgettable instrumental melodies that all puzzle games not called Lumines have, and the sound effects consist of a modest selection of pops, explosions, and bizarre gurgles that generally fit with what happens on the screen. The game was definitely designed around the system's touch screen and not its audiovisual horsepower.
All in all, Monster Bomber is definitely worth checking out if you're looking for a fast-paced puzzle game that's good for short bursts of play. It isn't the most intricate puzzler out there, but it serves up plenty of fun for its $20 asking price.