- Puzzle Bobble 3 -




Puzzle Bobble 3 - May 26, '01 by Dorsola
Game:Puzzle Bobble 3Company:Taito

If you liked the first Puzzle Bobble, you probably tried the second one. If you liked the second one, you should try the third one! Puzzle Bobble 3 (also known as Bust A Move 3) is, not surprisingly, the third game in the Puzzle Bobble series. Not the fifth! Five is right out! Puzzle Bobble 3, being the third game in the series be reached... ah, let's just get on with the review, shall we? =)
Anyway... following up on the famous and popular Bubble Bobble universe comes this new game from Taito. PB3 introduces a new cast of friends and brings back our old friends, Bubblen and Bubblon. It features some very nice background images and music, and we're given a number of new and fun things to do in the game itself.
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The basis of the game is still the same - group three or more bubbles of the same color together to make them disappear. But a few new twists have been added: Wood blocks that can only be dropped but cannot be directly destroyed, shimmering circles that cause all bubbles of the same color as the one that hit them to disappear, rainbow bubbles that take on the color of bubbles near them when they pop, and the ability to shoot a bubble off the top of the playfield and have it bounce back down, either off the screen or onto the top of your playfield. These new features give the puzzle side of this game a refreshing new approach without changing it so much as to make it a totally different game. (See my reviews on the Columns series for an example of new features that didn't work so well.)
On the competitive side, you can play against another player or against the computer. With the exception of the ball-off-the-top feature, all of the new items in the puzzle side are available here as well, making for interesting gameplay and a more competitive edge to the game. Each character has a unique "counter-attack" - when you drop large numbers of bubbles off the screen, you'll send patterns of bubbles and special pieces over to the other side, potentially messing up your opponent's playfield. The addition of character-specific patterns is a welcome change to the game - giving you more of an incentive to learn each character's strengths and weaknesses in a surprisingly balanced competition.
There's not really much more I can do to describe the game itself, so I'll focus on the technical aspects now. Graphically, this game is rich in detail and has a number of cute animations for each character. My favorite character is a cute girl in a jester outfit - one of those characters that just makes you go "Awww, ain't that cute?" (And it's NOT wrong!) And even though the graphics are very nice, they stay nicely out of the way of the game itself, making it easier to play and enjoy the game.
Sound-wise, PB3 offers two very nice reorchestrations of the music from the original Puzzle Bobble, and a brand new theme that I think is awfully pretty. Based on Taito's F3 hardware, the game also has some really nice surround sound in it, similar to what you might find in a recent-vintage Capcom game with QSound. Unfortunately, the sound emulation on this system isn't very good yet. Raine has the best sound by far for Taito-F3 games, but even it has artifacts here and there that weren't in the original. MAME's sound completely falls apart in both PB3 and PB4, and the extra problems with the sound cause general slowdowns elsewhere. Hopefully that will change soon.
PB3 features the same great simple control system that its predecessors did - a joystick and a button. You can't go wrong with this combination. The puzzles can be *really* challenging, and there are well over two *hundred* of them (Easy, Medium and Extra Hard difficulties, round sets from A to Z!). Between the individual puzzles and progress-based puzzles, the vs. CPU feature, and the ever-present multiplayer feature, you've got a game that will keep you playing for hours.
About the only downfall to Puzzle Bobble 3 is its slow emulation. I'm not sure if the Taito F3 hardware is just really powerful and therefore difficult to emulate, or if it's not very well understood and has a lot of bugs in it, or what... but Raine just barely runs PB3 and PB4 at full speed on my P3-800, and MAME runs it at about a frameskip of 4-5 with sound. (Not much better without sound, unfortunately.) This is more okay than in other types of games, since timing is not critical and you can still see what's going on even if the game isn't running perfectly smoothly.
My final word: It's not the end-all, be-all of puzzle games, but you'll have a lot of fun playing it. And when you've mastered Puzzle Bobble 3, take on Puzzle Bobble 4!
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