"A peaceful day ends with a wild night when a character is awoken from a deep sleep by a visit from Cronoa, Governess of the Future. She comes to warn of a dire situation, and to ask for help. The Arcana, mystical cards, have fallen into the dimensional cracks we call dreams. The energy of each card will be out of balance unless someone brave and skillful can enter the dream world and seal each card. Each card has five challenging puzzles which must be solved in order to seal the card. It won't be easy, but Cronoa - and the whole universe - are counting on you to see this difficult task through to the end! If you meet this challenge, you will be greatly rewarded. Do your best to burst the bubbles and seal the cards!"
Um... yeah, whatever. Burst me bubble!
Yes, Bust-A-Move 4 is one of those cutesy Japanese puzzle games, but it's still pretty fun.
If you're not familiar with Bust-A-Move or its parent game Bubble Bobble, then it should be noted that Bust-A-Move 4 is an incredibly cute, kid-friendly game. This may cause you to roll your eyes and gag, but personally, I didn't find the game to be nauseating at all, even though I hate "cute." As a result, Bust-A-Move 4 is one of the few "little kid friendly" games on the Dreamcast. It's very easy to play and all the cutesy animations are amusing.
That being said, the gameplay goes a little something like this: with the aid of your bubble launcher, you must fire colored bubbles upwards towards other bubbles. Once you connect three or more bubbles of the same color, they disappear. As time goes on, the bubbles drop further and further towards the bottom of the screen. If a bubble touches the "deadline" at the bottom, then the game is over. The object is to eliminate all the bubbles.
Sounds pretty easy. And it is, for the most part, but how hard and how enjoyable the game is really depends on what mode and what difficulty level you play on. There's also stuff like pulleys to deal with. Pulleys not only require you to eliminate bubbles, but also to balance groups of bubbles without causing the other side to fall over the deadline. You'll also have to master bank shots (bouncing bubbles off the walls) if you want to succeed at higher levels. There's also "special" bubbles, which include the star (erases all bubbles of the same color shot at it), rainbow (turns into the color of any popped bubble it contacts), block (can't be eliminated from playfield), and bublock (must be eliminated by clearing all surrounding bubbles in contact with it). You get time bonuses for clearing stages quickly.
The control is very simple: you aim by pressing left and right on the D-Pad. When you need more accurate aiming, such as on tricky bank shots, you can use the left and right triggers for more precise control.
While Bust-A-Move 4 is very similar to the previous games in the series, there are still some new additions, like these pulleys on which bubbles must be balanced.
When I first started playing Bust-A-Move, I thought that the game was far too simple. And in default story mode, it is (but that's great for kids, I guess). Fortunately, there are a bunch of other gameplay modes. Puzzle mode is divided up into arcade, story, and collection. Arcade is pretty obvious. Story mode pits you against cards which say weird things like "Justice" and "The Emporer." Each card has five or so puzzles, and once you solve them the card is "sealed" and you move on to another one. This mode should keep you occupied for awhile, not because it's difficult (it's not) but because there's a lot of puzzles. Finally, collection mode is a complication of 200 of the best Bust-A-Move puzzles, most of which are very cleverly designed.
Then there's player vs. computer and player vs. player. Player vs. computer has a separate story mode, which features an almost Mortal Kombat-like ladder system and unintentionally funny cut scenes in between rounds. There's also "win contest" mode, which is the puzzle equivalent of a fighting game's survival mode against different AI players. Chain reactions play a key role in all of the vs. modes, since bigger chain reactions cause bigger headaches for your opponents. You accomplish chain reactions by dropping bubbles off the screen. For example, if you eliminate a blue bubble which is holding up two green and one red bubble, these bubbles will drop to the bottom of the screen and come back up to connect with other green and red bubbles, and so on. A big chain reaction can pretty much clear your screen, but clearing your screen won't cause you to win here: the object is to cause the other guy to become buried in bubbles. The balance is pretty good, as it's possible to fight back from almost certain defeat. Pitting two good players against each other often results in a constant back-and-forth battle for control.
Next: More Goodness, Some Bad, and The Final Word