There hasn't been a Bust-A-Move game on consoles in forever but Taito's at it again and this time, they've invited the cast of Touhou.
I'm a huge fan of both Touhou and Bust-A-Move. Back in the day, I got introduced to Bust-A-Move (or Puzzle Bobble if you prefer) during the PS1 era when I played a ton of Bust-A-Move '99 and Bust-A-Move 4. Before that, I loved the Bubble Bobble games be they in arcades or on my NES so imagine my delight being able to enjoy a puzzle game as the same cute pair of dinosaurs. Over the years, I've had the pleasure of playing all sorts of Bust-A-Move games with my favourites being Bust-A-Move 3000 for GameCube and '99 for PS1. However, there hasn't been an official release since 2011's Bust-A-Move Universe for 3DS.
Although Touhou Spell Bubble isn't technically an entry in the Puzzle Bobble series, it's probably the closest thing you could get to a genuine Bust-A-Move sequel. For starters, it's made by Taito which is the same company that produced the original games back in the '90s. Next, the core gameplay is exceptionally tight and rewarding as fans of the franchise have come to expect. With that being said, Touhou Spell Bubble has an enjoyable fresh twist on the classic formula as it seamlessly incorporates rhythm mechanics into its gameplay. So, I guess you could say that you can bust a groove while you Bust-A-Move with this clever concoction.
You might be wondering; just how the heck does Bust-A-Move with rhythm mechanics work? Well, you essentially play the core puzzle gameplay as best as you can and whenever you match a large collection of the same colour, circle indicators close in on certain bubbles then you tap the button in time with them. This allows you to both earn points as well as send more blank bubbles to your opponent. The matches are set up in a way that reaching the bottom of the playfield doesn't end the session as it merely grants your opponent points depending on how many bubbles were on your playfield. Matches are actually timed and whoever has the most points when the time depletes wins. All of this adds up to an exciting formula that makes each match a ton of fun even if you're losing.
In addition to the core gameplay mechanics, you also have a few special moves to pull off. As you play, your equipped Spell Card charges and unleashing it can either help you or hinder your opponent's efforts. Meanwhile, an Awakening gauge fills and once it's full, you're given a puzzle that grants you the opportunity to pop a load of bubbles thus gain an advantage over your opponent. Finally, whenever you unfortunately reach the bottom of your playfield, you can counterattack by solving a less impactful Awakening puzzle. These elements add a welcome layer of strategy to each battle as you can choose when to unleash a devastating special attack.
The soundtrack within Touhou Spell Bubble is absolutely top-notch as it contains 48 songs from a wide variety of Japanese artists. You'll hear plenty of pop, rock, dance music, and even rap and it mostly provides a high level of energy as you battle although there is the occasional slow song thrown in. To make things even sweeter for Touhou fans, a lot of the songs will be familiar and the entire cast of the series is playable. On top of that, each character has her own passive ability which adds even more complexity to the gameplay and experimenting with what each lady is capable of is a lot of fun. The amount of music and characters is nothing short of impressive.
When it comes to content, Touhou Spell Bubble has a solid amount to master. For starters, story mode will have you travelling around Gensokyo as Reimu as you take on challengers from various locations. There are loads of hilarious dialogue scenes between matches and once you complete the campaign, you'll have every character unlocked. On top of that, you'll unlock a Lunatic variation of the story mode which puts you in the shoes of Marisa Kirisame. There are also side stories to play through which are DLC but I don't think any of them are available as of writing this. Anyway, there are also separate challenges to master in a lengthy list and you can unlock more of them by purchasing additional song packs. Finally, there's a versus battle mode that you can either play against a friend or CPU opponents.
In the end, the amount of content in Touhou Spell Bubble is surely substantial. However, I couldn't help but feel like there could be more single player modes such as puzzles, an endless mode, or any variation that didn't rely on battling an opponent. Along the same lines, there's no online multiplayer and you can only compete with 2 local players. It would have been awesome to see 4 player matches or the ability to challenge people from across the globe. The only other negative thing I can say is that close matches can be pretty annoying, especially when you lose by just 1 point. This could have been remedied by incorporating some sort of overtime mode whenever the score is too close where players can be knocked out in sudden death. That would be much more fulfilling and fair.
The highly competitive puzzle action of Touhou Spell Bubble is exciting stuff that cleverly incorporates rhythm gameplay and a satisfying layer of strategy. If you enjoy these kinds of games then you'll certainly have a blast with what this adorable puzzler has to offer.
- + Classic Bust-A-Move fun blends with rhythm mechanics to make exciting matches
- + Loads of great music and characters
- + Enjoyable challenges to master
- - Close matches can be annoying
- - Could use more single player modes
- - Multiplayer is restricted to 2 local players