As a child – when I wasn't locked away in my room playing on my Amstrad (kids, ask your dad) – I could be found by my local beck chucking pebbles into the shallow stream, giving the fish a fright.
One day I spotted a rickety wooden fence nearby, which easily doubled as an excellent shooting gallery. Armed with a slingshot from PoundStretcher and a bag of stones from the local garden centre, I'd regularly go down to the water and line up empty drink cans for target practice. One thing led to another, and soon I was tying helium-filled balloons to the cans, which required a mean shot to burst.
Ah, happy days. I'd like to think that the developers at Gameloft are tapping into similar seedy nostalgia with their new game Bubble Bash, although far more likely is that they simply decided to take the Bust-A-Move and Puzzle Bobble formula, and give it a twist.
The game starts with two characters, Temaru and Maëva, discovering a piece of treasure map on the beach of Bubble Island. Finding the rest of the map involves working your way through 100 levels of bubble-bursting action spread across locations, including a beach, rainforest, volcano mountains and dark jungle. At the end of it all lurks a Spider Queen, although what she's got to do with bubbles is anyone's guess.
The mechanic is basically Puzzle Bobble, as mentioned. A rudimentary golf club lets you fling bubbles upwards to form groups of three or more of the same colour, which then disappear. If the bubbles gather and reach the bottom, it's over and you have to start afresh.
Rounds like Balloon Attack and Time Trial consist of balloons that must be released by getting rid of their bubble payloads. Other rounds deploy the bubbles in stationary groups.
You aim using a dotted trajectory line, which you can move in an almost 180-degree arc to line it up with the right-coloured bubbles. Controlling it is smooth and accurate.
Things are livened up by the special bubbles you can employ, such as bomb bubbles that explode when hit, taking surrounding bubbles with them, and the chameleon bubbles, which change to the colour of whatever bubble hits them. Less pleasingly, the annoying flower bubbles morph into a number of new different-coloured bubbles when hit, which is bad news if you're about to clear the level.
A clever aspect of Bubble Bash is that balloons attached to groups of bubbles are affected by gravity. The attainment of combos as bubbles disappear result in an attached balloon rising up the screen as it gets lighter. Similarly, if you keep adding stray bubbles to such a group it will get too heavy for the balloon and will begin to sink.
The game's graphics are polished and bright. Featuring '80s classic 99 Red Balloons as the theme tune raised a smile from us, too.
The game is also immediately accessible – this is pick-up-and-play gaming in its purest form. But there's a solid level of strategic play, too, as you use the sides of the screen to rebound bubbles into difficult areas, and even push balloons and their hanging bubbles into better positions.
The best thing about Bubble Bash, however, is that you don't do the exact same thing level after level. There's a Balloon Attack mode, where you have to release one balloon as fast as you can, but next you might be thrust into the Time Trial where you have to release a set number of balloons in a time limit while they're scrolling across the screen. Danger Platform levels get you to burst all the bubbles before the platform Temaru and Maëva are standing on reaches them. Oh, and there's boss levels too. Variety really is the spice of life here.
Gameloft has gone to great lengths to make a familiar game mechanic fresh, with a varied progression. Bubble Bash is a cute little puzzle title that has variety, end-of-level bosses, and a strong strategy element, all of which should have you making a beeline for your nearest download portal.