If I were to tell you I’d been playing an evolutionary dinosaur game recently, a good proportion of you would no doubt be clicking on your browser’s 'back' button quicker than you can say ‘palaeontology’.
But stay that itchy mouse-finger a minute, because the ‘dinosaurs’ I speak of are a couple of Japanese arcade icons, and the ‘evolution’ concerns the development of an addictive arcade game into a brilliant mobile one.
The classic Puzzle Bobble gameplay turns your standard match-three puzzler on its head, tasking you with firing coloured bubbles upwards into an existing cluster.
By tilting your bubble cannon left or right you can target specific colours in order to make three or more bubbles disappear. Any bubbles cut loose by your actions will drop off the screen, contributing to your ultimate goal of a total clearance.
Puzzle Bobble Evolution keeps these solid foundations, but finally brings us a mobile experience worthy of the timeless Taito franchise.
Cast your mind back to February 2007, when our very own Andrew Williams reviewed the last Puzzle Bobble game to appear on mobile, Super Puzzle Bobble. It was a decent effort, but it lacked the extra polish and sparkle to push it into the mobile puzzle elite. His conclusion was that “it would be nice to see the game move on a little. New modes maybe, or power-ups - something for the future, perhaps.”
We think EA and Distinctive were reading, because Puzzle Bobble Evolution introduces a host of new modes and power-ups in one generous mobile package.
There are two modes of play from the off: Quick Play and Exploration. Quick Play takes you straight into an endless hi-score game, where your sole objective is to survive as long as possible (the field of bubbles expands relentlessly). It’s as addictive as you’d expect, but it’s nothing particularly evolutionary.
Exploration mode is where the real love has gone. Here you’ll find a level select screen set out as an array of planets, each represented by one of the cute characters from Puzzle Bobble lore. Selecting a planet puts you into a classic Puzzle Bobble level, where you need to clear a few rounds in time-honoured style.
Surrounding each planet are three moons which, when selected, whisk you off to levels that have been tweaked, twisted and moulded into something quite different. We won’t spoil too many for you, but some examples include Single Shot, where you have to cut a whole cluster of bubbles free with a solitary well place bank-shot.
Then there’s the fiendish Smash ‘em, which replaces your bubbles with destructive comets and asks you to obliterate the field of bubbles. The trouble is, they’re constantly spawning, so you have to place your shots wisely in order to cut huge swathes of bubbles free at a time.
Moving on from these inventive additions, EA and Distinctive have also added some neat power-ups to spice things up. Hit a Black Hole Bubble and the surrounding bubbles will be sucked in and obliterated, while Shockwave Bubbles rid you of an entire row.
As with the various level types, we’ll keep from spoiling any more for you, as discovering a new twist on the long-established gameplay is a large part of Puzzle Bobble Evolution’s appeal.
Of course, once this novelty value has worn off you still have the timeless Puzzle Bobble gameplay to keep you coming back for more, not to mention a considerable number of planets to complete and the endless Quick Play mode.
Faults? There aren’t many. We would have liked an instant restart option from the menu, for when you know a level is irretrievable. It’s a rather curious oversight given the otherwise bite-sized mobile-friendly structure of the game.
The guest characters also seem to be a little superfluous - you’re supposed to be taking them on but there’s no real sense of competition or attrition.
There are also a few awkward difficulty spikes that bring progress to a shuddering halt, such as the fearsome Running Launcher levels. These present you with a constantly moving aiming reticule, requiring pinpoint timing to place your bubbles.
Things can also move a little too quickly at times, with a degree of luck required when it comes to pulling off delicate rebound shots.
But seasoned puzzlers will enjoy the challenge, and the pleasure you’ll feel at beating such levels is considerable.
Puzzle Bobble Evolution is an extremely accomplished mobile experience, offering accessibility, variety and considerable longevity. True, at heart it’s still the same old Puzzle Bobble we’ve played before. But considerable effort has gone into deconstructing Taito’s classic game and reforming it in new and exciting ways.
This dinosaur has certainly evolved.