Originally created 04/17/99

Bubble-busting puzzle game a winner

If you're a fan of puzzle games, chances are you've played at least one version of the classic Bust-A-Move series.

The current version, Bust-A-Move 99 from Acclaim via Taito, brings all the best from the series to your PlayStation or N64, with new challenges to meet and beat.

Bust-A-Move doesn't change much. The addictive concept -- you play against either the CPU or another player -- provides a split screen with a collection of differently colored bubbles near the top. At the bottom is a launcher, from which you fire bubbles matching the colors above.

String three or more of the same color bubbles together, they pop and away you go. The object is to clear the screen before your opponent -- or stay around until his screen fills with unpopped bubbles and he loses.

The game reminds you a bit of Tetris, with the bubbles piling up faster and faster as you advance. Aim is important, because if your shot is off, you can block bubbles which could be exploded later.

A special treat this time is the Edit Mode, where you can create and play your own puzzles. In Challenge mode, you face five stages, each with five rounds. It finishes with an evaluation screen to tell you how you did.

In Collection mode, you can see more than 1,000 of the best Bust-A-Move puzzles ever designed, and you can play them all.

In Arcade mode, you can play by yourself, or against the CPU or a friend; always, your object is to clear the screen as quickly and efficiently as possible.

A nice twist is the eight characters you can play as, or that will oppose you, each with its own special techniques. Bubbloon, for instance, uses a balanced random attack using eight colors, while Marina specializes in a combination of red, yellow and blue bubbles.

The secret to Bust-A-Move is mastering bouncing shots off the wall; in many cases that's the only way to reach a specific bubble. Shooting straight at a bubble will get you only so far. And shoot quickly, folks. Accuracy is important, but don't take so long that you allow too many bubbles to pile up.

Background graphics are colorful and attractive and sound effects are innocuous and mildly amusing.

Control is so simple even a small child can learn to play, and that's one of the Bust-A-Move series' keys to success. It appeals to a wide range of ages, from youngsters to grizzled old-timers, and will entertain anyone who gives it a chance.

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