We’ve all been fooled by a game that looked pretty childish or silly at first glance, only to discover that we were wrong in so many ways. Released in arcades in 1995 and ported to consoles a year later, Taito’s puzzle game Bust-a-Move 2: Arcade Edition (AKA Puzzle Bobble 2 to those who hail from the land of cheeseburgers) took many PlayStation players by surprise with its luscious visuals and addicting gameplay. Beneath its quirky exterior is a deviously tricky game that helped popularize the tile-matching genre, and inspired countless sequels and rip-offs for years to come.
Bust-a-Move 2: Arcade Edition has some colourful visuals, a cute cast of characters, and some sweet 16-bit graphics have a retro-charm to them. Each level has realistic photos in the background, which was a smart move as it helps the gameplay stand out visually. A coherent plot is not too prevalent in this one, but there are plenty of quirky cutscenes that will put a grin on anyone’s face.
It looks like a piece of cake – all you need to do is stick color-matching bubbles in chains to pop them for points and to clear the stage entirely to win – though it’s no secret how tricky it is to master this one. You’ll need to learn how to ricochet shots, shoot through small gaps, and play while the stage gets smaller and smaller. As time goes on, the brightly-coloured spheres will be pushed closer and closer to the cut-off point at the bottom. If they cross it, then then it’s game over.
There are no power-ups to help, aside from a special star ball that will remove remove all bubbles of a certain colour from the stage, depending on which one you hit it with. Perhaps some additional power-ups would’ve spiced up Bust-a-Move 2: Arcade Edition further, like a snowball to freeze the opponent’s progress, or a bomb that removes large clusters. In spite of this, in its raw form, the gameplay is still tense and will keep you hooked.
There are quite a few modes to try out. Story mode puts you against the AI against the aforementioned cast of weirdos. To win, you need to fill up your opponent’s screen completely, which can be done by dropping large clusters of balls that’ll be hurtled to the other player’s side. The difficulty will somewhat-spike after the second stage considerably, which feels a bit cruel. Otherwise it’s more or less the same, only with a limited number of credits to keep you going.
Beyond that, you can rack up high-scores while battling against the clock in time attack mode. Puzzle mode is a gauntlet of different stages, only with branching paths and multiple endings (which are pretty simplistic). Finishing that will be a challenge on account of how challenging, yet samey, it gets after playing for a few hours in one sitting. A lack of a save feature is a bit of a bummer, as that would let you dive into the trickier stuff without having to go through all of the easy stages first. Two-player split-screen mode is also available, and, providing you’re up against someone who’s as good as you, it’s exciting stuff, and arguably the best aspect of the game.
Composer Kono Shin did a fantastic job with the game’s soundtrack. There are many catchy tunes that makes everything feel whimsical or frantic, though they may not be the greatest things to listen to then you’re angry as hell and are knee-deep into the game. Still, you’ll more than likely be whistling along to these tunes after a few hours of gameplay. The sound effects are suitably satisfying, too, from the popping noises to the excited announcements of Japanese children shouting in unison – odd, but fitting enough.
Easily one of the top choices for the PlayStation, Bust-a-Move 2: Arcade Edition has a sweet exterior with an unexpectedly-crunchy core. Thanks to its simplistic controls and gameplay, pretty much anyone can still get the hang of this color-matching puzzle game after a couple of minutes playing, while wannabe-purists will have to sink plenty of hours into it in order to come out on top each time. This one can feel samey after a while, due to a lack of variety or twists in its gameplay. Regardless, the amount of content offered in this brightly-coloured package is hefty and full of joy.