Review: Bubble Madness

Bubble Madness titleVery shortly after I sent In-Fusio a notification about my review of their new Line Rider game, I got a reply telling me about an even newer game which had just been released for the Pocket PC and will shortly also be available for Palm OS and UIQ. While I actually should be doing some college stuff these days, I got tempted and installed this new game, Bubble Madness, and it took me quite a while to get back to my college work. So that’s why this review doesn’t have a seperate section discussing the game menu’s (you can change sound settings, language, delete all highscores, and view help pages explaining the gameplay and game modes) and a lot of screenshots, but I just had to show you this awesome gameplay implementation which really uses the advantages of the touch screen.

Read on after the break!

Gameplay

Ok, let’s just get started! ;-)

The goal of the game is to clear as many bubbles as possible by grouping them. Do I hear “Hey wasn’t that what Chuzzle and Bejeweled are about as well”? Basically they are, but In-Fusio uses a way to group them that is unique and really takes advantage of the touch screen. On the screen you will see bubbles of four colors, and you can group them by drawing a line around those bubbles. As soon as your line touches itself, and all the bubbles inside have the same color of the line, they are removed. You can change the color of the line by tapping a bubble – the color of that bubble will be used for your next line. You can also drag your bubbles to get them out of the way, or position them strategically. So in the screenshot on the right, I moved all the blue and green bubbles to opposite sides. Now we can see above the timer that my current color is blue: I will now draw a line around the blue bubbles to make them disappear all at once. Then I will tap a green bubble to make the color of the line change, and then I will draw a line around the green bubbles to complete the level.

Bubble Madness Play LineBubble Madness Play Group

When you start a new game, bubbles are pumped into your playing field. To the left is the timer which will run down vertically as time progresses (depending on your game mode, more on that later). On the top you see your score. As you can see at the bottom of the screenshots above, I was on level 21 when making the screenshot on the left, and level 31 when making the screenshot on the right. And there is still room for a MUCH higher score!

Bubble Madness Play CircleBubble Madness Play Grey

Of course with lots of bubbles on the screen, it can happen that you accidentaly include a bubble of a different color in your circle. What happens then can be seen above. Here I included a blue bubble in my red/purple circle. Now the line which forms the circle starts turning grey, and I have to tap the bubble(s) of the wrong color before the line turned grey totally. This will be easy in this situation, but can be much harder if the playing field is more populated and more bubbles of different colors are inside the circle. If you succeed at tapping the wrong bubbles, they disappear, but if you miss these bubbles, they turn grey. Grey bubbles can’t be removed by grouping them, you’ll have to include them in a circle and then tap them again in order for them to disappear.
Of course, these things have consequences: you get penalties for tapping on bubbles that you shouldn’t tap on (in the screenshot above you shouldn’t tap on the purple bubbles), and you get “combo” rewards for situations where, for example, there are green bubbles in a blue circle. If you tap these green bubbles, you get a combo for tapping 3, 4 or more of them. (Of course, there is the risk that the circle turns grey before you do so, which will make your bubbles lose their color as well).

Bubble Madness Play PauseBubble Madness Play Score

Ok I did squeeze in one menu screen. If you press Quit in the bottom right corner, the game pauses. You can now resume the game, return to the main menu, change the sound and language settings, or quit the game. If you return to the main screen or completely quit the game, your progress is saved and the next time you start Bubble Madness, you can start a new game (in any of the three game modes) or resume your previous game.
The screen on the right shows the score screen which displays after every level in Challenge mode. Here you see the amount of bubbles of each color, and the points they earned you. You also see your bonus, which is often more than 100 times the score you get for grouping bubbles. (Under 100 000 points for bubbles, but more than 10 000 000 bonus points). This is where I have some doubts: nowhere I found an explanation on how bonus points are calculated, but since they make 99% percent of the score, this is very important! For the same reason, I rather have half of the screen explaining how my bonus score is earned (I had a lot of time left? I created a lot of combo’s? I often grouped a lot of bubbles of the same color? etc) then having a seperate line for each bubble color. However, In-Fusio told me (the communication with In-Fusio is excellent, by the way) that this is by design, because “we want to give player more mystification and surprise”. Let me just tell you that time matters, and the various combo’s that give you a message on your screen are also benficial to your score. And there’s more, but you’ll have to discover it yourself!

Game modes

Three game modes are available: Challenge, Survival and Time trial.
Challenge is the game mode that will probably offer the longest gameplay per game, since you start with a screen filled with bubbles and have to clear it before the timer on the left of the screen runs out. It will take quite a while before the timer will cause you trouble, so while you do have to keep an eye on the timer, you can earn yourself quite a good score here.

The Survival mode puts a couple of bubbles on your screen, and you can start grouping them. There is no timer to worry about. However, regularly new bubbles will be added to your screen, and in the top corner you will see how many bubbles are currently on the screen, and what is the maximum amount of bubbles allowed. As soon as you reach that number, the game is over, so better be quick and make large groups!

The final mode is Time Trial. You can choose 100, 300 or 1000 seconds, and in that time you will have to get your score as high as possible. Both in Survival mode and Time Trial mode a game will not nearly last as long as in Challenge mode so I prefer Challenge mode (especially since you can continue your game after you closed the program!) but it’s always appreciated if a game like this has two or three game modes to increase the variety of gameplay.

Conclusion

As I’ve said a number of times in this review, Bubble Madness uses the advantages of the Touch Screen in a way that could inspire many other game developers. Too often games let you use your stylus for things that can also be done with a D-Pad, but so much more can be done with the stylus. I certainly plan to keep an eye on In-Fusio to see what they will bring in the future, because Bubble Madness is (just like Line Rider Mobile) very promising! I initially had my doubts about the documentation about the scoring, but In-Fusio prefers to let the user discover rewarding strategies him/herself, so this is by design. Obviously this is just a minor issue and even if you can’t figure out the bonus system you will still find this game enjoyable!

Name: Bubble Madness
Version: 3.102 (just released though)
By: In-Fusio
Compatibility: PocketPC, with Palm OS and UIQ versions coming soon. All PPC OS are supported, from PPC 2002 up to WM 6!
Price: $ 14.95
Download trial/purchase: currently an exclusive Handango-product but available from more stores soon

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