Tuesday 23 November 2010

Frozen Bubble

I seem to spend a lot of time being screwed around with last minute cancellations and two hour breaks to kill. So fortunate then that I have an Android "smartphone" with enough freebie software to keep a Linux fan thrilled for life.

Frozen Bubble is one such piece of software. A completely free Puzzle Bobble/Bust-A-Move clone which has already absorbed several hours of my time.

Frozen Bubble is a Puzzle Bobble clone and I suppose on the surface you could say it isn't a particularly good one. There are hundreds of levels but the gameplay is about as basic as you can get. No fancy bubbles, versus modes or pulley mechanisms you might see in Puzzle Bobble 4 - just the basics.

But there are many important factors you shouldn't forget. Puzzle Bobble, bless it, suffers from many design choices that don't translate well to the western world. Lots of un-translated Japanese speech, cultural references and mixed ideals when taken out of the land of the rising sun, like weird box art for the Americans or making the game more manly by substituting "bubbles" for "balls".

The newer games are passed off as shovelware, the stars Bub and Bob are often portrayed as extremely cute and cuddly despite being young boys manipulated by demons and to me, the games just simply aren't as appealing as say, Bubble Bobble or Rainbow Islands... which they're inspired by. Unlike 1994 when this stuff was revolutionary, nobody gives a crap about Taito's franchise anymore, and the spin-offs often do it better.

Frozen Bubble is mostly silent bar the toggleable sound effects. The mascot is a Penguin who keeps quiet most of the time and as it's built for phones with questionably short battery life like mine, it doesn't flush repetitive tunes down your throat. I like this. Sure you lose a bit of polish and the scenery never changes, but it's not surrounded in strange tat and to me this can only be a bonus.

I'm personally one of those guys who finds touch-screens on mobile phones as overkill. A keyboard makes sense for overpriced texting services, but an... emulated keyboard? A bit pointless isn't it? Perhaps there's cost reductions to be had in not implementing a real one... though I can't imagine a sensitive touch screen is cheap either. Anyway predictably Frozen Bubble makes use of this touch-screen feature, and it acts as a substitute for the good old left and right buttons found in Taito's works.

Now once you get used to it, it's not so bad... but I can't help but feel it's a bit tedious having to adjust your position with the bottom half of the touch screen and then fire with the top half. Perhaps things might have been better if the gyroscope was involved, especially when you're dealing with small touch screens like mine.

The problem is, games like these require accuracy and I'm not sure the touch screen always supplies you with it. As it happens, some of the later levels are quite poorly built in that it becomes a case of luck in getting all the right colours rather than skill, but screwups do cost dearly and you're bound to make them.

The other problem is that with no huge strides in variation the game really would struggle to make itself useful outside of a phone environment. All the levels are the same size and nothing fancy is ever introduced, so things only remain fun in small doses before you realise how gruelingly repetitive it is.

But regardless, all those with a Android phone should go out and download this. It's free, it's fun, it puts up a surprisingly good fight against Puzzle Bobble and it's one of the best games Android has (unless you want to fork out cash).

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