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Super Bust-A-Move 2
Score: 92%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Ubisoft Entertainment
Developer: Taito
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Puzzle

Graphics & Sound:
The Bust-A-Move franchise is one that you gravitate to because it has something consistent from version to version, something that gets better each time. Like fans of the Fighter genre, Puzzle fans don't like to see a whole lot change in their games. What we like most is more action, more variety and more ways to be...puzzled. Super Bust-A-Move 2, or SBAM2 as I affectionately call it, sure does offer much more in this version than the last, and will keep you grinding your teeth and shaking that controller way into the early hours of the morning.

Graphics are improved in the sense that the cut-scenes are more detailed and play out like legitimate little movies instead of the 'rolling credits' style of cut-scene from past games. The story is still amazingly weird, almost surreal, and the characters are equally strange visions. Think of a cross between Walt Disney and Jim Woodring and you're on the right track, but Taito should win some recognition for design. In a game that plays out on a Tetris-style board and uses little bubbles to create patterns, one might think the visuals are limited, but special visual effects and animated characters at the bottom of each board keep things really cool and cute. If bouncy J-Pop is your musical dish, prepare for a little slice of heaven.

Comparing SBAM2 to Tetris is like comparing Checkers to Chess. Sure, the board may look the same, but the action and the objectives are totally different. In SBAM2, bubbles move UP from the bottom to stick against one another or other objects in the game board. 'Firing' bubbles to create groupings of 3 will cause explosions that can create massive chain effects, but sometimes you'll be popping bubbles strategically to move objects around the board and accomplish specific objectives. All Puzzle boards are timed, and there is a slow, inexorable creep downward that will end your game if you don't keep those bubbles bursting frequently and quickly!

Single Player or Story Mode is a nice place to start, and as mentioned a completely psychedelic attempt at an actual 'story.' A fun but kooky scenario puts you in the body of any number of characters, each intent on solving bubble puzzles and winning bubble battles. Each character's 'story' is a complete run through the game, so you may be surprised to play for 30 minutes or an hour and suddenly see credits rolling. Don't worry, there's more. You can take your new puzzle skills into 1P Puzzle Mode, where you practice beating different boards for Training, Normal or Classic play. Battle Mode can play out as You vs. CPU or a match between two human players, with several variant options to enhance gameplay and the level of challenge. Finally, when you're all played out and want something more sedate but equally challenging, try Edit Mode. Here, you are the architect of grand bubble puzzles, and you get to see if you're up to the task of designing challenging boards. It's harder than it looks.

Super Bust-A-Move 2 does a great job of adapting to struggling puzzlers by following a failed attempt with a guide system, showing you some trajectory for where your little bubbles will go. Once you complete the board with a 'crutch' like this in place, SBAM2 takes away the guide line for the next board so you have a chance to go at it without help until you need it. This type of responsive difficulty setting recalls Platform and Action games that made similar adjustments during Boss battles. Although some folks may find high-level puzzles and especially the Long Puzzle segments frustrating, there's challenge and reward alike in SBAM2 for all ability levels.

Game Mechanics:
Several new types of bubble greet those who haven't tuned into Bust-A-Move for a while. The thing we noticed most of all was the randomness built into the game now that really wasn't there before. The Chain Reaction is still present, created by stacking several different bubbles and then knocking them all down at the same time. Planned and executed correctly, bubbles start blowing up all over the place and you can inflict some serious damage on your opponent in a Battle game. Basically, destroying bubbles in this way causes the opponent's screen to fill up that much faster! But, apart from standard bubbles are Metal bubbles, wrecking ball bubbles that plow through other bubbles and don't stick anywhere. Paint bubbles are the random factor in SBAM2 - splashing color on other bubbles they come into contact with, making your job easier or harder depending on how the dice roll. Several other old standards are found here, along with Blocks that require special manipulation in many cases before they can be cleared from any board.

The mix of old and new is always handled with style by the Bust-A-Move team, and SBAM2 is no exception. This game has everything you ever fell in love with the series over, and not only does the speed and power of the PS2 save some loading time and increase the ease with which the game's engine handles special effects, but there's more thought and more special features hidden to unlock inside the game. 'More of what you love' could be the tagline for SBAM2 if I were a complete cheese-master, but I'm not so I'll just say that dedicated fans understand the magic and will be out buying a copy of this right quick. If you haven't sampled any of the previous offerings and want a fun, bright, loud Puzzle game you just can't go wrong here.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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