Originally launched as a VR-only title for Oculus Quest, Puzzle Bobble 3D: Vacation Odyssey has now made the trip to PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5. And while the game is still playable in virtual reality using Sony’s own PSVR, the move to consoles has also brought with it the ability to be played through in its entirety with no headset at all. Regardless of which way it’s played, though, this imprecise puzzle experience begins as a moderately enjoyable diversion and quickly turns into a frustrating nightmare.
Like previous games in the Puzzle Bobble/Bust-a-Move franchise – which itself is an offshoot of the long-running Bubble Bobble series – Puzzle Bobble 3D tasks you with combining matching and popping bubbles as you attempt to clear them off the screen. Each move grants you a new color of bubble to aim and shoot, and successful popping takes place upon connecting 3 or more of the same color. In the past, this was done on a 2D plane, which allowed for precise aiming and clear objectives, but Puzzle Bobble 3D opts to, as the name suggests, move everything into the third dimension – with poor results.
Bubbles are now presented in a three dimensional space and expand both horizontally and vertically, which makes for some depth perception problems, especially on more intricate puzzles. Attempting to get a bubble into a specific spot in the distance is exceptionally finnicky, and even when you think it’s perfectly aligned, the tiniest movement before firing can send it flying somewhere unintended. With aiming this stiff and imprecise, simply playing the game becomes a chore rather quickly.
Making matters worse is that the Campaign Mode’s 100 levels each have their own rules for which you’ll need to account, such as completing the puzzle before the time runs out or solving it in a specific amount of moves. When merely aligning a shot can take an obnoxious amount of time, there’s really no reasonable place for time-based objectives. And when the game just decides that you “missed” and connects the bubble in a spot you weren’t even aiming to begin with, it’s hard to feel confident in your ability to beat a puzzle in a set number of moves, either.
On the plus side, at least Puzzle Bobble 3D‘s charming visuals make the game appealing at a glance, largely thanks to its colorful and beautiful locations that tie into its vacation theme. Meanwhile, the series’ adorable main characters, bubble dragons Bub and Bob, sit at the bottom of the screen during each puzzle, with one aiming the bubble shooter and the other providing the next bubble to fire off. Indeed, the whole game exudes all the cuteness that you’d expect, but lovable characters and vibrant backgrounds can’t make up for such busted gameplay.
As a massive fan of bubble-popping puzzle games, I was extraordinarily excited to dive into a 3D iteration of the classic sub-genre. Unfortunately, I left my time with Puzzle Bobble 3D all too aware that the change in perspective offered little more than an infuriating experience that left me feeling cheated more often than rewarded. As much as it pains me to say it, this one is less likely to entertain and more likely to simply burst your bubble.