I went to this smoke-filled salaryman infested arcade in Ikebukuro for one reason only – to play KOF against Henry Moriarty of the Madman’s Café. I did do that. But long before I ever reached the object of my desire, I got very distracted. The cursed eyes of Osaka were staring out at me from an arcade display – could it be?? It was indeed that mythical beast of an arcade console, Azumanga Puzzle Daioh. I guess it’s not so much ‘mythical’ as it is new and Japan only. That’s myth enough for me. So I had to try the thing, King of Fighters be damned!
As it turned out, I was the one to be damned – it was a good game after all! Licensed games are getting better and better in Japan, as accomplished 3rd parties are increasingly being signed on to develop the projects. Treasure’s work for instance, tends to be quite solid in this area, as is that of Dimps. This is more of a license marriage than anything though – the anime title of Azumanga Daioh with the gaming legacy of the Puzzle Bobble series. I guess…I really should have known it’d be a fine game. Puzzle Bobble, if you enjoy the style, can’t really go wrong. But you can like or dislike the various little change-ups they introduce in each new game – and I like this one.
Rather unfortunately the single player game is nothing new. It’s the same old puzzles practically, at least in the first couple of stages, as you’ve been playing in the series for years. Check the video to see rock hard evidence of this. The big difference is that throughout the game (two player mode as well) the character’s face is constantly popping up with a word bubble to freaking OBSCURE YOUR VIEW. It’s not that bad, and in some ways it’s kind of cool. But…man. They should have made it a little less opaque.
The two-player mode more than makes up for the mediocrity by adding a new level of competitive potential never before seen in the series. You’ve got your usual two wells in which each player does their thing, and of course popping flotsam-linked bubbles causes jetsam to appear on your pal’s side. The new gimmick this time round is the window in between the wells, through which you can shoot bubbles at your hated compatriot’s field. It’s goddamned simplistically brilliant, the applications this has. You can ditch bubble colors that you don’t want, for one thing. You can also interrupt chains that the other player is developing, and uh…occasionally pop a bunch of bubbles on their side and cause yourself terrible damage (not to say that I…did that when competing with moriarty). One thing that I sadly did not catch on video is the blocking. To actively do this, it seems like it would require that an incredible amount of attention be paid to the other guy’s field, but you can actually block a bubble as it’s shot. If your bubbles meet on one field, they both pop, thereby allowing you to block their chains, and thwart their efforts. I only did it by accident. But it was like sweet sweet candy to hear the screams of horror to my right when it happened.
As such, the game positions itself to be the smack-talkingest Puzzle Bobble ever. Just watch the video of my horribly embarrassing loss. Yes, that’s Moriarty’s voice. Really…I should have won. Outside of the alternate reality that is Japan, I’m actually quite good at the game, and have really never been beaten in a two-player match without taking a terrible handicap. But here’s the double-edge of the proverbial puzzle-bobble-window-sword. Paying too much attention to shooting crap at your buddy is very bad. It’s extremely tempting to do so, and will commonly result in your neglecting your own side in favor of crowding up his or hers.
But man. If this thing hits the consoles – and it should – it will be one of the most enjoyable two player experiences you can have with a puzzler. Oh and by the way, that’s an ‘I’d like it to’ kind of should, not a ‘likely to’ kind of should, on the coming to consoles front. It may well come out in Japan, but unknown anime licenses (to the larger US audience) are not quite a hot property over here. Cross your fingers kids, this is a fine, fine game. Search it out in the import arcades and give it a go with your friends. It’s a thing worth doing.
Brandon “yes, they used the original voices” Sheffield