In a thousand years, when the oceans have warped and humanity is just a dusty memory, all that will be left in the world will be Puzzle Bobble and tin. It's survived almost two decades without making any major changes to the format, and at some point we'll all have to accept that a game that's basically about shapes and colours will eventually outlive us all. And somehow, readers, I'm alright with that. There's fun in simplicity, and it's a timeless sort of fun.
MIT professor Janet Murray once suggested that Tetris' own simplicity represents capitalism at its worst - a metaphor for the unending toil of desk jobs and repetitive tasks. But sometimes a bobble is just a bobble. Puzzle Bobble has a basic and innate sort of fun that somehow outlives the new technologies and platforms that come and go. It has appeared on almost every gaming platform that's existed, and now finds itself on Nintendo's latest, the 3DS. To put it bluntly, you've almost definitely played this before.
Where some games require years of toiling in basements or development studios before the magic formula is found, Puzzle Bobble had it at birth. The half-brother of Bubble Bobble, this is a puzzle shooter. Your objective is to clear the screen of coloured bubbles by firing additional orbs from a pivoting cannon at the bottom of the screen; match three or more bubbles of the same colour, and they'll pop. That's all there is to it, but there's an added degree of tension thanks to the fact that the ceiling lowers at regular intervals - and if the amassed bubbles reach your cannon, you'll die and fail the level.
Compared to the version you grew up with there are a few apparent changes made in this game. Now throughout the 88-stage Puzzle Mode, for example, a line will show you the trajectory of the shot, including the point where it ricochets off either side of the wall and into the pile of spheres; a line that only disappears when you play Challenge Mode on Hard difficulty. The game also only caters to single-player, with the surprising omission of Versus Mode in this 3DS incarnation.
The shift to three dimensions hasn't had much effect on the core gameplay, beyond the introduction of "gimmick bubbles" that display 3D visual effects when shot at. But you do get additional gameplay modes that add some variation to the standard angle-and-shoot format. Challenge modes are built in, giving players 100 and 300-second long sessions to take out as many clusters as they can. There's also a Non-Stop bubble challenge - essentially what it says on the tin.
There's a faint spray of story, too, nestling inside Puzzle Mode. Bub and Bob are two dinosaurs who have just stumbled upon an unmanned spaceship, and unlucky Bob quickly gets kidnapped by an anonymous interstellar entity called The Boss. Technically speaking, we're told the bubbles represent Space debris and the only way to save Bob - and perhaps the Universe - is by cleaning out the bubbles and collecting hidden keys that unlock new levels.
But let's be honest, it's Puzzle Bobble. Puzzle Bobble with or without a dinosaur vs. alien subplot is still Puzzle Bobble. And with or without 3D, it will keep scratching an itch we don't seem to be able to shake.
Puzzle Bobble is due for release on the 3DS in April.