Puzzle Bobble 3D: Vacation Odyssey Review

Three things I like about this game, and two I don't

Puzzle Bobble 3D Vacation Odyssey

By Paul Hunter

It's hard to believe but I've been a huge Bubble Bobble fan for over 30 years now. I remember playing Taito's legendary series starring the bubble dragons Bub and Bob in the arcades, and then taking that addiction home after picking up the Commodore 64 edition. I later got into the tile-matching puzzle series spin-off Bust-a-Move on SNES and most recently played 2020's Bubble Bobble 4 Friends on PS4.

Earlier this year when I heard about Puzzle Bobble 3D: Vacation Odyssey for PS4, PS5 and PSVR, touted as the 'next evolution' of the classic Japanese action puzzle game franchise, I was naturally intrigued. It takes the Bust-a-Move tile matching concept and puts it in a full 3D environment where your goal is pop a huge floating bubble mass. I've now played about 20 hours of Puzzle Bobble 3D, here are three things I liked about the game...and two I didn't.

Liked: Best Graphics in the Franchise Yet

The visuals in Puzzle Bobble 3D are easily the best I've ever seen for the franchise. It's really nice after three decades to finally see Bub and Bob with full 3D character models and it's cute that they're now sporting steampunk goggles and over the shoulder bags. Their girlfriends Peb and Pab also make an appearance and look adorable with their 3D hair bows and blushing cheeks.

Puzzle Bobble 3D's Story mode takes our dragon heroes through 100 levels spanning 21 islands in an exotic archipelago spanning multiple eye-catching biomes. These include tropical islands, desert oases, grassy fields, rocky cliffsides and molten lava pools. I'm really impressed at the level of detail in all these environments—everything looks great and is well animated. There are also some really cool weather effects like wind and lightning strikes that rain down with thunderous claps. Elevating these biomes even further is a rocking synth-pop soundtrack from Taito's house band Zuntata that combines remixed classic Puzzle Bobble tunes with some excellent new compositions.

Liked: The Realistic Physics

Puzzle Bobble 3D requires you to rethink your tile-matching strategy thanks to the three-dimensional bubble clusters that spin and rotate with realistic physics when bubbles collide. Using your bubble cannon you can adjust the speed and angle of your shots and this affect how fast and to which direction the 3D bubble mass will rotate. Not only do you have to focus on matching bubbles like in a traditional 2D Bust-a-Move game, but you also have to factor in how the bubble cluster will spin. It's a lot to think about and makes this quite possibly the most strategic Puzzle Bobble game yet.

Liked: The Variety of Specialty Bubbles

As you progress through the 100 levels in Story mode they'll become progressively challenging by adding eight different bubble types that kicks your strategy into overdrive. Some of these bubbles are helpful, like the Star bubble that pops all bubbles of the same colour and the Plus bubble that adds three shots to your shot limit. However, most of the special bubbles are meant to make levels harder and are quite good at doing so. For instance, the annoying Box bubbles cannot be popped, so you need to pop the bubbles connecting to them in order to drop them. Likewise, the Inverted bubbles cannot be popped, but after each shot they become normal bubbles and normal bubbles become inverted.

The unique bubble types can be frustrating to deal with, but they amp up the challenge and that's definitely a good thing. Passing all 100 levels is no easy task and especially the latter half requires a rock-solid strategic approach. Thankfully if you do get stuck there are three power-ups you can buy using Coins accumulated by beating levels. These power-ups include a Bomb that destroys a group of bubbles, a Paintbrush that changes the colour of bubbles it impacts, and a Spin bubble used to rotate the bubble mass. You're allowed to use each power-up once per level, which is usually enough of a boost to complete some of the more difficult ones.

Didn't Like: The Slow Coin Collection

While it's great that you can purchase power-ups to help you pass particularly tricky levels, the rate at which you acquire Coins is painfully slow. If you pass a level with a one-star rating you might get a meager three coins and even when you perfect three-star a level, you still typically get 10 coins or less. To even be able to afford the three available power-ups you need to spend 50 Coins for the first one, 100 for the second and 150 for the final. That means you might need to play as many as 50 levels before you even unlock the power-ups.
The visuals in Puzzle Bobble 3D are easily the best I've ever seen for the franchise and it's nice after three decades to finally see Bub and Bob in full 3D.
Once you finally unlock the power-ups it still costs an additional 20 Coins for each one-time use, which only compounds the issue. If you get stuck on a level and need a power-up your only option is replay levels you've already beaten to grind Coins. It really does negatively affect the pacing since going back to beat five levels just to get a one-time use power-up gets tedious fast. It would have been great to get even a handful of Coins if you lose a level, that way you could replay your current level and try to pass it while also stockpiling Coins in case you can't.

Didn't Like: The Occasionally Awkward Camera

While I thoroughly enjoyed playing this Puzzle Bobble game in 3D, the third perspective can cause some pretty bad camera issues. There were a few times where the bubble mass would spin completely out of view, which basically leaves you no option but to restart the level. There were also many occasions where one bubble mass would be in front of another one, completely blocking it. Sure, keeping the bubble masses in the optimal spots is supposed to be part of the strategy, but they often don't spin where you want them to.

I also found the bubble cannon is extremely jittery and it can be hard to fire with precision. This is especially true during levels where the bubble mass moves around making it near-impossible to launch bubbles with accuracy. I really hope the Puzzle Bobble 3D spin-off series continues, but Survios and Taito need to figure out ways to smooth out the accuracy.

The Verdict

In addition to the robust 100-level Story mode, the game also includes an Infinite mode with no time limit and a Duel mode for playing against friends or to quickmatch online. Puzzle Bobble 3D also supports PS5/PS4 cross play and the title is cross-buy, so if pick up the PS4 version you'll get the PS5 upgrade for free. Each version is also compatible with PSVR if you've got a headset.

All in all, I had a bubble-blasting good time with Puzzle Bobble 3D Vacation Odyssey. It was fun to rethink my Bust-a-Move strategies in 3D, and while the third perspective does create some camera issues, I still really enjoyed this fresh new take on the classic series.

Final Score: 7/10 - Good

Puzzle Bobble 3D: Vacation Odyssey details

Platform: PS5, PS4
Developer: Survios
Publisher: Survios, Taito Corporation
Genre: Puzzle, Arcade
Modes: Single-player, Multiplayer
ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)

A key was provided by the publisher.