Back in the ’90s, I’d often be found laying waste to anyone willing to put my bubble popping skills to the test in various iterations of Bust-a-Move. So when I heard about the new free-to-play title, Adventure Pop, heading to consoles, I was delighted at the thought of an opportunity to shoot bubbles once more. The market is pretty sparse of such games, with only marble shooters like Sparkle Unleashed coming close and so can Adventure Pop bring a suitably addictive bubble shooter to the table? Or will it be spoilt by a reliance on micro-transactions?

Starting with the single player side of Adventure Pop, there’s a story spanning over 100 levels and although not the most exciting ever told, nor the most expansive, it still gives a sense of purpose to the action going on whilst you try to earn up to three stars – based on the points total – for each level. Basically, a delivery driver named Penelope is approached by a child, Max, who’s in a spot of bother with some pirates. From here on out, Penelope decides to help take down these pirates and all manner of strange characters found throughout the journey.

The general play consists of shooting different coloured bubbles to match three or more of the same colour so that they pop and disappear off the screen. That’s an element that never changes across the many levels included, however, there are a few differing objectives to take into account. Some levels require you simply to pop a set amount of ‘levitation spheres’, in order to defeat the enemy. All you have to do is shoot at them with the same colour bubbles until they are all gone. Although the easiest of level types, they are also the most fun.

Other levels, which are instead orientated around vortexes, can only be described as pure evil. There’s no nice way to say it, I hate them. The aim is to pop bubbles orbiting various vortexes to make the vortex disappear, or alternatively, you can try a skilful shot at the vortex itself to eliminate all in its orbit. Not only do the gameplay mechanics lack the hit detection accuracy required to pull off such a shot without a few painful attempts, but due to the bubbles moving one position around said vortex after each shot, it messes up any patterns already lined up.

Along the way through the ‘Adventure’ mode, more and more features are added such as clouds which hold together sections of bubbles, explosive kegs to make things go boom, and magic bubbles that turn any bubble thrown their way into a super-powered one. These super-powered bubbles also become available depending on who’s a part of your crew; some of whom you come across end up fighting on your side, bringing powerful abilities to unleash mass popping actions.

The Boss battles are infrequent, but worth waiting for as these come as close to resembling the greatness of bubble shooters as we know them. You face off against a Pirate King for example, and the king is also matching at the same time as you are. Therefore, the priority is to produce enough matches to send lots of bubbles over to fill the opposition’s screen up until it crosses the dotted line, and then they lose. For some reason though, the amount of bubbles appears to be limited in these, just like the rest of the levels and that removes any chance of truly exhilarating battles. Especially when the firing rate from one bubble to the next is rather slow – I want fast and frantic damn it!

Anyone looking to battle their nearest and dearest can venture into the local versus mode, and online by inviting a friend in. This follows the same style of play as the aforementioned Boss encounters; a one-off round of bubble shooting. Each player gets to pick a character – from a selection of eight unlockable via the campaign – with their own super ability. I’m slightly disappointed there aren’t more options for rules, or even to choose the amount of rounds, as at this point it feels rather pointless. I wouldn’t bother trying to get a ranked match, mainly due to the fact I haven’t once managed to find an opponent via matchmaking.

Whilst Adventure Pop is free, you’ll no doubt become frustrated enough to be tempted in by paying to progress. First you’ll have to buy gems, which on the whole aren’t very cheap, and then you can use these to purchase extra special boosters and power-ups. Honestly, it can get irritating and I don’t like how much it feels like you must spend money to enjoy the mid-way levels and beyond. It’s also far too easy to spend gems after a failure when it offers five more moves for a premium cost.

I’ve both loved (you wouldn’t necessarily believe that) and hated Adventure Pop in my time playing it. The lovely vibrant colours, the cheerful soundtrack and the bubble popping in general are immensely enjoyable. The sheer number of levels will no doubt tide you over for many hours and the gameplay is kept fresh with new features thrown in periodically. What I don’t like though is the shady hit detection at times, the slowness of shooting during what should be intense and frantic affairs, and the crazily difficult levels which are there to shove you in the direction of micro-transactions.

By all means, grab Adventure Pop, but be prepared to meet addiction and frustration throughout.

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