It’s surprisingly difficult to find a game that gets Bust-a-Move and Puzzle Bobble right. It should be simple: classic bubble-popping, lots of multiplayer options and a challenging solo campaign. Too often, games fumble the gameplay, layer on too many gimmicks, or chuck on monetisation. Trust us, we’ve waited a while. We just want to bust our moves, dang it!
Into the Xbox harbour arrives Rusty Spout Rescue Adventure, a colourful and budget-priced (only £5.79!) pretender to the crown from Thai developers Totalconsole. You’re the fantastically named Rusty Spout, an eagle-like pirate who’s chasing after a demon-bird-thing called Cocco (the name’s always written in jiggling font – he’s that demonic). The scallywag has stolen all your children, like the cut-price Dr. Robotnik that he is, and you have to go get ‘em. Since you’re both pirates, the bubble-firer is a cannon, and the galleons give you a neat reason for travelling from world to world.
There are a fair few modes here, including a 50-level Story Mode with bosses every ten levels, an endless mode to switch off and just pop, a couple of Battle Modes for local multiplayer, and a Boss Mode. Options include a colourblind accessibility mode, which gets a doff of the cap: more games should be including this.
There’s no reason to hang around: this is a simple game, so let’s get stuck into how it plays. Rusty Spout Rescue Adventures is refreshingly gimmick-free, and nails a lot of the basics. Ranks of colourful bubbles loom above you. You aim at them initially with a guide, and later without, and match three to pop them. You can trick-shot off walls, switch your bubble out for the next in line, and occasionally make use of special bubbles, exploding portions of the screen or wiping out an entire row, say. It’s familiar, but that’s no bad thing round these parts.
Call us purists, but we do need to call out some details that Rusty Spout does get wrong. If you’re reading this, you’ll know that small infuriations can be a big deal in a game like this, where shots have to be precise. Your mileage may vary in terms of whether they sink the ship, or just about keep it afloat.
The choice of a cannon for the bubble-firer is fine thematically, but it’s chunky; the width of two or three bubbles, which can feel inaccurate when trying to make finer shots. It’s more of a problem early on, before you’ve gotten calibrated to the game, but that’s a particular issue when gathering mates round. It won’t be an issue when you’re more experienced, but it feels odd to choose something that doesn’t clearly and simply show where it’s aiming.
Then there’s the turning speed, which is sloooooow, the slowest I’ve experienced in this kind of game. Switch back to Bust-a-Move and you’ll see just how infuriatingly slow it is. There’s a speed-up button, but it’s odd that the game has chosen to invert the Bust-a-Move approach, which was fast as default, but with a button that allows you to slow it down and be more precise. For our tastes, it was a (bust-a) move that didn’t work.
Here’s where it gets extra-purist and detailed, but stick with us – it’s important! When a Rusty Spout level gets to the last few bubbles, and – for example – you’ve cleared out the reds and blues in the levels, the game will still give you reds and blues. That’s heinous in our book, as it makes the final moments more fiddly than they need to be, tagging bubbles with unwanted ones in the hope that you’ll get rid of them soon. Then there’s the way the game adds pressure on the player, dropping the level down based on time rather than the number of bubbles they’ve fired. It might seem minor, but it makes the game a test of speed rather than accuracy/efficiency, and that feels like the wrong choice. Bubble-poppers know what I’m talking about.
But some of these issues won’t matter so much in local multiplayer, which is how most people will be playing Rusty Spout Rescue Adventure, and it’s here that the wind catches the sails and the game does well. Sure, we would have loved four-player multiplayer, but filling up colour pools to attack the opponent works well, and there is a level-playing field that means niggles are the same for both players. Sure, the speed is slow and the aiming a tad inaccurate, but it does a basic job for a cheap price, and that’s surprisingly hard to find on Xbox One.
It should be noted that a cardinal sin is committed in multiplayer: you need to have made progress in the campaign (quite a lot of progress, actually) before you can unlock it. Keep that in mind if you were planning to jump straight into a Doritos and bubbles party.
The campaign makes a bewildering choice that undermines it completely, though. You have 50 levels to complete, with a boss every 10 levels, but the game opts for a lives-based system, with progress resetting at the end of those three lives. With the issues mentioned earlier, and the difficulty ramping pretty steeply – particularly in the boss sections – this feels bizarrely aggressive and hardcore for a traditionally casual game. In Puzzle Bobble-style games, you can make one poor shot and it undermines you for the rest of the level; in casual play, that’s fine and part of the appeal. Here, it means the loss of a precious life that can’t be replenished. When you’re against the clock rather than measured by your shots, there isn’t the opportunity to take stock, either.
With a Candy Crush-style level map and save progress, Rusty Spout could have been a game to dip into. Instead, it aims for a hardcore, score-attack crowd. That’s not necessarily a bad thing when implemented well, but the reality is that you’ll be playing the same benign, easy starting levels over and over again just to get back to the higher levels. The structure of the game just doesn’t suit that brand of monotonous replaying.
The boss levels, too, are more of an infuriation than a joy. More often than not, because of the way that the opponent’s bubbles land on your screen, you’ll have a wall of bubbles to get rid of. There isn’t much time or opportunity to build winding paths of bubbles to then drop them all on your opponent; you’ll just be reacting and clearing what you can. Special bubbles definitely do help here, but they’re irregular. We were in a bubble-popping frenzy, and just about managed to muck through. It should be noted that losing a life gives you the dotted guide, so it’s a silver-lining to every life lost. Unfortunately, on boss levels, it’s a lack of time rather than a lack of accuracy that you’ll need help with.
While we’ve focused on a lot of the negatives, it’s to surface them so you can make a decision regarding their importance. We’re well aware of the budget nature of this title, and Rusty Spout’s hold is far more full of content, modes, and multiplayer fun than we expected.
So, a word or two of recommendation, and if you’re after a Puzzle Bobbler, Rusty Spout Rescue Adventure on the Xbox One will give you the bubble-hit you need at a budget price, but only if you’re after a simple, colourful two-player local experience. In almost every other way it misses the mark, with a grindy and punishing campaign, a lack of online multiplayer and only two-player couch-play. For a lot of social bubblers, it won’t matter, as Rusty Spout’s heart is in the right place, me hearties.