Soul Bubbles DS Review

The DS has been a success story for Nintendo, with huge sales and a wide cross-section of people playing. The best games have been those adapted for short bursts of play, and those that make good use of the touch screen for controls. Soul Bubbles, from French developers Mekensleep, gets both things right and is a must-buy for DS owners.

The game opens with a very funny disclaimer screen, and then eases the player in with a straightforward Initiation section of three levels. These introduce the basic controls – drawing a bubble, splitting and joining bubbles and using the map. Tapping and sliding on the touch screen will blow in that direction, allowing the player to move the bubbles around. Then the player, as a Soul Herder, gains entry to the first of eight unique worlds each containing five levels.

The aim is to herd the Spirits to the exit on each level, by drawing a bubble around them and blowing it through the maze of passageways. This is easier said than done – there are obstacles and enemies in the way. Fire and thorns will pop bubbles, air currents will force them in a certain direction and sticky vines will hold them fast. Fortunately there are spirit stones to give advice, and the player will soon learn the techniques needed for victory. Getting fifteen Spirits safely through the levels opens the way to the next world. Helping the player get around each level is a trail of stardust, and collecting all the dust boosts the final grade. Also hidden in each maze are three Calabash fruits, and fifty of these are needed to open the last world.

Soul Bubbles is a visual treat, with each world having its own “theme”. The second world is dry desert, the third dominated by caves and water. There are also colourful banners on the Tibetan section, and the snow and ice of the Inuit level. Everything is very stylish and fits together well – the map remains dark until the spirits have lit the way, and the bubbles themselves move in a very fluid and realistic way. The music is very effective, changing the main theme for each level to suit the graphics and adding an ethnic flavour. Sound effects like the rushing of air are handled well. The presentation of the cut scenes explaining the story and the level maps are consistently good.

The touch screen of the DS makes the process of playing Soul Bubbles very comfortable and lets the player feel in control. The four directions of the joypad (or the four face buttons) give access to the four main options. These are drawing a bubble, deflating a bubble (to make it fit through a smaller gap), cutting a bubble in two (and then joining two touching bubbles) and the map. Activating the map allows the player to move quickly around the level, although the main screen can be scrolled by tapping at the edges.

There is a lot of replay value, too. Each level ends with a grade, based on how fast the player completes the level and how much of the stardust and Calabash has been collected. The Calabash in particular are tricky to find, so the incentive to get an S grade or improve the time taken on a level is strong. New features and ideas are added as the game progresses, rounding out the experience and providing a real challenge. With most levels taking between five and ten minutes to play through, it is ideally suited to a portable gaming system like the DS. Some would argue that the game is quite short, but the quality of ideas and execution is kept high throughout. The only minor niggle is the fact there is only one save slot, with the player’s progress saved automatically.

In a market increasingly dominated by first-person shooters and clones of other games, it is rare to find a title with original ideas that has been put together with real finesse. This is a joyful, exuberant game that deserves to be a big seller and comes highly recommended.