The DS has allowed many developers to experiment with concepts that focus more on thinking carefully for a shorter length of time; picking up and playing, just for fun. It also has enough juice to make games pretty, and gamers expect that. But we also expect original content. Why not? Shorter games that are broken up into many stages enable developers to experiment and stretch their level design capabilities, surely. Soul Bubbles arrived from Mekensleep/Eidos, and I have to say that I had high hopes based solely off the concept, which is quite original.
You are an elderly spirit herder’s apprentice, represented when on screen by a young boy. The aim of each level (including the three tutorial levels) is to use your stylus pen to blow bubbles containing lost spirits through the level, until you get them to the gateway. Each bubble has to be drawn initially with the stylus, but can then be cut or rejoined to other bubbles, deflated, inflated or shrunk out of existence. During the tutorial levels, you receive a mask for your character that enables him to cut and join bubbles, after which you discover two further masks in the main game. Play is divided into worlds, each one with several levels within, represented by beautiful world screens, serene and lush in colour.
As you can tell, the game is spiritual in nature and takes something of a neo pagan/druidic outlook. Spirits are tiny, floating shapes that change sometimes depending on what they’re close to, in order to help you find secret items within the game, or warn you of danger. Whether or not spirits are usually your cup of tea, Soul Bubbles is a gentle experience and lots of fun. Graphically serene and mellow in the sound department, this is a brilliant little slice of pick-up-and-play magic that will interest most gamers of any age. This might not be marketed for lovers of gun fights or car crime (the game shows a tongue in cheek intro screen warning you what it doesn’t contain, to this effect), but if that’s you and you did play Soul Bubbles, I’m betting you’d enjoy yourself on the sly.
There are some points of frustration where the game seems to be asking you to draw, cut, rejoin and shrink bubbles all at once or very quickly, but it’s perfectly possible to do what’s asked of you if you’re prepared to give a difficult level more than two goes. Your elderly master talks what I call ‘sim speak’ (The Sims from EA’s world-owning empire of games); constant babbling in a non language, and you do wish he’d stop or you could switch him off, at least. He’s not especially well animated on the cut scenes, either. Blowing bubbles through wind tunnels that often turn up embedded in the level can be a little tricky, so you’ll want to be aware that steady, long motions with the stylus are better than random slashes at the screen. The game quite helpfully prompts you if you forget how to do an action or don’t hold down a button correctly, making it very user friendly.
Essentially, this is a beautiful puzzle game with a neo pagan twist. You’ll lose yourself in the whole experience; meeting all-knowing stones, evil animal spirits and calabash to collect. If it sounds cheesy, it isn’t. It’s pretty, fairly enthralling and original in nature. The learning curve is fair and provides enough latter challenge to ensure you get your moneys worth. If you’re spending any amount of time lounging around this summer, this is a DS game worth considering for your collection. Attractive, thoughtful & original – we need more games like this.