Bubble Town: Party Planet’s addictive gameplay marred by puzzling social aspects.

Bubble Town is hardly the cozy village that it used to be. After a wise redesign and several incarnations on multiple platforms ranging from PC to the iPhone and Facebook, Bubble Town’s comical little Borbs have their sights on global domination of a sort, and they’re calling it a Party Planet. Bubble Town: Party Planet‘s visuals and gameplay differ very little from I-Play’s standard popular homage to bubble poppers such as Snood and Bust-A-Move, opting for a greater focus on social interaction and additional levels. The problem, sadly, is getting to them.

For those unfamiliar with the game, the objective is to fire little quirky heads (known as Borbs) at a mass of the same, and often around the evil Lums—obstacles that prevent you from reaching other Borbs. The board is cleared by matching three or more of the same color, and any extra heads of a different color knocked off in the process add to your cannon’s ammunition. Adding to the challenge, there’s a bar that falls incrementally whenever your cannon requires a full refill of ammunition, and occasionally this bar starts out very low. In other puzzles, your targets are loaded in a hexagonal frame that alters the orientation of the targets after each move. Much like the bar in other levels, this frame will decrease in size every time you run out of ammunition. Each level increases in difficulty as you travel throughout the Party Planet to different locales, such as Bublantic Island. All of this makes for a heavily addicting game, and it’s possible you’ll breeze through the first eight or so levels in one sitting, although unexpected difficulty spikes may mar your enjoyment.

 Party Planet

Fortunately, there’s plenty of help in the form of bonuses, such as the “HotFoot,” which allows you to clear all Borbs and other obstacles in your path, and “ShakeShack,” which shakes the whole screen and rids the board of nasty obstacles such as jellyfish, shrouds (essentially clouds that hide the color of the Borb underneath), and sleeping Borbs, who must be wakened to score a chain. Special moves such as bank shots score additional points, and these are made easier by subtle directional indicators that show what your next shot will do.

Save for a couple of training levels, all of those powerups cost “Bubble Bucks.” For instance, ShakeShack and HotFoot each cost a rightly astronomical 8,200 Bubble Bucks, although more situational powerups like the Plunger cost only a few hundred coins. These Bubble Bucks are obtained in a number of different ways, such as scoring points, winning achievements, or finishing levels, and, of course, you can buy them with real cash if the going gets rough. In some cases, such as when you unhinge a particularly large cluster of Borbs, you’ll win a treasure of around 150 Bubble Bucks, and you’ll occasionally find a hidden stash during your normal gameplay.

Cue the game’s new social aspects. Party Planet allows you to share Bubble Bucks with your friends and receive them in return, and as in so many other games, the more friends you have playing, the more money you’ll have at your disposal. Party Planet also brings your friends into the action itself when those dastardly Lums kidnaps one of them, resulting in a special bonus level that yields rewards for both players should you complete the level and free your friend. Your performance on each level is also scored both by points and on a scale of one to five, and moving your mouse over a level’s icon on the map will allow you to see how your friends fared at the same challenge.

 Party Planet

Unfortunately, somewhere between Level 15 and Level 20, the advancement requirements make it near impossible to proceed without having a large number of friends. Some levels, for instance, require having nine friends to advance and some require as many as 15. In theory, it’s a good advertising tactic, but it seriously ruins the fun if you can’t get more than five or so friends to play. While the game gives you the option of buying your way into these islands with Bubble Bucks, the requirements are so high that you’ll often find yourself stalled in the process of obtaining enough coins to advance. Worse yet, this occurs just as the game becomes challenging.

As another downside, Bubble Town: Party Planet is plagued by a strange bug that causes the game to lock up at 97% occasionally while loading. This occurred on three different computers on three different browsers, and could only be fixed by restarting the browser, emptying the cache, and hoping for the best. In a couple of instances several hours passed before the game was playable again. While there are no issues with the actual game, this loading bug has the potential to keep new players far away.

 Party Planet

In the end, Bubble Town: Party Planet maintains the addictive gameplay that characterized its earlier incarnations, and the addition of a largely well-implemented social element is welcome. The Borbs are as colorful and entertaining as ever, and their voice emotes add humor even to the game’s most difficult sections. Also, Party Planet’s world is much larger than any previous outing by the series, and even now there are islands hidden by clouds with a promising “Coming Soon” displayed above them. Even so, the game’s flaws often outweigh its upsides, and have the potential to make this bubble game as bust for some. For the future, I-Play should keep in mind that three’s a party, but not necessarily fifteen.