A cute bubble popper with an elemental twist

We don’t want to, you know, spread rumors, but word around the jungle is that pandas are having a hard time propagating. For whatever reason, the beloved black-and-white bears just don’t like getting freaky and making babies.

The panda species need not fret, however: Extinction is not as close as you might believe. It’s all thanks to the herculean efforts of the mama panda starring in Panda Pop. We don’t know how she’s producing so many cubs, but oh boy, she’s doing it.

She doesn’t have time to give lessons, unfortunately. All those cubs have been stuffed into bubbles by an evil baboon that assumedly wants to sell the critters like trashy tourist trinkets. You must help mama rescue her vast brood by matching three or more same-colored bubbles. If a baby panda is trapped in one of those bubbles, it’ll float back down to earth.

Yes, Panda Pop is yet another bubble-popper. Don’t send it off to be processed into pet food just yet, though. Its content may be as surprising as black and white on a panda’s coat, but the entire package is put together nicely.

There is, for instance, an interesting power-up system that’s fun to play around with. Panda Pop utilizes a Chinese aesthetic (it’s mostly cutesy, fluffy stuff: Nothing you’d base a college research project on if you value your GPA), including game pieces based on four elemental powers. The red bubbles represent fire, the green bubbles represent wood, the blue bubbles represent water, and the yellow bubbles represent the sun.

Panda Pop

Lanterns that correspond to each color are at the bottom of the screen. When you pop enough bubbles belonging to the matching lantern’s color, it fills up and can be called on for a boost. The fire lantern burns away some pieces, the wood lantern causes vines to grow up amongst the bubbles, the water lantern clears away a row of bubbles, and the sun lantern launches three bubbles at once.

Here’s the fun part: Levels with more than one lantern let you combine your power-ups so you can unleash some real bubble-destroying chaos. Burn and gouge the playing field with fire and wood. Set off a cleansing torrent with sun and water. Better yet, fill up all your lanterns and summon a dragon to really wreck the joint.

Despite this violent imagery, Panda Pop is a cute, gentle game. It looks surprisingly good for a bubble-popper, a genre that obviously has an excuse not to blow players away with top-of-the-line graphics. Mama panda is well-animated. When you begin to run low on the bubbles you’re allotted in each level, her demeanor visibly changes and you kind of feel for her as she starts to panic a little.

Panda Pop

As is the case with its match-three cousins, bubble-popping games are hard to stay away from. They all play similarly, but they’re all inherently compelling. Panda Pop certainly doesn’t re-invent the genre, but do you really want to turn down an invitation to play with pandas and the elements of nature?