Bubbles look cool and they’re fun to pop. You knew that, right? What you may not know is that you won’t find a nicer-looking bunch to burst than in Pop-a-Tronic, a phenomenal match-three game in visual and aural design.
Still, like popping bubbles in real life, it can get boring long-term without sufficient challenge and variety. But, let’s not burst any bubbles just yet.
We’ll start with the story or, rather, the lack of one. You’re not trying to save the world from the evil “Bubbles of Death,” nor are you seeking to set bubbly “souls” free. You’re just popping them, and that’s okay.
Pop-a-Tronic is a fast-paced arcade puzzler that plays, mostly, the way you’ve come to expect. Like other matching games, you create combos of three or more bubbles of the same color that burst. Detonate enough and you advance to the next level.
Four game modes serve up the action: Marathon, Puzzle, Lock-Out and Self Destruct. Initially, only Marathon Mode is available. The others are unlocked successively by earning a place on the High Scores table. Five high-scores on Marathon unlocks Puzzle Mode, five on Puzzle opens up Lock-Out, and five on Lock-Out releases Self Destruct.
In Marathon Mode, the goal is to burst the bubbles that drop from above, using your Energy Needle (left mouse button), before your screen reaches capacity. Once it does, the game ends. Left-click on a combo of three or more like-colored bubbles (potential combos are highlighted) and “Pop!” But, that’s not all. The right mouse button manipulates bubbles, the unique twist of Pop-a-Tronic. With a right-click, you “inhale” and “exhale” bubbles to your advantage. Need a combo or want a bigger one? Inhale a bubble from one spot and exhale it elsewhere.
While three-bubble combos work, combos of four or more are needed to fill the Combo Flask. Fill it to the top and it produces your first power-up, the Purifier (discussed later). Fail to keep the momentum going and the flask empties. Create enough combos in succession to fill the Goal Meter and you’ll advance to the next level.
Of course, it’s not that simple. You start with three colors, but as you advance new ones are added. In short order you’ll have to deal with five. That’s when the action gets frantic. Add bubbles that eventually destabilize, and it worsens. Once destabilized, they can’t be inhaled and eventually lock. And, locked bubbles don’t pop. They only disappear when they reach the bottom row. You can accidentally lock a bubble, too, if you click on one outside a combo.
Fortunately, you have power-ups: Purifier, Charge Bomb and Color Transmutation Device (CTD). Click on the Purifier and all bubbles matching its color pop. Wait for the color you need to cycle through, but don’t wait too long or it disappears. The Charge Bomb requires constant, repeated clicking to increase its size and the number of bubbles it bursts. You only have four seconds before it explodes, so click quick. Finally, the CTD, resembling a magnifier, hovers briefly over the screen. When activated, it turns nearby bubbles the same color as the one beneath it, setting up huge combos.
As for other modes, Puzzle is about careful planning, not frantic popping. Your start with a full screen and an inactive inhaler, so you can only pop bubbles, not move them. Power-ups are out. In Lock-Out, you pop and inhale bubbles, and use power-ups. Time is of the essence, though. Bubbles immediately start to destabilize and lock, advancing from bottom to top. Power-ups don’t affect them. The final mode, Self Destruct, is also timed. However, you can’t pop bubbles. All you can do is inhale and exhale them to create combos. When the countdown timer reaches zero, combos you made will pop and more bubbles will descend.
As mentioned before, Pop-a-Tronic is exceptional in the eye and ear candy it delivers. Play mechanics are sound, too, and the inhaling-exhaling twist is a cool addition. Several factors, however, tend to “burst the bubble” and detract from the experience.
First, unlocking modes is not challenging, it’s annoying (your score really doesn’t matter). Inhaling-exhaling bubbles? It’s a great twist – until the action becomes frantic. Then, it’s almost useless. The game also lacks sufficient power-ups, and those provided appear too infrequently. Plus, there’s no adjustable difficulty and no online leaderboards. These weaknesses negatively affect long-term play, which quickly becomes repetitive and boring.
So, while Pop-a-Tronic looks and sounds fantastic, play is lacking over the long haul. Nonetheless, it deserves a try. Download the demo and decide for yourself. My inflated expectations simply weren’t met.