When we visited Japan for the first time we spent some time in Ikebukuro's Sega Arcade, and had a few hotly contested games on Puzzle Bobble (better known as Bust-A-Move in the UK). However, this version of the classic puzzle game had a twist - it was themed to the superb Azumanga Daioh!!
Many people are familiar with Bust-A-Move, but for those who aren't the premise is very simple - basically you have to fire coloured bubbles up the screen to create chains of three or more bubbles of the same colour. The bubbles are fired from an arrow in the centre of the screen in the direction it points, and you control the direction the arrow points by pressing left or right. Bubbles that don't pop build up towards the bottom of the screen and if they reach the bottom you lose, whereas if you clear the screen you win. In versus mode there are two playing fields on the screen and bubbles you pop cause more bubbles to appear in the opponents field, and the player whose field fills with unpopped bubbles loses. Here's a link to a nice visual explanation...
The game itself is insanely addictive, great fun, incredibly easy to play - the only controls are 'left', 'right' and 'fire' - and has its own bright and colourful style, so what is this themed version like?
Well to start with the gameplay is as good as it ever was, with the changes being mostly visual. Gone is the cast of extremely odd characters from the other games in the series (no more Pukadon and his giant white grinning erection), and in comes a cast of six chibi Azumanga characters - Chiyo, Osaka, Sakaki, Yomi, Tomo and Kagura. Each character has their own mascot supporter, such as Chiyo's dog Mr Tadakichi, and all seem to be voiced by their original voice actors (in Japanese). The character art is good and each character has plenty of fun poses and animations to display, it is also worth noting that in keeping with the cheerful feel of the series there is a two-player co-operative mode too. The presentation throughout is great and the only gripe that can be made is that when you complete a high scoring chain of bubble pops a large image of your triumphant character appears on your side of the screen, obscuring most of it. This wouldn't be too much of a problem if it happened once or twice a game, but it happens quite often and can cause you to miss shots.
To be honest though this is the only down point of the game (the fact that everything is in Japanese could be considered a downside, but this is a Japanese game so it would be unfair to do so), and it's more than outweighed by the pluses. Azumanga Daioh Puzzle Bobble is fun, addictive and endlessly playable, with the Azumanga Daioh branding bringing a sense of familiarity to what was already one of the best puzzle games ever made. Apart from the co-operative mode, Azumanga Daioh Puzzle Bobble brings little new to the series, but it is a fun and highly addictive game which makes for a strangely apt adaptation of the fun and carefree Azumanga Daioh. Well worth a play (or seventeen) if you are lucky enough to find it in an arcade.