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CONSOLE: Arcade DEVELOPER: Visco Corporation PUBLISHER: Taito
// review by SoyBomb

Playing with balls isn't always fun.

This game ticks me off. Aside from having a stupid name that only a person with a distinct background in Japanese onomatopoeia would remotely be able to figure out, but also because I need practically perfect visual perception to play it well. Puzzle De Pon was developed by Visco Corporation, who was also famous for... ummm... okay, so they haven't done anything particularly noteworthy, although there was that 1993 arcade game called "Galmedes", which sounds like a romp through Greek feminism, but is actually just a shooter. It's named after the sound bubbles make when they pop. Okay, perhaps only the sounds of Japanese bubbles apply. Apparently, they make a "PON!" sound. As the name also implies, it's a puzzle game, but it's not exactly one that makes you use your brain as much as your eyes...which are controlled by your brain. Hmmm. Either way, it annoyed the heck out of me while playing.

One thing that moderately experienced gamers will immediately notice when they start playing the game is that the entire product will be very familiar. They've seen this game before, under the possible guise of "Puzzle Bobble" or "Bust-A-Move". That's right, it's pretty much the same as another game but with a new title. Admittedly, there are some differences, but the basic gameplay remains intact. Your goal here is to free the twelve signs of the Zodiac from betwixt a bunch of different coloured balls stuck to the top of the playing area. Once you release them all, as well as the Solar symbol, you get to become the Sun God, which is every young adolescent's dream. Actually, I wanted to be the Moon God, but the closest I got was the time I exposed my bare fanny out a car window. Wish I hadn't hit that mailbox, though. Anyway, you'll need to shoot balls of the same colour at them to form groups of at least three, which will then make them disappear. The Zodiac signs only appear every third stage or so; in the others, you just need to free up some random shape (interestingly, with convenient divets for balls to lodge themselves in). The balls you can shoot off from the bottom of the playing field are pretty much randomized, so you'll rely on luck. The main problem I have is that you have to manually shoot them without any real indicator of what angle you're going to shoot, other than the work of the naked eye. More often than not, you'll get your balls stuck on other balls than the ones you had hoped for. Doesn't that sound dirty? This has become my biggest concern; there are some cases where pixel-perfect accuracy can make or break the correct placement of a flying ball. And 99% of the time, I failed and failed miserably, bringing myself closer to the failure of the entire round when balls end up at the bottom of the playing field. At least in Tetris, I have a flying fig of a chance...

Oh, and there is one other thing working against me: a two-minute timer. That's right, I only get two minutes per round before they say, "Yeah, okay. You're done." Two minutes sounds like plenty of time in theory, but if you are getting lousy colours that you don't need and you can't aim worth a damn, those minutes will go by far too quickly. Thankfully, you will occasionally get certain other types of bubbles to toss into the mix, such as a bomb bubble to get rid of a few balls at a time, or a star bubble where, when you hit a ball in the field, all balls of that colour will disappear. And yes, there is even an arrow bubble that will make that ever-so-wonderful line appear to show me where my ball will end up. Perfect. Unfortunately, it's only temporary, so it's still insufficient to make me a good player.

The graphics look much more cutesy and star-based than its Puzzle Bobble cousin, and the classic dinosaurs of fame, Bub and Bob, have been replaced with some kid. Let's call him Generico. Puzzle games aren't generally known for their high-quality graphics, but they could have at least made something look interesting here. I played it regardless of how it looked, but I still wish I had seen some more eye candy. Pastel colours: they burn! The most exciting graphical moments came after I freed a Zodiac sign. On a spatial background, the representative being of whatever sign I released was there, and I was given the most wonderful news with bad Engrish. Notifications such as "CANCER GET" are most amusing. Actually, that one sounds more like wishing ill on someone than anything else. The music is cute and tingly as well, although having the same song play throughout the game was not exactly my idea of a great time. Occasionally, I'd hear the high-pitched voice of Generico telling me "Ready, go!" or some other phrase I still can't identify once I completed a stage. And aside from a few bouncing and popping noises, variety in the sound effects department was an almost non-existent affair.

So Puzzle De Pon annoyed me. It essentially ripped off the exact gameplay of the Bust-A-Move series without even trying to make it better. In fact, I think that timer thing made it a little worse, although to their credit, everything on the board doesn't DROP every once in a while like Bust-A-Move does. But there's nothing particularly awesome about Puzzle De Pon, so your best bet is to skip it and try the real deal with the Bust-A-Move series.

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