soul bubbles is a puzzle adventure game for the ds developed by mekensleep. it's a charming, clever, incredibly addictive game, lovingly crafted with so much attention to detail, so much creativity; i fell in love immediately. it's my handheld goty 2008, possibly even my goty overall.
the basic premise:
you're a young shaman and your mission is to lead 7 glowing spirits (or souls) to safety through maze-like levels in 8 different worlds. there's a total of 40 levels overall. you draw a bubble around your spirits and blow it towards the exit (with your stylus, not your mouth).
start and exit of each level:
now, to reach your goal and to pass the many obstacles on your way you have three different masks at your disposal that can be equipped at any given time:
- the green one is the bird mask. it simply allows you to draw bubbles - as many as you want. hold the d-pad up or the x button to equip it.
- the orange one is the tiger mask. you use it to cut bubbles in half (allowing you to get through smaller cracks and the likes) or join a group of touching bubbles. hold the d-pad right or the a button to equip it.
- the pink one is the elephant mask. it helps you deflate bubbles when they're too big or get rid of them entirely. hold the d-pad left or the y button to equip it.
however, these masks aren't just there to help you guide the spirit bubble(s). you use them for puzzle solving, too. you can collect water and other things (i won't spoil them) in bubbles. you can cut through plants that keep your bubble hostage. you can deflate evil spiky fish to render them harmless... just a few examples of all the things you can do with your masks.
of course as long as you don't have a mask equipped, you use the stylus to blow your bubble in the desired direction:
on your way through the levels there's two things to collect: stardust and calabash...
soul bubbles isn't a collect-a-ton. collecting stardust is pretty straightforward; following its path will lead you straight to the exit. there's still a handful of hidden stashes of stardust bits in every level though, so keep your eyes peeled if you wanna get them all.
there's 3 calabash in each level and they're usually hidden away in small tunnels, sometimes behind elaborate puzzles that lead away from the main path. don't worry though, you can always go back if you missed one and it's impossible to get stuck, no matter how large or convoluted the levels seem. keep an eye on your spirits; when you get close to a calabash they turn into glowing pink hearts. check every nook and cranny, check for small hidden tunnels covered by leaves, trees or bushes, check the environment for impossibly small cracks - that's where you'll find the calabash.
defeating enemies is often a matter of touching, slicing or deflating. sometimes you need momentum to attack them, sometimes you need an actual weapon in form of a flower. you'll also find obstacles that need to be overcome or destroyed; there's a surprising amount of variety in how you do that.
press and hold down on your d-pad to switch the two screens and bring down the map to the touch screen. you can move around freely on the map but you'll only see what you've discovered with the spirit bubble. this feature is very helpful for collecting stardust you might have missed on your way; simply draw a bubble around stardust bits that were left behind. and later on in the game when you need multiple bubbles to solve puzzles you'll find the map very useful as well.
at the end of each level your performance gets ranked. if you get all the calabash, all the stardust and bring all the spirits home safely in a reasonable amount of time (the game is very forgiving with the time) you'll get an S rank. of course you can always go back and improve your rank.
^ this one's really nice. interview with the developers + lots of footage.
^ neat video showing off the tiger mask
^ two short gameplay videos
as you can probably see, soul bubbles is a gorgeous game. beautiful hand drawn 2d backgrounds, wonderfully animated enemies and environmental effects. the world in soul bubbles feels incredibly alive, with leaves blowing in the wind, plants and trees being affected by your movement, rain, waterfalls, fire, birds, butterflies, and fantastic looking and behaving physics for your bubbles and other things in the environment. the particle effects in soul bubbles are simply amazing. and there is so much attention to detail in how the worlds were designed - i was blown away over and over again. it's something you don't see a whole lot, people putting so much love and passion into their art design and technology in a game like this.
but that's all just sugar coating on top of the awesome gameplay and level design anyway. each world has its own theme that doesn't just come with a completely new design but with entirely new and unique gameplay mechanics (the worlds are based on shamanism in different cultures: celtic, mayan, inuit etc.). up until the last world the game has new mechanics to offer. sometimes they stay unique to a certain world and sometimes they are carried over to the next worlds. sometimes the gameplay changes completely in unexpected ways...
however, it's not only the worlds that are unique thematically and in the way you approach them. no, almost every level is distinctively different and fresh. it's simply amazing how much thought was put into the level design, the placement of obstacles, enemies and collectibles. and then of course there's the puzzles: they're never frustrating and their setup and solution always puts a smile on your face. there is so much creativity at play here, so much passion for even the tiniest detail; at times i was reminded of mario galaxy.
but enough rambling!
go buy SOUL BUBBLES and support a small developer that really deserves it!
soul bubbles was released in europe on june 13.
looks like at the moment it's only available through toys'r'us in the us
it's in stock though and only $29
amazon.com lists a wide release for december 3.
play-asia lists it as a pre-order for "july".