Balloon Pop Remix
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2012-10-18 Nintendo 3DS Puzzle E (Everyone) UFO Interactive

Balloon Pop Remix is UFO Interactive's cute but challenging take on the bubble popping genre, which has recently found renewed popularity on Facebook and mobile via games like Bubble Safari or Bubble Witch Saga. However, unlike the classic bubble-popping games like Puzzle Bobble and Snood (which these new Facebook and mobile games normally resemble), Balloon Pop Remix is an entirely different beast, and one that's ultimately pretty hard to get used to.

Balloon Pop Remix comes with three different gameplay modes: story, endless and puzzle. The story mode is incredibly shallow and exists solely to give you goals while playing. In each stage, your goal is to survive long enough to allow your colorful character to walk to the far right side of the screen, with its movement pace being determined by your own actions. Your character and the progress bar are held on the top screen, with 3D effects that are lackluster at best. There's nothing really extraordinary here, as flowers, bushes or other shapes simply appear to be in the foreground, while the sky and clouds appear farther back.

With the game's focus on the touch screen, the object is to drag the stylus across two or more balloons (whether they match in color or symbol doesn't matter) to make them explode. In doing so, the board's remaining balloons will rise towards the top to fill in the holes, with the object being to create explosions so that these rising balloons will create matches of three or more like colored balloons. It's a complex setup that requires much more thought than simply tapping on groups of balloons that already match, and the game's mana restrictions don't help make things easier. For each balloon that you touch with the stylus, you'll lose a mana point, but this mana meter can be refilled by making explosions. Whether you're making moves or not, the mana meter will continue to count down to zero, where it's game over, so gameplay becomes a struggle to keep the bar high enough to make your little critter actually walk on the top screen, while still being able to use mana to actually play the game.

About halfway through each level, a timed mission will appear, normally asking you to destroy a certain number of a specific color of balloons. These missions break up the stress of keeping your friend walking, but then the stress becomes that of creating matches with certain colors before time runs out. If you manage to make it to the end of a stage, you'll simply move onto the next, continuing the cycle. The gameplay works fine for the first few levels, with the game offering plenty of time for players to get acclimated. Anything after that however is a combination of both luck and skill, as only making the occasional match of three or more balloons won't be enough to save you, and you'll need to hope that combo explosions activate as balloons continue to automatically rise to the top of the screen.

Outside of story mode, endless mode is essentially identical, save for the fact that it's not split into stages, and puzzle mode sees your mana being limited to just a few moves, as you must figure out the order in which to pop non-regenerating balloons in order to destroy them all before your mana is entirely depleted. Regardless of mode, the game is loaded with bright colors and an upbeat soundtrack, but lag does become a cause for concern when you make large explosions of more than one set of balloons at a time.

While Balloon Pop Remix comes with a lot of variety, its general setup takes a lot of getting used to, as it's simply not intuitive. It's a multi-step process to actually make progress, as you're being asking to pop balloons that don't match in order to allow the game to create groups that do. That being said, the game does become better as you get used to the difficulty, and bubble-popping enthusiasts will likely come to appreciate the challenge. If nothing else, UFO Interactive deserves tons of credit for trying something new, and not deciding to simply release another mindless clone that we've seen too many times before.