Reviewed: August 21, 2008
Released: June 10, 2008
Developed by French game maker Mekensleep, Soul Bubbles is a simplistic game that involves the unpretentious concept of squeezing a bubble through a variety of mazes. Despite this unsophisticated approach to gameplay and design, though, this title is beautifully presented and surprisingly fun to play.
As you might expect from a game about blowing spirit-filled bubbles through mazes, Soul Bubbles’ low-key game play is very Zen. As a Spirit Herder, your job is to enclose the stray souls in a protective bubble in order to gently float, squeeze, and coax them through a meandering, obstacle-ridden area, ultimately delivering them to a Gateway so that they can get back home.
This process is generally pretty easy. At the start of each stage (of which there are over 40 in all, spread across 8 different worlds), you’ll draw a circle with your stylus to surround the cluster of lost spirits, forming the bubble you’ll be guiding toward the Gateway at the end of the maze. Because of a brief instruction at the beginning of the game, I was a bit afraid that pushing the bubble along would involve actually puffing into the DS microphone, but luckily, it’s actually stylus-based.
The mazes are full of various dangers, such as spikes and fires that might destroy your bubble, as well as evil spirits that seek to devour the souls under your protection. Since spirits can’t survive outside the bubble for very long, your main duty besides guiding the bubble to the exit, naturally, is to keep that bubble from popping and to keep the evil spirits from eating the souls.
Maneuvering through the mazes will require you to take advantage of several “masks” in order to deflate the bubble, draw new bubbles, or cut the bubble into smaller ones so that they can fit through tighter crevices. On top of that, there will also be times that you’ll be asked to perform some more creative feats with the simple tools you’ve been given, such as cutting the tongues off evil chameleon spirits, deflating spiky pufferfish, or filling bubbles with water for dousing fires.
You’ll also pick up Star Dust and Calabash along the way—Star Dust helps light up dark areas, while Calabash are used to unlock new worlds. All Calabash must be collected in order to unlock the final world, but you won’t need to worry if you don’t find everything the first time through; you can always replay a level to pick up the items you’ve missed, or even simply for fun after you’ve completed it.
Overall, Soul Bubbles is a cleanly designed title with excellent touch screen use that, while generally easy enough for more casual gamers to pick up, also has some innovative and more challenging elements that could also appeal to more habitual players of DS games. With its relatively short levels, it makes for a relaxing activity for playing during a public transit commute or brief midday break.
When I first saw the cover and character art for Soul Bubbles, I honestly wasn’t very impressed. I changed my mind about the visuals, however, when I saw the in-game artwork. The colorful painted environments are very beautiful and effectively suggest everything from leafy green forests and gently drifting flower petals to red-hued deserts and opalescent caverns. The portrayal of artistic motifs from various tribal cultures all over the world is also a refreshing aspect of this game—the design team took elements from Irish Celtic, Native American, Australian Aborigine, Asian, and African traditions. And, even though the character design may not be to my taste, it’s still cute and maintains a definite sense of humor.
The bubbles themselves are also well done. Not only do they wiggle and bob like bubbles should, they also squeeze and contort like real bubbles, believably conveying tension and pressure. All in all, though the Spirit Herder himself may still look like a deformed infant to me, this game is very visually pleasant.
As with the artwork, the sound quality is excellent, and the soothing background tracks take musical hints from various cultures of the world. The sound effects for the moving bubbles are as appropriately convincing as the visuals look.
A Toys“R”Us exclusive, Soul Bubbles retails for $29.99 there and seems well worth the money. With 3 tutorial stages and 8 multi-stage worlds, it’s fairly lengthy compared to many other DS titles, and it’s a thoroughly lighthearted and enjoyable game, to boot.
Though its charmingly innocent and brightly colored visuals (and its status as a Toys“R”Us exclusive title) may suggest that it’s just another boring kiddy game, don’t be fooled into passing this up. It might not involve a fancy storyline or acts of violence, but Soul Bubbles is really one of the better titles I’ve played on the DS, and I’d recommend it to just about any DS player. It surprised me too, but blowing bubbles can actually be fun and even a little challenging.