Soul Bubbles is a rather intriguing action puzzle game developed by a small unknown developer called Mekensleep and is published by Eidos. When a game tells you on its opening screen that it contains no Licensed Racing Cars, Post Apocalyptic Solders or Gang Fights – you know that something is different at work. In Soul Bubbles DS you take control of a Psychopomp or to put it a better way, a Spirit Herder. Your job is to guide spirits to the afterworld by traversing them through the level, all the while contained in a special protective bubble. You see the spirits are fragile and cannot last for long in the atmosphere away from the safety of their starting point or the Gateway cube – which is the special zone at the end of each level where they pass onto their new spiritual home.
As a spirit herder you require three special masks which allow you to perform actions with a bubble, once you have passed the three basic initial tests (training levels) your master will pass his sacred masks onto you. The three masks are:
- The Bird Mask which allows you to draw new bubbles
- An Elephant Mask that allows you to deflate bubbles
- A Tiger Mask which enables you to cut bubbles and other in game things
There are eight worlds, each of which contains five levels – every world has a unique environmental style and set of dangers. A level starts by you drawing a bubble around the 7 spirits waiting at the start; you then blow them across to the end of the level using the stylus (yes thankfully not the microphone) to control the direction of your characters wind (from his mouth, don’t be rude). The levels are relatively straightforward liner paths but the path itself has obstacles which makes things more difficult, thus could be either some moving scenery which push your bubble towards sharp spikes, narrow gaps which hinder the progress of one big bubble (forcing you to split the souls into smaller separate bubbles) and also variety of enemies that either try to carry your bubbles away, some that aim to steal a single soul or burst your bubbles and cause the souls to scatter and die (unless you can re-bubble them quickly).
Each level has three special items called Calabash to collect; you’ll need to collect a minimum number of these if you want to access the final world. Scattered through the level are star dust pieces which show you the rough direction you should be heading and as you collect these, the brightness of the spirits will increase as well as the range of light they emit – making the levels easier to navigate. Some star dust pieces are hidden in the level, and searching for these can become addictive.
As you progress into harder levels you’ll have to perform some other tasks in the level before you can get the souls across to the finish. A good example of this are the coloured gates (pink, blue or yellow) which require a new bubble to be filled with a gas of the same colour to unlock it. You collect the gas in new bubbles from gas fountains and blow them towards the specific colour gates (or other items blocking the soul’s path), thus opening it ready for your Soul Bubble(s). However the journey for the coloured bubbles is quite tricky – usually littered with spikes or even orbs which change the colour of the gas your bubble contains. The colour of the gas also affects it’s weight too, blue gas is very light and makes the bubbles float, pink gas is heavy and makes the bubbles sink and yellow is explosive – and as you can imagine, there are situations which require you to use your noggin and use the gas bubbles in different ways before you can progress. Having to blow a yellow explosive gas filled bubble through a maze whist being followed by a monster is hard enough, but then if you blow too hard and smash into a wall the bubble will explode and you’ll have to start again.
So we’ve established the game is unique and clever, but is it good? Well yes would be the quick answer. The gameplay is top notch and whilst there is no multiplayer mode or co-op play, Soul Bubbles offers some fresh great puzzle action for the DS. The graphics are crisp, bright and well detailed. The background effects like leaves falling from the autumn trees are lovely and everything is nicely animated too. The game has some relaxing and atmospheric music too.
High score freaks will be happy to hear that after each level you are given a ranking (E, D, C, B, A and the top mark S) depending on how many of the Calabash and Star Dust pieces you managed to collect during the level. Getting S on each level (collecting everything) will be very tricky – especially in the final world Argatha where they are hidden quite well). There are some very pretty bonus levels and ‘making of’ pictures to be unlocked if you do manage to finish the game, which is nice.
We really liked Soul Bubbles and would recommend it to all puzzle fans, the lack of multiplayer is a real shame and the level difficulty could have become harder earlier on. As it is the game only becomes a real mental challenge towards the end – though you will need control dexterity right from the start, but it would’ve been nice to tax the old brain a bit more to start with if you ask us. We give Soul Bubbles a rather good 8 out of 10.