Bubble Safari Ocean is a new Facebook game from Zynga, and the follow-up to the company’s previous successful bubble shooter Bubble Safari. The new Facebook game coincides with the release of the original Bubble Safari on iOS, and has seen strong growth recently as the publisher stepped up its cross-promotional efforts.
Bubble Safari Ocean is a completely conventional bubble shooter at heart. As usual for the genre, the game involves firing colored bubbles at a preset arrangement at the top of the screen in an attempt to create matching groups of three or more touching like-colored bubbles. When this happens, they pop and disappear, causing any bubbles which are no longer attached to the top of the screen to fall to the bottom. In the case of Bubble Safari Ocean, these bubbles turn into gems which can be collected for bonus points by running the mouse cursor over them, or for a smaller bonus by simply allowing them to drop off the bottom of the screen. Larger gems are worth more points when caught, but all gems give just 100 points if dropped off the screen. The eventual aim of each level is to release all the crab babies who are trapped in bubbles.
Bubble Safari Ocean plays things pretty safe and doesn’t tinker with the usual formula much. Additions to the basic setup include a “frenzy” (explosive bubbles) mode when the player drops bubbles with three consecutive shots, and a spinner that gradually fills and provides the player with a random powerup every so often. Progressing through the game unlocks additional features, including the ability to take “friend bubbles” into a level and use them when a specific color is needed, and the use of powerups to provide additional bubbles with which to complete the level or enhance aiming functionality. Certain powerups are also available mid-level in exchange for hard currency — powerups purchased prior to the level use soft currency, which is earned through play.
Bubble Safari Ocean makes use of a strange scoring system. Rather than requiring players to attain a high enough score to achieve a “three-star” rating on a single playthrough, a player’s score and subsequent rating for a specific level is cumulative from all their attempts. This means that everyone will always be able attain a three star rating on every level simply through replaying it repeatedly, and it also makes the social leaderboard functionality in the game all but worthless because score is no longer a measure of skill and/or good fortune, simply a measure of persistence.
Other social features in the game are similarly frustrating. The game doesn’t remember the player’s preference as to whether or not they would like to share things to their Timeline, and constantly re-ticks the share box every time they have the opportunity to use a powerup from the spinner, when they complete a level or attain a high score. Similarly, after levels the game often — though not always — forces players into an “invite friends” or “send gifts” screen without any ability to bypass it. It’s simple enough to simply close the window when it appears, but it’s annoying that the option isn’t given to ignore it completely for those who prefer to play solo. But then solo players aren’t particularly well catered to anyhow, since each group of levels is friend-gated, with those lacking friends to play with requiring hard currency to progress beyond a particular point.
Monetization stems from the game’s hard currency, which is used to purchase additional bubbles if a level is in danger of failure or purchase certain powerups both before and during levels. Soft currency may also be purchased directly, and there is an energy system in place to throttle play. It’s another area where Bubble Safari Ocean plays things very safe and very conventionally.
In fact, the only real standout feature of Bubble Safari Ocean is its excellent presentation. The visuals are very good, with the smooth animation and use of simple physics on the bubbles providing a nice look and feel to the game. That said, it’s not perfect: the game screen is slightly too big to fit in the browser window of an everyday laptop computer, for example, and there’s no apparent means of making the game full-screen to bypass this issue. There’s also no real consistency in the visual language the game uses to represent its mechanics — shells that appear as part of the level arrangement are objects which cannot be popped, only dropped, for example, but if the player gets an identical-looking shell in their bubble cannon, this is actually an explosive item that takes out a small area of bubbles.
The game also has a number of technical issues, regularly failing to load completely during testing and requiring a refresh of the page. Zynga suggests on the game canvas that players should turn off secure browsing in their Facebook settings to get around this issue, but many users may not wish to do this.
Ultimately, then, despite the fact that Zynga’s skill at user acquisition is once again paying off with a huge jump in user figures — the game has gained over 18 million monthly active users since December 26 — Bubble Safari Ocean is a fairly unremarkable game that plays things far too safe to be interesting. It may be quite a good bubble shooter — albeit one with an all-but-worthless scoring system — but nothing changes the fact that this is yet another entry in an already overcrowded genre.
Bubble Safari Ocean currently has 23,300,000 monthly active users, 13,500,000 weekly active users and 3,300,000 daily active users. Follow its progress with AppData, our tracking service for social games and developers.
It may be beautifully presented, but Bubble Safari Ocean does very little to distinguish itself from its many, many rivals in the bubble shooter genre.