The bubble-popping genre is an immensely popular offshoot of puzzle and match-3 games, and now Zynga has entered the fray with its own offering Bubble Safari. As is often the case with Zynga, the company has taken already well-established game mechanics and put its own brand of polish atop them to create a title likely to enjoy considerable success on Facebook.
Bubble Safari’s basic mechanics are identical to similar titles such as King.com’s Bubble Witch Saga, CookApps’ Buggle and numerous other titles. Taking control of a mouse-controlled cannon at the bottom of the screen, players fire colored bubbles at a predefined arrangement above them. Should the player’s fired bubble cause three or more bubbles of the same color to be touching, they will all pop. Any bubbles which are no longer attached to the top of the level once this happens will fall — in Bubble Safari’s case, they turn into fruit and fall into one of three pots at the base of the screen, scoring points in the process. The various bubble-popping games use different victory mechanics to determine when a level is complete — in the case of Bubble Safari, players must clear ten bubbles from the top row of the level.
Bubble Safari adds a number of mechanics on top of these basics. Firstly, continually popping groups of bubbles causes hummingbirds to appear, who offer score multipliers if they are present in sufficient quantities. Firing a bubble and not causing a “pop” causes one of the hummingbirds to depart, however, so the player is encouraged to find the best “routes” through the various bubble arrangements.
Secondly, if the player causes bubbles to fall after three successive shots, they enter “On Fire” mode, which allows them to fire three special exploding shots that clear the bubble they hit and those around them.
Thirdly, popping bubbles causes a meter in the corner of the screen to rise, offering a free “bonus bubble” determined by random chance when it fills. These vary from “paint bubbles,” which change the color of a large swathe of bubbles, to “lightning bubbles,” which clear out a line directly to the top of the level.
Playing with friends is encouraged. Certain level boundaries are friend-gated, and players also have the ability to bring up to four “friend bubbles” into a level with them. These allow the player to get out of a difficult situation by picking a specific color to fire next, but each of the friend bubbles may only be used once. Alongside these mechanics, the usual level leaderboards help encourage friendly competition. The game is a little pushy about adding friends — after every few levels, the usual “continue” button on the score summary screen is replaced by an “Invite Friends” button which may not be bypassed. Once the invite dialog appears, it may be simply cancelled, but this behavior may be a little too pushy for players who simply wish to play solo — that said, these players will eventually run afoul of the friend gates without other players, anyhow.
Bubble Safari is a well-presented game that is fun to play and is paced well enough that free players feel like they can have a satisfying experience, while paying players will be able to make faster progress. While the title is not particularly original in execution, it follows Zynga’s frequently-used pattern of adding a good degree of audio-visual polish and user-friendliness to the mix. Coupled with Zynga’s considerable talent for user acquisition and the popularity of the bubble shooter genre generally, this makes Bubble Safari likely to enjoy strong success on Facebook in the long term.
A solid take on the bubble-popping genre with that recognizable layer of Zynga polish.