Bubble Land review

Bubble Land is a Facebook game from Qublix. It led the pack in our list of emerging Facebook games at the end of last week, and is available to the public now, though the game is not listed in Facebook’s App Center — searching for “Bubble Land” brings up a selection of other bubble shooters, but not this one.

Bubble Land promises the opportunity to “play bubbles in a whole new way,” which is a rather bold claim given that the majority of bubble shooters on Facebook all use near-identical mechanics. And indeed the same is true here — players fire colored bubbles from a cannon at the bottom of the screen in an attempt to make matches of three or more like-colored bubbles. The only real twist on the usual formula — which normally requires players to either clear the screen or clear a certain number of bubbles from the top row of the screen — is the victory condition for each level: players must drop all the bird-imprisoning cages from about the stage to succeed.

Bubble Land

Bubble Land attempts to distinguish itself in a couple of other ways, too, though most of these are mechanics that have been seen many times before in the genre. Prior to starting each level, for example, players may purchase powerups using soft currency. These powerups include the ability to extend the “aim line” to better judge tricky deflection shots; additional available bubbles with which to complete the level; or a more effective “fever mode.” The latter is triggered when the player makes three matches in a row that cause bubbles to fall from the level, at which point a groundhog pops out of the floor and provides the player with several bombs to fling at the bubbles. The “fever mode” is an obvious homage to PopCap’s Peggle both in its name and the remix of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” that plays while it is active — for those unfamiliar with PopCap’s title, Peggle went into “Extreme Fever” mode when a level was near completion, accompanied by a full orchestral version of Ode to Joy.

Screen Shot 2013-03-04 at 9.16.13 AMDuring a level, players may also spend hard currency on various booster items that give them an advantage. These vary from a “paint bubble,” which paints all adjacent bubbles the same color as the one it hits, to a “meteor bubble” that destroys everything in its path. Players may also spend hard currency on scrolling tall levels up to get a better look at off-screen bubbles, or on purchasing specific-color bubbles to immediately use. This latter feature is essentially a “pay to win” system, almost completely removing all challenge and/or sense of chance from the game by simply allowing players to purchase the bubble they need at any given moment rather than having to deal with what they are given.

Additional monetization comes from the game’s “lives” system, which depletes by one every time the player fails to complete a level successfully. Lives restore over time or may be topped up by paying directly with Facebook Credits — hard currency may not be used for this, which seems a little unfair. The player has the option to purchase unlimited lives for 24 hours for $5, or unlimited lives for a a week for $20. This is relatively expensive when compared to equivalent standalone downloadable puzzle games for PC and Mac. Refusing to pay prompts the player to watch an advert in exchange for a free life, though this may be dismissed as well if desired.

Social features for the game include a leaderboard for each and every level, plus the ability to share achievements after completing a level. The game also pops up an obtrusive “nag screen” of some description between every single level, either asking the player to invite their friends to play or Like the game on Facebook. Players may also send gifts to their friends, which include extra lives or two of the premium “booster” bubbles that can normally only be purchased with hard currency during play. Friends are also occasionally required to progress further in the game, much like in King.com’s titles.