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And the more you go on, the more Soul Bubbles introduces cool new ideas. It turns out that your bubbles don't just have to enclose the little lost souls; you can also use them to transport water, or capture bursts of light or heavy gas. A world themed around the high-altitude, flag-strewn temples of Nepal is another highlight, as you work your gas-filled bubbles to break obstructive banners or explode the rocks barring your way. With a bit of help from some explosive seeds, you can even blast spiky flowers and patrolling foes.
This is the sort of game I like. It's attractive, engaging and it constantly stretches you and your understanding of what you can do with the tools at hand. My only concern is whether it stretches you quite far enough. Much of the game is pretty linear, and the only reason to stray from the obvious path is that you need to complete some special seeds to open up the final level, and you'll only find them if you really work each level top to bottom. A lot of the time, it's fairly obvious what you have to do, and if it isn't, the game throws in a handy hint stone that basically gives the solution away. I know it's difficult to hit a balance; that if you make the puzzles too tricky, you end up preventing a chunk of your audience getting further in the game. All the same, there are times when Soul Bubbles spoon-feeds you a bit too much.
Otherwise, the only thing I can fault the game for is a fairly fiendish jump in difficulty between the bulk of the levels and the final world. After hours of fairly relaxed play, where your bubbles get popped occasionally but there's nearly always time to scoop up the endangered lost souls, the last world puts you under an awful lot of rapid-death pressure, with spikes, fire and crushers everywhere you look. This might leave some of the more casual gaming audience that Soul Bubbles will rightfully attract in a state of shock, though we're certainly not talking Ninja Gaiden II harsh, by any means.
These two quibbles are just enough to stop Soul Bubbles achieving instant classic status, but this is still the most enjoyable DS game I've come across this year. If enough people see it and try it, it should be - and deserves to be - a sleeper hit.
An ingenious and enjoyable action-puzzler that puts the DS stylus to good use. Perhaps the puzzles don't ramp up in difficulty quite enough, but maybe that helps make it the perfect game for lazy summer days.
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