As you might expect, the levels are fairly long and full of danger, asking you to navigate your fragile charges through wide open areas, cramped tunnels, hostile, bubble-bursting predators, traps, crushers, prickly flowers, blow-pipe wielding tribesmen and a host of other obstacles. The first thing you’ll notice is how good the bubble physics are, with the bubbles bobbing around, squashing and deforming to get through narrow cracks – you’ll need to split them up if things get too tight – and gently pushing upwards when surrounded by water. After a few levels, the controls are surprisingly intuitive, and the whole experience has a gentle flow, with one mildly tricky area leading neatly on to the next with enough interest to keep your brain engaged.
The relaxed feel is complemented perfectly by the visuals, the bright and quirky 2D sprites coupled with the scenery which has a lovely hand-painted look. You’re regularly impressed by the amount of animated background detail, whether flowing waterfalls, drifting volcanic ash or rustling leaves. The ambient tribal music also helps, leaving you to focus on the sound effects, which provide a valuable early warning of upcoming dangers.
What I like about Soul Bubbles is that, while other games would have taken this basic gameplay and made it work throughout the whole game, this one twists it into a series of variations, each one themed around a different world. We’re all used to platform games that do this rather clumsily. Here’s the ice world, so it’s time to slip and slide. Here’s the fire world, so watch out for the flaming lake beneath your feet. In Soul Bubbles, however, each world really does have its own distinctive feel. To start off with, it’s all gentle forests and simple puzzles, but then you get cracked, red desert lands with sandstorms and rocks that need to be crushed. After that comes a world full of water-logged passages and spiky fish, or a realm of aztec ruins bursting with bubble-propelling mechanisms and fiendish traps. By the time you’ve reached the ice world, you’re wondering where they can take you next, only to be rewarded with levels of icy chutes, ramps and loop-the-loops, where your bubble sinks to the floor and rolls at ludicrous speeds, making your task one of judging momentum and keeping it rolling in the right direction.