There are certain genres that seem to remain fun even though each new game in the genre isn’t necessarily that different from the last. Time management games are one such anomaly, and so to, it seems, are “marble poppers”. Granted there have been some that weren’t quite as engaging as others, but there’s something about the whole concept of trying to whittle away a string of objects before it reaches its destination that’s simple yet challenging, and ultimately enjoyable. Aqua Pearls is no exception to this rule, and what sets it apart from many of the others I’ve played are some new game modes as well as the general atmosphere of the game.
As mentioned above, the basic premise behind a “marble popper” is that you have a chain of objects – in this case pearls – which you are trying to clear from the screen. The peals will keep moving towards a particular spot on the screen, and if they arrive the round is lost. To get rid of the chain you need to fire individual pearls at the chain, trying to match three or more pearls of the same color. As you make matches the pearls will disappear, and the resulting gap will close up as the remaining pearls join back together. If a match of three or more results from the chain joining back together then you’ll start a reaction that can clear more pearls away.
There are also times that a pearl will change into a power up, and if you can match with that pearl you’ll earn the power up. These are things like bonus multipliers for points, reversing the flow of the chain, and temporarily stopping it. My favorites are the “any color” pearl and the temporary line of sight to help you aim more accurately. Some pearls will also generate stars for a short period of time, and if you can match the pearl you’ll collect the star. When you have enough stars you’ll get access to a shop where you can buy upgrades for power ups. I like the fact that the store doesn’t show up unless you can afford something so that I’m not wasting my time every round when I don’t have enough stars. It did leave me wondering for a while what the stars were for, though.
In the basic Adventure mode you’ll step sequentially through a series of levels, your goal in each simply to clear the chain away. Puzzle mode is similar, except that you only get a certain number of shots to do your clearing, as designated by the number of stars that you have. You can earn extra stars in the same manner as you’d get stars in Adventure mode, but there are no other power ups in this mode. My favorite is Strategy mode, which again plays out a lot like Adventure mode. This time, however, there are little fish trapped in bubbles along the path. Instead of clearing the chain you must free the fish by making matches of pearls by the trapped fish. They can, of course, be freed through reactions as well. Finally there’s Endless mode where you pick one level and just keep on going. Like most games there’s nothing necessarily wrong with this mode, but I prefer some sort of intermediate goals like the other modes have to offer.
The controls are quite simple – drag your finger to guide the pearl launcher, and let go to release a pearl. I will say that I found this game to be on the “worse” end in terms of my hand seeming to get in the way of the view as I was turning the gun. Also, there’s no way to cancel a shot once you’ve started short of launching the pearl into nowhere – if you can get such a shot. I also found that sometimes if you drag your finger too close to the edge when you let go the gun doesn’t fire. I suppose that might be a way to “cancel” a shot!
The graphics in Aqua Pearls are quite charming, and do most of the work as far as creating the game’s atmosphere. The bubble creature is cute, and I love the little fish with the bug eyes. There are nice little details as well, such as bubbles dissipating when a match is made or fish scattering if a launched pearl gets to close to them. Even the backgrounds look pretty decent, with small but noticeable details. The only thing I’d like to see is a bit more variety in terms of the underwater creatures. There are some special creatures that show up every once in a while to aid or hinder you, but a couple more generic types of sea dwellers would be cool.
The sound effects are decent enough. Nothing really jumps out as being memorable, but they do a good job of augmenting the action that’s taking place. I do find it a bit peculiar that when you’re freeing the fish in Strategy mode that the actually sound kind of like mice. The music is okay, but it tends to get repetitive rather quickly. The audio is probably the weakest component of the whole game.
I’ll often continue to play a game as I’m writing the review, quite literally up to the time I’m authoring the last paragraph. Such was the case with Aqua Pearls, and I’m glad I did, because the more I played the game the more I grew to appreciate it. On the surface it feels like “just another marble popper”, but even beyond the varied game play modes there’s a lot to like with the standard Adventure mode. As you progress you’ll get new power ups, some of which are really slick. You’ll start getting creatures that actually alter the game play (both for good and bad). And, while you’ve probably seen some variation of them before in other games from this genre, certain level designs are quite devious. As I continue to play Aqua Pearls it is quickly becoming one of my favorite marble poppers. Now if they could just do something about that audio…
Overall Score: 9/10
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