Ever since iOS first rolled onto the scene in 2007, the mobile gaming scene has exploded. While Nintendo had cornered the market on portable video games, smartphones opened up on-the-go gaming to a much larger crowd. It’s not hard to see why. The platforms are, comparatively, cheap to develop on and can easily access a huge audience. While the presence of cashgrab shovelware was inevitable, the best games always cut through the noise. Tiny Bubbles has that kind of staying power.
Developed by Pine Street Codeworks, Tiny Bubbles is a supremely satisfying puzzle game about popping bubbles in a frisson-inducing cascade of chain-reactions. It carries many of the hallmarks of mobile gaming, most notably its touch-friendly UI, but still provides strong enough gameplay to stand on a different platform.
Tide pods, Boba tea, Dippin’ Dots, and bathtime as a kid. Bubbles are everywhere, and with good reason. Humans have an innate fascination with the curious structures. They’re enticing on an almost primal level. The second I see a roll of bubble-wrap, my first instinct is to grab it gleefully and pop every single air-filled sphere.
Tiny Bubbles offers that kind of experience and revels in it. It plays upon that natural affinity towards all things bright, colorful, and round. The game speaks to you comfortingly and says “Hey friend, take a load off. Start up this game. Pop some bubbles. Let these melodic aqua-synth tones lull you into a wonderful nirvana of puzzle-popping fun.” Or something like that.
There’s little more to the game than popping bubbles. Tiny Bubbles covers a large array of dozens of puzzles, similar to mobile titles like Cut the Rope and Angry Birds. The game features seven different “zones”, each with twenty-five puzzles of varying difficulties. As you progress through more puzzles, different goals and mechanics layer onto the existing framework and create some interesting diversity in challenges.
Through it all, you’re treated to a synaesthetic symphony of swirling watercolors and soft pips and pops. Both the sound and visual design play subtle, yet effective roles in conveying a profoundly relaxed environment for the player. The simple act of popping bubbles and mixing colors is nothing short of delightful, enough that you actually enjoy the trial and error of puzzle-solving. The best puzzle games leave you pondering in enjoyment, rather than frustration. Tiny Bubbles does just that.
Once You Pop You Just Can’t Stop
Tiny Bubbles‘ core gameplay revolves around the central idea of popping bubbles. Each stage involves a pre-determined cluster of bubbles of varying colors. You, the player, have a given set of two moves to carry out: fill in a color or cut an edge. Match four colors, you start a chain reaction and get bubbles popping. Simple, right?
As with all good puzzle games, here’s where things start to get tricky. The game wastes no time in getting you familiarized with its many small intricacies, from shadow bubbles to color combos and more. The genius behind Tiny Bubbles is how it utilizes its different mechanics to reinforce the core gameplay loop of gleeful bubble-popping.
This extends beyond the explicit actions you can perform as a player. The bubbles’ behaviors play a large role in how some puzzles are built. Bubbles grow, shrink, and move in different ways depending on how you interact with them. As you progress, you quickly realize that there’s a method to the madness, and that you can consistently replicate said behaviors.
Some puzzles are easily more challenging (and frustrating) than others. Thankfully, gentle freedom forms Tiny Bubbles’ MO, from the presentation to the gameplay itself. Thanks to the unique physics and freeform design, winging your own solution isn’t entirely uncommon. Branching paths to different puzzles let you shop around and take a break if any one puzzle is giving you trouble. Even then, the game features a hint system that nudges you in the right direction should you need the help.
But that help doesn’t come for free! The developers have implemented a system that is both generous and challenging. At any time, players can go into “Infinity Mode”, where they can earn tickets by popping bubbles that contain them. With a limited set of moves that resets every three hours, Tiny Bubbles‘ hint system continues to teach players even when they’re seeking help.
Tiny Game, Big Heart
The unavoidable truth about the game is that it functions far better on a mobile platform. Everything about how Tiny Bubbles presents itself speaks towards that handheld design. Large, button-based UI, heavy use of symbols, and, most telling of all, a point-and-click-based control scheme. By no means does this detract from any enjoyment you may get from the game. The puzzles function perfectly fine with standard mouse controls. That said, chances are it would feel far more natural and satisfying to use your fingers to fill and pop bubbles.
Tiny Bubbles is unabashedly simple and straightforward. It doesn’t do a whole lot, but what it does it does superbly well. The game has been polished to a fine sheen with love and care, and it shows. Much like Splatoon or Katamari, Tiny Bubbles is a game where the act of playing it is fun in its own right. Though a simple puzzle game at first glance, once you start popping it’s easy to get lost in a colorful cascade of bubbles.
- Satisfyingly tactile gameplay (even without touch controls)
- Well polished visual and sound design
- Nice variety of mechanics and puzzles
- Easily accessible, but still offers a challenge
- Best played on a mobile platform
- The occasional obtuse puzzle