Interview: How Survios Brought ‘Puzzle Bobble’ To VR
Survios and Taito team up to bring an arcade classic to life in VR for the first time.
Those who’ve spent more than a couple of minutes inside an old-school arcade are no doubt familiar with the long-running Puzzle Bobble series. Based on Japanese developer Taito’s 1986 platform arcade game Bubble Bobble, Puzzle Bobble offered a fresh take on the series, offering players a one-of-a-kind tile-matching experience that has since established itself as one of the most recognizable arcade puzzle games in history.
Created alongside accomplished VR developer Survios (Raw Data, Sprint Vector, Electronauts), Puzzle Bobble VR: Vacation Odyssey takes the legendary franchise in a bold new direction, allowing players to immerse themselves in Taitos’ colorful, dragon-filled world in VR for the first time.
In terms of the gameplay, everything you know and love about the original Puzzle Bobble game makes a triumphant return. Much like the original, your primary goal in Puzzle Bobble VR is to clear each level of all bubbles by connecting three or more bubbles of the same color using your powerful Bubble Cannon. This is easier said than done, however, as many levels feature their own unique challenges, such as clearing a stage using a certain amount of shots or destroying every bubble within a set period of time. Thankfully, you have access to a variety of power-ups designed specifically with VR in mind.
The game features a total of 100 3D puzzles available across three different game modes. Centered around the titular characters Bub and Bob, Story Mode offers an action-packed narrative experience in which you’ll face a wave of increasingly challenging puzzles to overcome. Infinite Mode, on the other hand, is all about going for the high score as you take on a never-ending gauntlet of puzzles. Finally, there’s Duel Mode, an online PvP experience that lets you go head-to-head with other players in 1v1 puzzle races. You even disrupt their puzzle-solving with the brand new Jammer Bubbles.
All-in-all, Puzzle Bobble VR: Vacation Odyssey is an addictive immersive experience that manages to set itself apart from other VR puzzle games thanks to a unique combination of nostalgic visuals and light-heared gameplay. Whereas many classic video games struggle to find a new home within the modern gaming landscape, Puzzle Bobble feels like a natural fit on VR headsets.
Recently, we sat down with Puzzle Bobble VR game director, Matt Bettelman, to learn more about what it’s like to bring an arcade classic to life in VR.
Puzzle Bobble is an arcade classic. What was it like developing a game for such a legendary franchise?
“On behalf of the entire development team, I can earnestly say we were thrilled to partner with TAITO on Puzzle Bobble VR: Vacation Odyssey. It was an honor to work with them to bring Puzzle Bobble to an entirely new audience.”
“On a personal level, I have a very unusual background that made this experience really special. For decades, my family’s business here in Los Angeles was a distributorship of coin-operated amusement. Consequently, my childhood was inundated with arcade games. The golden era of arcades was formative in my evolution as a game developer, and I put Bubble Bobble right up there in the pantheon of classics from that era. So, I have no shortage of reverence and nostalgia for both Bubble Bobble and Puzzle Bobble (Bust-a-Move). Suffice to say, working on a new Puzzle Bobble has been something like a dream come true for me.”
What can long-time fans expect from this VR reimaging?
“Fundamentally, we set out to make a Puzzle Bobble game that would take full advantage of VR as a medium, and even be welcoming to first-time VR users. The game can be played seated or standing, and because the player is always completely stationary, we feel that Puzzle Bobble VR: Vacation Odyssey is the perfect on-ramp for new Quest owners. The team took extra care to make all of the game’s core mechanics as intuitive and physicalized as possible.”
“Working with TAITO gave us the impetus to couch the game in an island getaway theme. Our art team worked exceptionally hard at the outset of the project to nail down the aesthetics, and the end result is phenomenal. Every once in a while I feel compelled to just set the controllers down and soak in the waves, sunshine, and the sound of the wind through the palm trees.”
Tell us a little more about these new VR interactions. How will they differ from the regular tile-matching gameplay?
“This game’s core loop was designed from the ground up for VR. To fire bubbles at the gameboard, players grab the pull string on the back of the Bubble Cannon, pull back to aim, and release to fire. The core gameplay loop is super physical and super intuitive, it feels just like aiming a slingshot. So, it’s easy for less experienced players to pick up and start having fun immediately but there’s also a subtle depth of play available for more seasoned VR users.”
“On top of that, the gameboard is fully three dimensional for the first time ever in a Puzzle Bobble game. When your bubble impacts the gameboard, it causes the entire mass to rotate. Over time, players start to learn that the angle of their shot influences the direction the board will rotate, and the strength of their shot also determines how fast and how far the board rotates as well. This sounds complicated, but in practice it’s all quite intuitive and brings Puzzle Bobble’s bubble matching gameplay into VR quite naturally.”
Puzzle Bobble VR is quite a departure from Survios’ past offerings. How exactly did this partnership come to be?
“This game started out as a pet project with a small prototype team as part of a new casual games initiative here at Survios. The team’s goal was to quickly translate some familiar feeling genres into VR, to see if these kinds of experiences would have any draw for VR players.”
“From there, the team set about making a bubble matching game in the spirit of Puzzle Bobble, but one that would bring the genre into 3D, physicalize the core mechanics, and make the core gameplay loop truly feel fresh for VR. We connected with TAITO to see if there was any interest in adapting Puzzle Bobble for VR, and the fit couldn’t have been more perfect.”
Is there anything, in particular, you’re excited to share about the game?
“Honestly, I’m just thrilled to share this game with the world. I really hope puzzle game fans, old-school arcade gamers, and first-time VR users alike will all give this a shot. You can visit our website at PuzzleBobbleVR.com or follow us on social media at @Survios.
Puzzle Bobble VR: Vacation Odyssey is available now for $19.99 on Oculus Quest and Oculus Quest 2 headsets via the Oculus Store.
Feature Image Credit: Survios, TAITO