The Slacker's Guide - Pop-A-Tronic

October 20th, 2006

Keeping it short and simple this week, as I'm home in Rhode Island for my 10th high school reunion.

My game plan is to claim I invented both radium and pilates.

Even if I'm not entirely honest in this context, Big Blue Bubble's Pop-A-Tronic is. One of the best pure puzzle games I've played in a long time, Pop-A-Tronic focuses on the task of providing a fun arcade-style game, and succeeds admirably in doing so.

Like any block-clearing game, the player seeks out clusters of similarly colored bubbles as they rain from the top of the screen to clear the level and advance to the next stage. A simple enough premise, Pop-A-Tronic adds some neat touches to a familiar concept. For example, click on an active cluster and it'll burst, removing the bubbles from the level and causing the others to fall. Click on an inactive cluster of less than three identically colored bubbles and the clicked bubble will become scrap, thereby interfering with possible future combinations.

Setting off electrical weaponry in Pop-A-Tronic.

It may be sort of a shrewd trick, but it adds to the challenge and makes the game that much more fun.

No arcade-style game would be complete without power-ups, which Pop-A-Tronic has in spades. Items like the Color Transmutation device help locate a single bubble color on the screen and wipe out all units while a Charge Bomb can be repeatedly clicked before detonating to clear out larger portions of the screen.

Perhaps the coolest feature of the game and the thing that keeps it from being completely dependent on what pieces fall in what order (something the player has no control over) is the ability to control-click a bubble and move it to any location necessary to complete a combination and clear a cluster from the screen. This addition points the game in two different directions, yet adds to it as a whole; the title becomes a "speed-click" game combined with strategic elements. The two game styles actually mesh well, even if they make the player speed up and slow down their pace at alternate intervals.

The right combination will clear out the bubbles and allow you to plan your next move.

If nothing else, Pop-A-Tronic wins for polish and craftsmanship. Outstanding graphics catch the eye and draw the player in, while vivid sound almost defies what you'd believe your Mac's speakers were capable of. Where a steady backbeat guides the game, sound effects such as a rapid bubble popping create a frenetic pace for the game and round out the environment. They did their homework over at Big Blue Bubble, and I can't wait to see what future titles will bring.

Pop-A-Tronic is available for a $19.95 shareware registration fee and arrives with 59 minutes available to test the game out. Registration removes the time limit and allows access to three additional game modes. The program is a universal binary and runs well on both Intel and PowerPC-based hardware. Pop-A-Tronic requires Mac OS X 10.3.9 or later to run, and is available as a 15 megabyte download and expands to occupy 24.4 megabytes of disk space when installed. Oddly enough, a full web demo of the game can be found online for test play on any platform.

That wraps it up for this week. As always, if you see anything new, cool or useful in the Mac universe,

Chris Barylick covers games for The Mac Observer, and has written for Inside Mac Games, MacGamer, UPI, the Washington Post, and other publications.

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