Now Playing: Soul Bubbles (DS)

And from that very first screen I knew I was gonna love Soul Bubbles. It’s sad though, as I’m exploring some of the most gorgeous 2D scenery ever, whimsically navigating my soul bubbles, and generally feeling good about gaming, I know that Soul Bubbles will be overlooked by nearly everyone. This is one game that Nintendo should’ve jumped on and given it the ‘umph’ it deserves. Besides, they’ve almost completely neglected their own DS.

Fortunately, all my sadness and worldly troubles end at that tongue-in-cheek disclaimer. With only a thin storyline about it being your duty to corral cute animal spirits in bubbles and guide them through puzzling environments on their final journey to the afterlife, you’re set loose into the world. Even seeing video of Soul Bubbles doesn’t quite capture what it’s like to play so I’ll do my best to explain succinctly.

Your character, the juvenile Soul Herder with the unfortunate hair, has the ability to create and manipulate bubbles. The D-Pad switches between modes (or masks, which your character wears) and lets you draw bubbles, shrink or pop them, and cut them into smaller bubbles. You move your bubbles by touching and sliding the DS to blow them around, giving just a puff for subtle control or a blast to rush them through dangerous and pointy areas.

You can also manipulate the environment around you by cutting down sticky vines or deflating pointy puffer fish. Each of the eight worlds has a gorgeous art style with unique enemies and puzzles of their own. Right now I’m about halfway through the game and have encountered several smirk-inducing moments of genius. When confronted with a raging fire you realize without instruction that you can draw bubbles below the surface of a nearby puddle to capture and move water around. Push a bubble into the fire and — pffshhhh — no more fire.

The game is very Zen, very simple, and very Independent in spirit. So far it’s been pretty easy and pretty short but the difficulty is slowly ramping up. Simply reaching the end of a stage with your spirits is much easier than hunting around for the three hidden Calabash. Collect them all for… something. I haven’t gotten that far yet but the hunt is where the game gets really tricky. In one instance I had to draw the largest bubble I could and blow it just right to hit two switches at once with its giant floppy girth. At other times it requires a keen eye to spot a narrow crack that only a tiny bubble can squeeze through, increasingly hidden behind a conspicuous patch of vegetation that you can cut down to clear the way.

Like I said, even seeing the game in motion it’s hard to understand just how great it feels. Everyone needs to get hands-on with Soul Bubbles which brings me back to its unfortunate marketing. A downloadable demo would be much more effective than any kind of advertising in expressing just what Soul Bubbles is. Even if a demo existed it would probably still be overlooked as the average consumer has no idea how to pluck DS demos out of the wi-fi ether. Like most Independent titles, it looks like Soul Bubbles will thrive only by word of mouth.

So consider these Now Playing posts as my glowing recommendation. It may change a bit depending on how short the game ends up being but Soul Bubbles is a tiny gasp of fresh air in a sea of boring crap that is drowning my excitement for gaming. It’s hard to locate right now but it looks like ToysRUs.com and some Amazon Partners have it in stock, at least online. I’ll be back with more soon.

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