Wednesday, March 25, 2015

#ADecadeofDS: Awatama (aka Soul Bubbles)

Amount of time devoted to this game in the last week--Three hours, 11 minutes.

Most recent boss toppled, location reached or milestone achieved--I've finished all of the stages in the first two worlds, Tir Tairngire and Altjeringa (no, those aren't typos), and I've just started tackling those of the third, Tomo-Kahni.

Overall comments on the experience--As I'm pretty sure I've mentioned before (either here on this blog or elsewhere), this isn't the first time I've played this Mekensleep-developed DS game. My initial experience with it happened a good number of years ago, although enough days, weeks and months have passed since then that pretty much all I can remember of it is that I enjoyed its unique, stylus-centric gameplay.

That's still the aspect that most stuck out at me during my second playthrough of Awatama (known as Soul Bubbles outside of Japan), but it's far from the only one.

For instance, Awatama is really easy on the eyes, which is especially surprising when you consider it's a DS game. It would be easy to credit that to its designers' decision to focus more on sprites than polygons, which often tend to look a bit rough given the dual-screened handheld's lack of horsepower, but that's only a fraction of the story. The rest of the story, in my opinion: the painterly art style as well as the subtle, natural colors employed while creating its graphics.

Awatama's also easy on the ears, although most people aren't going to proclaim its soundtrack to be akin to the second coming of Nobuo Uematsu, as the music here is more atmospheric than bombastic. Atmospheric is far more fitting for this serene game than bombastic ever would be, though, so don't take that as any sort of negative.

All that said, the gameplay really is the star of this particular show. At its heart, Awatama is a physics-based action game--although "action" implies an experience that is far more harried than what players actually encounter.

How so? Well, for the majority of your playthrough, all you're tasked with is transporting a bubble filled with wisp-like spirits from one end of a cavernous stage to another. This is accomplished by using your stylus to lightly flick at the lower screen of your trusty DS (or 3DS, if you're like me), an exercise that causes the game's grape-coifed protagonist to blow air of varying strengths in whichever direction you happen to swipe.

The best thing about Awatama's gameplay "hook": getting a hang of it takes seconds. That's not to say all you do while making your way through this cart is push around bubbles. No, you also create, split, join, deflate and burst them--using a handful of animal-themed masks that can be accessed with a simple press of the system's directional pad.

Add to that a number of puzzle-solving elements--an example: make a water-filled bubble so that when it pops, it puts out a fiery barrier and allows you and your flock of spirits to continue along their merry way--and you've got yourself portable title that's sure to thrill--or at least soothe--regardless of how much time you put into it.

Will I continue to play this game in the coming days, weeks and maybe even months?--Most assuredly. My goal is to finish all of its levels at least once--although I'm not sure I'll ever feel like returning to the bulk of them after that. Which is completely OK, as I'll likely have put at least five or six hours into the game by the time that comes to pass.

Do I recommend it to others?--Based on all of the above, what do you think? Of course I recommend it to others. Unfortunately, copies of the European and North American versions of the game bear cover art that's far less beautiful than what graces the front side of the Japanese iteration, but everything else is nearly identical (save the design of the protagonist) so I can't really suggest you ignore the former in favor of the latter--unless, of course, you're like me and more than a smidge loony.

Next up--My World, My Way

See also: previous 'A Decade of DS' posts


TheGameroomBlitz said...

I'd like to know how well the game did in Japan. It seems like it would be better suited for that territory... said...

I don't have anything to back up this claim, Jess, but I'm pretty sure the game bombed in Japan. At the very least, I've seen nothing to suggest it did at all well--which, for me, would mean selling at least 50,000 copies, if not more than 100,000. I'm guessing it sold in the tens of thousands, unfortunately.

Justin Difazzio said...

I used to play a game with similar mechanics on my PC many years ago. I wish I could recall the title... said...

I wonder if you're thinking about Bubble Ghost or some
other PC game that was inspired by it, Justin? I believe it originated on
computers (Amiga, maybe?) and I know it also received a GameBoy port, as I have
the Japanese version of it J Anyway, that game is
pretty similar to this one, although Bubble Ghost has a stronger puzzle-solving
component to it.