You've probably played Bust-A-Move (aka Puzzle Bobble) before. This bubble-bursting puzzle series has been around since the mid '90s, and its uncomplicated formula has, at times, evolved to include different-shaped levels, tournament-style play, and even level creation tools. Bust-A-Move Universe offers none of these. Unlike plenty of its predecessors, this simplistic 3DS game doesn't even support two players. All you get for your $30 is a Puzzle mode that can be beaten in under three hours and a Challenge mode that, depending on which variation you opt for, lasts for either a maximum of five minutes or for so long that your handheld's battery life is likely to become a factor. It has been a decade or so since the arrival of a new Bust-A-Move game was something to get excited about, and that hasn't changed with the release of Universe.
An inverted Triforce, that can't be good.
As in the original 1994 arcade game, your goal in Bust-A-Move Universe is to clear the screen of colored bubbles, which generally form a wall of sorts at the top of the screen. You do this by shooting your own bubbles from the bottom of the screen and attempting to group three or more bubbles of the same color together so that they burst. A few unimaginative power-ups occasionally come into play (though you won't need any of them to get through the Puzzle mode), and the fact that bubbles periodically get pushed down the screen toward you adds some sense of urgency, but that's just about all there is to it.
What little meat there is on Bust-A-Move Universe's bones comes courtesy of the Puzzle mode, which spans some eight different planets, each composed of 10 levels and one laughable boss fight. The most interesting feature of Puzzle mode is that there are a number of keys to collect on each planet, and the only way to collect them is to burst adjacent bubbles. Sounds easy enough, and it is, but you have to be precise with your aiming to keep the key suspended from above before you collect it, otherwise the key falls out of view and is lost. Collecting keys adds some much-needed challenge to the Puzzle mode cakewalk, but ironically it also takes away any challenge from the boss battles at the end of each planet. That's because the imprisoned dragons that you rescue with the keys reward you with a rapid fire ability for your encounters with their respective captors. Given that these battles invariably involve just shooting bombs at the bubbles that the bosses are floating around the screen in, the rapid fire ability might as well be an "I win" button. It's true that you need to match bombs of the same color in order to hurt the bosses, and that you have more colors to contend with toward the end of the game, but if you've freed the dragon, its captor will rarely give you any problems. And in the unlikely event that you fail to defeat a boss, you still complete the mission and are able to move on to the next planet.