Tumble Pop
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • Game Boy
  • Developer:
    • Data East
  • Publishers:
    • JP Data East
    • US Sunsoft
  • Released:
    • JP 11/20/1992
    • US March 1993
Score: 60%

This review was published on 08/07/2017.

Tumble Pop originally began as a coin operated arcade game developed and published by Data East in 1991. The game was obviously inspired by classic arcade titles like Bubble Bobble and Pang. There's also a little inspiration from Ghostbusters thrown in for good measure. Later, a heavily modified version of Tumble Pop was released for the Game Boy handheld. This Game Boy version was originally published by Data East in Japan on November 20, 1992, and Sunsoft published it in North America in March 1993. Since I've already covered the original arcade release, this review will focus solely on the Game Boy version. Neither version of the game is particularly remarkable, but predictably, the Game Boy version is substantially worse. It does do a couple of interesting things, but those things aren't interesting enough to save the game.

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The premise to Tumble Pop is that you're a vacuum totting dude on a quest to rid the world of monsters. It's basically a platform game viewed from a side perspective, except you fight enemies with a vacuum cleaner. You control yourself by using the d-pad to walk left or right, the A button to jump, and the B button to use the vacuum. Holding the B button causes the vacuum to suck in whatever is directly in front of it, enemies and items included. If enemies are sucked in, releasing the B button will blow them back out as a projectile that will damage or defeat any foes it collides with. The more foes are sucked in, the bigger the resulting projectile will be when they're blown back out, allowing it to plow through more stuff before vanishing. Enemies will eventually break out of your vacuum if you keep them there for too long, though, and this results in your untimely demise. All of this is consistent with the original arcade release, but the main issue with the Game Boy version is that everything moves as slow as molasses.

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Because the Game Boy's monochrome screen is so small, most stages can't fit onto a single screen like they did in the original arcade incarnation of Tumble Pop. As a result of that, the Game Boy version of the game is able to scroll the screen horizontally and vertically. Also unlike the arcade game, some stages have blocks that can be demolished by blowing enemies into them, and some platforms are too solid for you to jump through. These are welcome changes, but there are some unwelcome ones, as well. The most unwelcome change is that every stage now has indestructible doors that generate enemies. Stages end after you kill enough enemies, but the game never makes it clear how many is enough, and it often feels endless. On top of that, the frame rate takes a huge hit whenever there are too many enemies on the screen. This is awful, because the game is already unbearably slow when it's running at full speed.

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In the original Tumble Pop, you were able to pick the starting world from a world selection screen, but were unable to alter your path once the game began. The Game Boy version is vastly different in that regard, because it features an interactive map screen that you can freely walk around in. It's viewed from an overhead perspective like most Japanese role-playing games, but there's no role-playing to be found in this game. There's a big map that acts as the central hub that connects all the worlds together, and within each world is a smaller map screen that allows you to pick individual stages. Due to that, the game is almost completely nonlinear. You can even switch between worlds before completing them. It's not necessary to complete all the stages, but you do have to at least defeat the boss of every world if you wish to beat the game. There are also passwords that allow you to retain progress in the event that you have to turn the game off. Anyway, the map system is primarily what differentiates the Game Boy version of Tumble Pop from the arcade original, and it's admittedly pretty cool.

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Power-ups are handled in an entirely different manner in the Game Boy version of the game. Instead of activating the moment you pick them up, power-ups get stored away for later use. You switch between the currently possessed power-ups from a menu screen that's accessible by pressing the start button, and you activate the selected power-up by pressing the select button during game play. There's also a shop on the map screen where you can buy power-ups and extra lives with the money found within stages, though there are better ways to get them. Like the arcade version, there are collectible letters within the stages, and getting enough of these to spell out the game's title will send you to a bonus stage with free power-ups. Some worlds also have shops where you can exchange money for ammo to play a mini-game in which you shoot enemies with pellets from your vacuum. As for what the power-ups actually do, they increase speed, extend the vacuum's range, grant invincibility, and give you more time to finish a stage. Again, the power-up system is another one of this game's positive traits.

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There are two other features unique to the Game Boy version of Tumble Pop, the first of which involves two people. If two players link their Game Boys together with the Game Link Cable, they'll be able to play against each other in a versus mode that's exclusive to the handheld version of the game. It's hardly worth the trouble, though. Another feature exclusive to the Game Boy version of Tumble Pop is the construction mode, which allows you to design custom stages. Unfortunately, custom stages can only be the size of a single screen, and they vanish the moment you turn the power off. Still, this would have been a nice feature if the base game was better.

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The interactive map screen, power-up system, versus mode, and construction mode are all neat features, but the game plays so poorly that it doesn't matter. Everything in the game moves at a literal snail's pace, contrasting harshly with the fast paced game play of the original Tumble Pop. This isn't even factoring in the obvious fact that the Game Boy version is a colossal downgrade in graphics and sound from the arcade original. While it may seem good at first glance, the Game Boy edition of Tumble Pop is quite mediocre. It's so mediocre that it might make your pop take a tumble.

Word Count: 1,115

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