Bubble Safari on Facebook: Difficult, delightful and dangerously so

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Bubble Safari on Facebook
"I have just one more bubble left, one more shot until I get On Fire again and my best bet is that narrow bank shot to the right." This is the type of thinking players will quickly come to when playing Bubble Safari on Facebook or Zynga.com, Zynga's next big release. It's also the first time a Zynga game has inspired this kind of strategic thought with its games--a triumph, really.

Bubble Safari SpawnersBubble Safari is the mega social game maker's first arcade-style game to date, and one that comes criminally close to inspiring the same reactions that, say, Peggle by PopCap does in its players. There's no denying that Zynga took cues from such game makers in crafting Bubble Safari, but there's also no denying that it works. And frankly, more casual games need to consider the little things that evoke whoops and hollers from players.

That's the stuff that gets players to stick around and--for Zynga's sake--perhaps even pay up for more. Bubble Safari is a bubble shooter through and through. But unlike most in the genre on Facebook, Bubble Safari brings not only strategic moments (thanks to a finite amount of bubbles to shoot in each level), but exciting moments that draw out sighs of relief and yelps of excitement. Sometimes in the same breath.

That fact alone speaks volumes to what Zynga has achieved with its own bubble popper, but some players might take issue with how exactly developer Zynga San Diego creates these moments. We're told that players can, in theory, play Bubble Safari for free forever without stopping. That much is true, but only for a small, perhaps minuscule portion of extremely skilled players. You see, each level played costs three energy, but if a player earns at least one star from said level, they'll receive that three energy back.

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Let's say that again: Only if a player earns at least one star from a level, will they get that three energy back. You better bet that Zynga takes every measure to make sure that happens as infrequently as possible--Bubble Safari is downright difficult at times. Unless you happen to be a bubble-shooting savant hailing from the days of Bubble Bobble, you will be stopped several times along the way to saving your forest friends from evil poachers from lack of energy.

Bubble Safari LightningOne way to look at Bubble Safari's immense challenge is to commend Zynga for creating a game that actually requires skill. (The lack of any skill requirement is a complaint lobbed often at Zynga's earlier games.) Another way to look at Bubble Safari's unyielding difficulty is to call it into question as an attempt to get even more players to pay up than before.

Mysterious, early glitches like the inability to fire bank shots on the right wall in the Zynga.com version of Bubble Safari only serve to support such a claim. Then again, it's tough to point fingers at Zynga for wanting more paying players--games are a business like any other. It's especially tough when you consider just how much Bubble Safari does right, and what it hopefully implies for Zynga's future: more gorgeous-looking, smooth-as-silk-playing games that actually stimulate some synapses.

Bubble Safari is the first game by Zynga to inspire literal shouts of excitement. Emotions like joy and achievement are far better motivators to pay to play than, say, jealousy or compulsory completion. And for a game to look delightful doing it is just another plus. One can only hope that Bubble Safari marks a new direction for the biggest name in free-to-play gaming.

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