Rather than the old brain-teaser flash games it resembles, Tiny Bubbles reminds me more of Nour, an interactive food sim expressly about playing with your food. It's an excellent and deceptively simple puzzle game, but its soap bubble puzzles are so fun to play with that I often find myself just fiddling with levels long after I've figured out how to solve them. They look and sound and feel just right. I'll probably never get tired of watching them stretch and pop and squish together, which is good because Tiny Bubbles gives you a whopping 172 puzzles for $10.
Tiny Bubbles is technically a match-four puzzle game in that your goal is to get four or more bubbles of the same color to touch and subsequently pop. You do so by filling blank, adjacent bubbles with the right color, with your next available color indicated in a queue off to the side. You can also inject colors into colored bubbles—like adding blue to a yellow bubble to finish a green chain—or cut a bubble's border, either to pop it or have it combine with a connecting bubble. It all depends on what colors and tools each level gives you.
But that's just the most basic puzzle type. In the few dozen levels I've played, I've encountered puzzles where the goal is to pop a certain number of a specific color, or prevent certain bubbles from popping, or connect bubbles filled with little starfish so that they can reunite. And apart from primary and secondary color bubbles, I've also seen brown bubbles which can only be made by mixing contrasting colors, and black bubbles which cannot be popped.
The difficulty ratchets up exponentially as more colors and objectives are introduced and your queue gets tighter and tighter, but the real trick is mastering the physics of the bubbles. Developer Pine Street Codeworks says Tiny Bubbles is built on a "custom molecular dynamics physics engine," and lead designer Stu Denman cites his grandfather's scientific research as a major inspiration, and despite its arcadiness, I do get a genuine scientific vibe from Tiny Bubbles.
There's a wonderful sense of underlying logic to its physics and color wheel. The way you pop bubbles affects the way they reform, you can overfill bubbles just to expand them and push other bubbles together, and some levels ask you to pop enough bubbles that the remaining cluster fits within a small circle. It's an inventive game that makes great use of its simple premise, and to my surprise, levels so far haven't repeated themselves.
Puzzle mode focuses on clearing all the bubbles using a limited queue, whereas arcade mode gives you a bigger queue and lets you go a little crazier. The puzzles were my favorite, but they're both fun in their own way. Peppering levels with color and watching the resulting cascade unfold is oddly satisfying—doubly so thanks to the game's lovely, almost wind chime-y music. There's also a nifty 'infinity mode' which is separate, but ties into the puzzle levels in a cool way: by clearing certain bubbles in infinity mode, you can earn tickets which you can spend on hints and bonus turns.
The tickets are a cool way to help players make progress when they're stumped, but there's a catch: infinity mode is time-gated, so you can only make moves every three hours. This set off every microtransaction alarm in my head, so I reached out to Denman for clarification.
"No in-app purchases, no way," he said. "Earning tickets over time is just a way to add 'value' to them. Otherwise, you could just use them whenever you want and that wouldn't be much of a challenge. I added the hints and power-ups as a way to broaden the range of players who are able to access the game and to help players when they get stuck, otherwise, they'd just abandon the game before they get to the really fun stuff later on."
Shame on me for being pessimistic. Tiny Bubbles is too pure for this world. It's also a great little puzzler for $10. You can find it on Steam if you're interested.