If you mix LocoRoco, Kirby’s Canvas Course and Lost Wind, the result is one of the most clever games that you can play on your DS: Soul Bubbles. I have recently finished and enjoyed this little gem (PAL version) and was so pleased by its style that I have decided to took my time to make some research around the project. If you are one of the lucky geeks that had a chance to play Soul Bubbles, you’ll be interested to take a look below.
Made by a small french team that is know as Mekensleep, Soul Bubbles had a long development cycle, that started in 2004 and was finished in 2008: that means 4 years of work, with some interesting changes. We can wonder if the project could have started as a GBA game, as the DS was released only at the end of 2004. In the game you need to move a group of souls while keeping them in a bubble and try to take them till the end of the levels. Starting with a simple concept, the game put you in such an interesting series of situations and puzzles that use physic, matter, natural elements and the creation, division or destruction of bubbles, that it’s really a pleasure to resolve and clear the various task.
But you know what’s the best thing in the game? When you finish it, you can unlock a bonus gallery, full of images from all the various prototypes of the game: from the first alpha in 2004 till the latest build before the final version. Why aren’t there more developers sharing these kind of bonus material? We’ll never know. Huge props to Mekensleep!
Thanks to these screens, we are able to analyze the development of the game, to see how the concept evolved through 4 years of work.
It seems that the game started with a clear target in mind: to create and to move bubbles around the screen. The first 2004 protos shows already a group of bubbles, but the graphic was still just a placeholder, with simple visuals: it seems that it was already possible to create and somehow blow around the bubbles. In these 2 alpha screens we cannot see any souls inside the bubbles, so it’s possible that concept of saving souls was not created yet.
In the screens from the 2005 proto the area looks a bit more like the ones in the final version: there are passages and cavers and it seems that the bubbles are full of gas: maybe in this build, the players had to resolve puzzles with the help of different kind of gasses. There is still no souls around, so probably the bubbles where used just as a way to move around the gas. From the beta-videos (that you can see at the end of this article) we can notice that the green gas had some strange peculiarities and physics: it seems lighter than the air, it flies slowly to the top of the cavern but it fall down when a bubble touches it, like if it was more dense than normal gas.
In the 2006 screens, the graphic looks much more complete: inside the bubbles there are little stars, that are probably an early version of the souls. It seems that the concept for puzzles with fire, water and explosions was already in there, as we can see different colored stars, a bubble full of water and an explosion..
In this set of screen we can notice different designs of the masks that are not in the final version. While some of the beta-masks looks cooler than the final ones, it’s clear that Mekensleep did made lots of different designs to choose the ones that were more inclined to the mood of the game: we can see at least 4 mask-designs that are not used in the final version of Soul Bubbles and probably there were many more than these. Looking at all the different characters designs (below) we can really feel the long work that Mekensleep had to do to arrive at the best style for what they had in mind with the game.
In this image we can see a comparison between the beta (from 2006) and the final version (2008) of the top screen: while the beta looked better imho, from the info and the icons on there we can say that the abilities of the young shaman were already the same as the ones that we can use in the final game. It seems that the masks were not yet related to the various powers (drawn, pump, cut, map) as they are not shown near the D-Pad icons. Mekensleep decided to change it because there was not enough space for all the text or the number of calabash / souls and the icons were not really readable on the small DS screen. The “breath gauge” was probably removed because in the final game we can see when the blow-power level from the color of the shaman in bottom screen (when it has consumed too much air, his face became red). It’s just easier to check it in the same screen as the one where we are moving around our bubbles.
This screen is really interesting, because those weird hands-with-an-eye things are not used in the final game and I did not have any idea about what they could have been. Maybe some removed enemies? Only Mekensleep does know… and so we have asked it to them: thanks to their reply we have learned that these things were meant to be an attempt to have the player looking on the top screen for information. They changed it by making the text scroll down in the bottom screen with the old guy talking (also you can hurt him in the game if you tap him).
These two screens show different graphic styles for the game, more drawing-alike than the final version. It’s interesting to notice that a playable level of the japan-drawn-style area that we can see in the first image, was added as a bonus that is unlocked after finishing the game on the DS, but the souls do not have that design, probably because they looked too much like Loco Roco characters.
This is almost everything that I have found about the various changes in the development of Soul Bubbles, at least for now. I would really like to thanks Omar from Mekensleep that took his time to reply to my email and send us some nice infos and screens about the beta of their game. More developers should do this and share their story and media with all the differences and the cuts from their early projects. Now, if you haven’t already, go to buy Soul Bubbles: I want to have fun with another Mekensleep game, but this needs to sell well to have a chance to see another project from the same team.