Tumble Pop sort of follows the Bubble Bobble school of platforming. Each level is a series of vertically stacked platforms in which various monsters wander left and right. There's a variety of cute ghosts, invisible men (or walking hats and gloves), some ... fire sprite things, a couple of clowns – your basic assortment. Your job is to patrol each enclosed stage and suck up all the monsters with your backpack-mounted vacuum cleaner. They'll respawn out of gates a few times, and the stage ends once you've picked up all the monsters the stage has to offer.
After you pick up a monster, your vacuum will spit out a star that rolls across the level and becomes a power-up when it hits the wall. You collect these and activate them from a menu, choosing from temporary invincibility, a wider vortex from your vacuum, faster movement, and more. If it's not a power-up, it's a letter – the stage abruptly ends and you get thrown into a bonus game when you spell "TUMBLEPOP" in full.
What I really like about Tumble Pop is the illusion of depth it provides. There are multiple Super Mario World-style map screens full of levels, with freely accessible bonus game levels and certain boss areas in which you fire projectiles back at a large enemy. However, the gameplay is still comfortingly simple inside any of these levels.
Having now experienced the Game Boy game, I have to seek out the arcade version to see this same bouncy little experience in bright, cartoony color. I love these rare cases of being introduced to a retro game I wasn't originally familiar with via the Virtual Console. Most people prefer to relive the classics they love, but I enjoy these discoveries.
Tumble Pop is available for $2.99 on the 3DS eShop. We're always looking for new distractions. Want to submit your game for Portabliss consideration? You can reach us at portabliss aat joystiq dawt com.