Bubble Bobble holds a special place for many people within the gaming community.
It’s very dear to my heart, being the first game I can remember playing way back in the ’80s on my Amstrad CPC 464. It also brings back fond memories of me and my older brother co-op’ing the hell out of it!
For many, their first experience of Bubble Bobble would have been in the nostalgia-filled expanse of the arcade, a place where friends would meet, hang out and compete for bragging rights on their favourite games while spending all their pocket money. For people like me, living in the rural UK, arcades were few and far between so the introduction of the home console or home computers are where we generally created our first gaming memories.
Bubble Bobble is one of the stalwarts of the arcade scene, first releasing back in 1986.
It’s up there with titles such as Donkey Kong and Galaga as must-haves for any arcade, whether that’s in the ’80s or modern-day. Taito was its maker and were the creators of many other well-known titles such as Space Invaders and Arkanoid, both powerhouse games.
There have been a few sequels and reiterations of the Bubble Bobble franchise, taking it to different genres, like in Puzzle Bobble, or reinventing its platforming roots in Rainbow Islands, there have also been direct sequels too. As you can imagine I was extremely excited when the announcement came that there was to be another sequel in the franchise, Bubble Bobble 4 Friends. Published by Taito and developed by ININ Games, this is a sequel more of the original puzzle platform-style rather than a different form like previous sequels.
Bubble Bobble 4 Friends is currently a Nintendo Switch exclusive and was released in Europe on the 19th of November 2019 followed by the US on the 31st Of March 2020. The game follows the original formula, with a few changes of course. The foundations are the same, 100 levels of linear platforming, bubble firing dragons, plenty of enemies and a few frustrations on the way.
The game starts with a short and simple yet quite cute opening.
A child’s bedroom where Bub and Bonner (the antagonist) are tucked into bed, seemingly come to life and start fighting. That’s pretty much it. The graphics for the opening are OK, big bright colours as you would expect, but the image of Bub with big hands and feet is a little weird. You are then taken to the overworld where you select where you want to start. In the original incarnation, you went from level 1-100 with a boss fight at the end, this is slightly different. You have 5 worlds, each with a different theme consisting of 10 levels each and the ability to play with up to three people. At the end of the world you have a boss fight which was a fun inclusion and helps break up the gameplay somewhat. Once the 5 worlds are complete, you then replay all 5 but in difficult mode in order to get to the standard 100 levels.
The premise is the same as before, clear the screen of enemies by trapping them in bubbles and then popping said bubbles, or destroying enemies via any other way you can find. Various skills are unlocked on the way and you can equip your character with one skill at the start of the world, if you are playing with others then having a mix of skills really comes in handy. The skills include bomb bubbles, dash, lightning bubbles, wind stop and the original long shot. As you may have guessed some of the levels have wind currents which will carry bubbles in all sorts of directions, this brings a good challenge to levels and is a great addition. The famous E-X-T-E-N-D bubble which once collected grants an extra life and the opportunity to upgrade your skills is also present.
Right, that’s pretty much what the game is and what you do, no secret that it’s pretty straight forward, now onto what I really think of the game. To be totally honest while I had fun playing the game I was a bit disappointed, maybe I was comparing it to the original too much. However, with any sequel, you often take just the great bits from the first game and expand on them. I just don’t feel they have done that with this game. While the skill system is a modern-day norm, half the fun in the original was the vast variety of power-ups and special items, frantically trying to get them before your co-op partner in crime. Or making a kamikaze dash to get to the umbrella, knowing it would skip you forward a few levels. In addition, there was the extremely fun fire bubbles which would lay fire on the ground once popped. Water bubbles washing enemies away, drop holes taking you from the base of the level to the top, potion bottles, a vast array of different enemies. I could go on and on but I just don’t get why they have taken the best bits and left them out, and let’s not forget the extremely frightening BARON VON BLUBBA! Seeing him on the screen would make you crap your pants and turns your fingers to jelly. Why he wasn’t included in the original is just strange. It’s this omission that makes the game a bit too easy. Having Baron in the original would make you hurry up and make mistakes, bringing a new challenge to an already challenging game. But the feeling in completing the level before the Baron got you was triumphant.
Don’t get me wrong, the game is good and fun, I just feel it could have been much more. It’s a bit too simple for my liking. On the plus side Bubble Bobble 4 Friends is well made and runs really smooth, which is very important for games like this. The in-game graphics are great, if a little dull and uninventive at times but the music is good and infectious, as it should be. One thing that annoyed me is that the game wasn’t always in the same scale, one level would see Bub and Bob fairly large and the level quite small, the next would see a large level and a small Bub and Bob. I found this really weird and not easy on my eyes at all. If I was playing this on my own then I think I would have gotten bored fairly quickly but having played it all co-op (where Bubble Bobble shines) with my ten-year-old boy, I did have a good time and so did he.
The best part about Bubble Bobble 4 Friends is the fact that you can play the original Bubble Bobble game. Playing that made me realise just how superior a game it is in every way and highlights the shortcomings of the new version. One thing worth noting is that Taito has recently announced FREE DLC and the return of Baron Von Blubba. The fact he was omitted in the first place is criminal but at least they are rectifying it. There are also more levels being added which is great, but that’s pretty much all the details we have at the moment for the DLC. It will be interesting to see what other additions come with it and if it improves the overall experience.
Review code provided
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 19/11/2019
No. of Players: 1-4
Category: Action, Arcade, Party
Publisher: ININ Games / PR Hound
Download link: eShop