When I think about Bubble Bobble, my mind automatically goes to Bust-A-Move or Puzzle Bobble if you’re not from North America. But HAMSTER hasn’t added Bust-A-Move to the Arcade Archives collection yet so today I’m reviewing Arcade Archives: Bubble Bobble. For those of you who aren’t aware of the original game, Bubble Bobble is a simple but highly addictive stage based action game. I have to say that I think this might be the best Arcade Archives game I’ve played yet. Not because the port quality was any better than the always exemplary performance given by HAMSTER. But because this is probably the best game in the collection I’ve personally gotten to play so far. This 1986 classic originally released by Taito is one of the few games currently in the collection that can genuinely be reviewed at modern game standards.
Visuals is obviously where this game won’t measure up to today’s standards, but at the same time it’s not a bad looking game. There are 100 different stages plus a few secret rooms and a few cutscenes. Each stage has its own design and color scheme. The two main characters are blue and green versions of the same dragon and many enemies are reused, but there are also a large number of total enemies as well as four other plot based characters in the game. Everything is 2D, but the stages, which are made up of stacked and floating blocks, have a slight bit of perspective added to them to make them try to seem 3D. The game is very fast paced and has many moving parts on screen at one time. I had no issues with lag or responsiveness and ultimately the graphics aren’t nearly as disappointing to look at today as many other arcade games from the same era. You have the same level of customization with the gameplay window as you do with all other Arcade Archives titles.
The HUD is very simple and probably the only part of the game that seems a bit lazily done. In the top middle of the screen you will see the high score in classic arcade block text. Branching along the edge of the screen to the left and down to the bottom left corner is the HUD for player one. You get your score, the stage you’re currently on, your extra life collection meter, and the number of lives you currently have. Branching right from the high score is the exact same set of things but mirrored for player two. The cutscenes are simple, but they are there and they actually do show you some semblance of a fully thought out plot, which is very rare for arcade games of that time. The graphics are by no means amazing, but I was very happy with them overall.
The gameplay is quite addictive. As with every game in this collection, there are a number of customization options and the buttons can be changed to whatever layout you want. The controls are very simple, allowing you to move with the stick or d-pad, jump, and blow bubbles. Your goal is to clear each of the 100 floors of all monsters by trapping them in bubbles and then popping the bubbles before they escape. Trapping monsters in bubbles is fairly easy. You can spam fire bubbles as much as you want and though they have limited range, monsters need only make contact with them to get trapped. Popping bubbles is a bit more trouble because you must hit bubbles at a vertical angle to make them pop. Often this is difficult because bubbles will get trapped under platforms. You can jump up platforms but not down them, causing you to have to push bubbles out before you can pop them. If you fail to pop a monster bubble before it escapes, it will go into a rage, turn red, and move faster. The final monster in each stage will automatically rage if it’s not already trapped in a bubble when you kill the second to last monster. Levels are not timed, but there are repercussions for taking too long. If you take too long you will get a hurry up message and all remaining monsters will rage. Failure to quickly complete the level at this point or die will result in a special monster appearing which will target you directly. Losing a life resets the timer and ends the general rage and special targeting monster. All killed monsters turn into objects such as fruit which can be picked up for extra points.
Monsters do not target you directly. They randomly move throughout the level but if you make physical contact with them you lose a life. You start each game with two lives but can earn more by getting a certain amount of points or by collecting lettered bubbles to spell out the word “EXTEND”. Along with letter bubbles there are also power-up bubbles. Fire bubbles let you shoot fire which is an instant kill. Water bubbles cause a tide to run along the platforms while making its way towards the bottom of the screen. Any monsters it touches on the way down die. You can also be swept away by the water but if you fall through the hole at the bottom of the screen you will appear at the top of the screen without losing a life. Thunder bubbles allow you to shoot thunderbolts that instantly kill monsters, but your movement is limited while the power is active. Water is the easiest bubble to use but fire is technically more effective. Some levels are very hard to navigate often leaving you stuck between platforms and forced to take a different route even though you can jump upwards through platforms above you. While there is a story which requires you to complete all 100 levels to see the ending to, score and level progression is really the most important thing in this game.
There are three different modes of play exactly like there are in Arcade Archives: Double Dragon II – The Revenge. Original mode is the arcade version but with the addition of a few customization options and interrupt save capabilities. High Score mode is the original game without the ability to pause or save. Caravan mode is High Score mode but with a five minute time limit. I found the gameplay to be easy to grasp, but also tricky and addictive. And as a plus, this port takes the original arcade version cheat codes and includes all the same special objects such as warp umbrellas.
The sound is quite good in this version of Bubble Bobble. The music, which is limited to just one continuous song, or at least that’s true for the stages I made it to, is quite good. It’s a happy tune that isn’t invasive to the experience. The sound effects are excellent and quite detailed considering the time period this game was originally made in. There is a different sound for literally everything that can occur. Death, each power-up, shooting bubbles, popping bubbles, and so on. The sound is fully customizable both in volume level and pitch, as is true for all Arcade Archives titles. This is one of those games where you might not remember the sound afterwards, but you will definitely appreciate it during play.
This is the first Arcade Archives title I’ve played that actually has a fully developed story. The problem is that seeing it without cheating and looking it up online is reserved for only the highest caliber of retro-gamer. The manual, which was added by HAMSTER and not part of the original game, says that Bubble Bobble is the story of two dragons, Bub and Bob, who are on a mission to save their girlfriends from an evil wizard who kidnapped them and took them to the bottom of his 100 floor cave. The game itself starts by telling you that you are going on a magical journey into a mystical cave and doesn’t mention the girlfriends or the evil wizard. It’s only as you progress through the stages that you start to see the rest of the story unfold with small details slowly given like breadbrumbs. But if you somehow manage to make it through the hundredth floor then you are shown the fall of the evil wizard and are reunited with your girlfriend. But that’s not the full story. Failure to beat the game with two players results in an incomplete ending, which the game tells you. Beating it with two players reveals a hidden secret and a true ending. But even after that, the game gives you clues to even more secrets. There are also special secret rooms and codes hidden throughout the game. For a pre-90’s game it has quite an extensive amount of plot points and secrets, but again they are extremely difficult to reach.
There are six trophies in this game, all of which are score based. Two of them require you to post scores to the online leaderboards and the other four just require you to get certain scores. All six trophies can technically be acquired in one round of High Score mode with a minimum score of 300,000 which can be obtained before you even reach level 15 if you’re playing smart and collecting all the bonus point drops. Technically you can get 100% trophy completion in less than 20 minutes, but you will spend forever trying to complete all 100 levels. I think because of this game’s length and replayability, it actually might be worth the full $8 the games in this collection are always priced at. If you are playing for that 100th floor you will almost certainly get at least 8 hours of gameplay in unless you’re a natural prodigy.
I had a lot of fun with Arcade Archives: Bubble Bobble. So far this is my favorite game from this collection and I’ll definitely return to it a number of times. It’s fun both alone and with a friend, has an actual plot, doesn’t get repetitive, and genuinely stands up to games made today on a number of levels. Not the best game you can buy, but certainly an excellent one.
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