Any subscriber of Nintendo Power magazine (and readers of this publication) is surely aware of the big hitting titles due out by the end of this year. Games like Castlevania II, Zelda II, and Super Mario Brothers 2 are sure to be on the wish lists of many kids, but Taito’s Bubble Bobble is sure to be a sleeper hit that should generate a lot of buzz. Cooperative games, such as Legendary Wings, Life Force, and Contra have perfected 2-player gaming with a buddy. With Bubble Bobble we finally get a cooperative game that doesn’t revolve around running and gunning down your enemies. It’s extremely fun and challenging and equally exciting playing solo or with a friend. Although this Game Pak doesn’t have the name recognition as the aforementioned hit sequels, it is a heavy contender for Game of the Year.
In Bubble Bobble you play as two dinosaurs, appropriately named Bub and Bob, who are on a quest to save their girlfriends who are imprisoned in the Cave of Monsters. This is hardly the most creative story, but this matters little. Each stage takes place on a single screen and features a different layout and selection of enemies. Your goal is simply to destroy each of the beasties in order to progress to the next area. To accomplish this you must blow bubbles at the enemies, trapping them inside the bubbles. In order to vanquish them completely, you need to pop them either by jumping on them or ramming them against a wall. If you take too long popping the monsters they will escape, now moving twice as fast. If you are touched by an enemy or hit with a projectile, you lose a life. You begin with three, but there are several ways to earn more. Luckily continues are unlimited and there is even a user-friendly password system requiring only 5 digits, unlike the nightmare passwords in games like Metal Gear and Metroid so you can pick up where you left off.
There are ten different kinds of enemies, all with different movements and methods of attack. Stoner is a Dark Wizard who casts fireballs out of his wand, Willy Whistle fires ricocheting bottles, Super Socket drops deadly lasers from above, and other enemies have pesky movements that can be difficult to time. As you progress there will be more of them to vanquish and often they’ll reside in tricky places to get to. Because each level is vastly different in design, the beasts will move in different ways according to the stage layout. Learning patterns is crucial to survival and success. An exciting component is how Bubble Bobble handles the time limit. If you’re taking too long, you’ll hear a warning meter and then Baron von Blubba will appear. This is a ghostly killer whale that preys on you. Since he is indestructible, the only way to stop him is to quickly rid the stage of the other enemies before you meet your demise.
What makes this game really shine is the sheer number of special items and prizes to collect. Every stage will feature two randomly placed special items. Some of these simply add to your point total, which is important as more points equals more extra lives. However, there are dozens of special items that give you unique abilities or will unlock secrets. Shoes will make you speed up, candies will either increase the range of your bubbles or your firing rate, bombs will destroy everything on the screen, hearts will freeze all of the enemies, crosses will bring down a barrage of lightning bolts or flood the screen, parasols will warp you five stages ahead, and a wizard staff will unlock a huge prize upon completion of the level. However, my favorite special item of them all is the potion. When you gather this, the stage changes to a bonus level in which you have 30 seconds to collect all of the cookies that appear. These are worth lots of points and if you get every one, an extra life is earned.
Special bubbles also appear on each stage. Jumping on a lightning bubble will shoot a deadly bolt across the screen killing any enemy in its path. Popping a fire bubble will drop fire down below, wiping out any ground enemies. Water bubbles allows you ride the bubble at warp speed, taking down any beasties and absorbing any prizes in the path. Defeating the villains with special techniques like this will result in much higher prizes.
Each enemy killed results in a prize, but it pays to play strategically. Simply popping one bubbled beastie at a time rewards you with an apple worth 1000 points. If you wait for the trapped bubbles to cluster and you pop them all at once, three things will happen. First, different and more valuable prizes will appear; second your score dramatically increases; and third popping clusters of three or more produces special letter bubbles. Spelling out EXTEND, results in an extra life. I’ve really only scratched the surface on all of the unique and special items and abilities to find throughout the game.
There are over 100 levels in the main game, and you have the option to replay all of these levels a second time through with faster enemies. Multiple endings can be achieved, adding to the replay factor. There are a lot of techniques and strategies to use as you become more and more familiar with the stages. The most important thing to master is bobbling on the bubbles. In many of the more difficult stages, you’ll have use the flowing air currents and repeatedly bounce on the bubbles that you generate to reach higher ledges. Making the choice between staying in a safe spot, or risking death going for a special item comes up time and time again. This is an outstanding single player game, as I’ve played this relentlessly trying to discover new items, increase my high score, and attempt to get farther and farther without using a continue. As great as the single player campaign is, the two-player mode will likely be its selling point. There is so much fun to be had playing through this game with a friend. Teamwork makes it easier to clear the stages, but also adds a challenge since you’ll have to split the power-ups and points.
I adore the graphics and character design in this game. Bubble Bobble doesn’t have the shock and awe of Contra or Super Mario Brothers 2, but it has its own charm. Each character is memorable and is drawn with flare and personality. Every single stage differs significantly from than the last. They are bright, colorful, and there is a lot of creativity in the various designs. None are lazy or seem out of place. The only potential drawback is the music. The Bubble Bobble theme is incredible and should go down as one of the best video game tunes of all time, however it plays on a constant loop throughout the entire game until you reach the final boss. It doesn’t get old or tiresome, but it would have been nice to have a new theme every 20 levels or so. The dozens of catchy sound effects more than make up for that though.
My most anticipated games this winter were Castlevania II and Zelda II. Having never played Bubble Bobble in the arcades this one flew under my radar. Much to my surprise and joy, I’ve been playing this game every waking minute since I received it and it is now without a doubt my favorite game of not only this year, but of all time. It’s that good! It’s packed with over 100 levels, dozens of special items, and a terrific challenge. With unlimited continues and a simple password system, this is a great title to introduce to younger gamers. For experienced players, trying to go through this with limited continues should provide fun for a long time. Any time you’re looking for a great two-player game, Bubble Bobble will likely be one of the first games chosen.
Bubble Bobble Review
Final Thoughts: OUTSTANDING
Bubble Bobble is just the fourth NES game to receive a 10/10 from Nintendo Times. It deserves its place alongside Super Mario Brothers, The Legend of Zelda, and Contra. Anybody who is purchasing a Nintendo for the first time should start with these four titles.
Aaron got his NES in 1991 and has loved and collected video games ever since. In addition to gaming, he enjoys Stephen King novels, Twins Baseball, and his cats.