“Now, it is beginning of a fantastic
story review!" TYP evaluates the Japanese import of this classic arcade hit.
Bubble Bobble is a 1986 Arcade (and NES) game many older gamers fondly remember. It had a respectable following in its day, but Bubble Bobble has since fallen somewhat into obscurity while its spin-off series, Puzzle Bobble (a.k.a. Bust-A-Move) has become more recognizable to the modern gamer. Knowing it was one of the many classics I’ve missed over the years, I snapped up an import copy of its handheld port to reward my curiosity.
Like many games from the mid-eighties, Bubble Bobble was designed to be simplistically addictive. A platformer/puzzler hybrid reminiscent of the original Mario Bros., Bubble Bobble brings one or two players on a “journey" to clear out all the baddies in the Cave of Monsters, one floor (screen) at a time. Destroying an enemy usually involves blowing a bubble to capture the monster and then popping it with your dinosaur’s body before the creature escapes. Both naturally occurring and blown bubbles can be used as platforms, and special bubbles contain helpful items or weapons. Even with no instructions, this game is easy to pick up and play.
Gaming fans of today will most certainly find a few disagreeable aspects with Bubble Bobble: Old & New. Though the control is responsive, the dinosaurs (Bub and Bob) are sluggish, especially in midair. Players will also find themselves trapped on a few levels, and the difficulty makes for plenty of “Game Over"s. But though the control is below modern standards and the game has a few holes, all of this can be forgiven—after all, this is a 1986 arcade game! In fact, perhaps the game’s greatest feature is derivative of developer MediaKite’s dedication and observations about other ports’ problems: the developer has made the GBA’s smaller screen a non-issue. By using the GBA’s scaling capabilities, the game offers both horizontal and vertical orientation, changeable at any point during the game with the L button. The default horizontal orientation provides full resolution while the vertical orientation sacrifices attractiveness for practicality. The screen zooms in and out, creating a very smooth transition without losing sight of your character in the process. This one feature is really what makes the game such an excellent port, as there are no unfair surprises when the bottom and top of the level are connected. After exploring the arcade original, I can safely say that arcade fans will not be disappointed with the mechanics in this conversion.
Some things have changed in the move to the handheld, though, while others haven’t changed enough. The “Old" mode’s sound is supposed to emulate the Arcade’s, but it doesn’t do a very good job. The happy-go-lucky ice cream truck lead instrument has been replaced with the most basic of square waves, and many sound effects have had a similar downgrade. Also, MediaKite obviously hasn’t mastered the system’s LCD display yet, as the game’s graphics are much darker than the arcade game’s, sometimes impairing visibility. While these aren’t horrible problems, any gamer will tell you that part of Bubble Bobble’s charm was its cheery music and bright graphics. You may have noticed I haven’t really talked about the “New" mode yet: that label is very misleading. All updates in the “New" game are purely aesthetic. The graphics are updated, the sound effects are slightly enhanced (including occasional voices) and the music gets the remix treatment, but the game and its one hundred levels remain untouched. Anyone hoping for new levels to conquer is unfortunately out of luck.
There are a few little extras in the cart. “New" mode features some sort of collected item list and something else, though as far as I can tell it doesn’t unlock anything. The game also features a battery save when Taito could have easily skimped and used a password save, allowing the game to retain high scores. But the biggest bonus is its co-op multi-player. With one cart two friends can explore the original cave of monsters, and having two carts will open up the enhanced version. What’s more, this game is mostly in English, making it a very import-friendly game for the die-hard fans.
Bubble Bobble is a LOT of fun, and everyone should try it out in one form or another. This GBA port is very commendable, but it just isn’t worth the import price. For now, most gamers should wait and see if Taito can get another publisher to release the game internationally.