“These are two hungry dino-mights and they’ve got bubble fight’n fun down tight. You and your two brontosaurus buddies, Bub and Bob, are up to your brows in bubble troubles. You’ve got to battle battalions of bullies by blowing and bursting billions of bubbles. It’s a fast-paced bubble banquet through over 100 screens of slap happy suds. Got an appetite for fun… then get blowin’.”
An astounding agency of active alliteration, that. It’s an early example of orotund obsession with tongue-tanglers involving the letter “B” (SEE “bomb-omb”). Let’s find out if the Well-Red Mage can out-alliterate them…
Originally optimized for the arcades of the Land of the Rising Sun, Taito’s Bubble Bobble was eventually endorsed on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1988 before going on to inspire iterations, spin-offs, rip-offs, ports and sequels, some even in dramatically different departments and genres, such as Puzzle Bobble.
Bubble Bobble is what’s known as a comic action platformer, something that notoriously never knew notoriety in the US. It just never caught on here. Japan, however, ate them up. The original Mario Bros. arcade game (not Super Mario Bros. for the NES) is one example of the comic action platformer.
This genre is characterized by multiplayer co-op, a single screen representing sequential stages, no side-scrolling, and the requirement that every enemy be banished before players perpetuate to the subsequent screen. Bubble Bobble contains one-hundred standard stages, excepting extra ones for secret bonus levels. Since the stages occupy only one screen, falling through the bottoms bodes well for the player: instead of losing lives, the player drops down through the ceiling.
The objective of the game is to destroy dangerous enemies in each stage. Bub and Bob, the Bubble Dragon “dino-mights”, do this deed by blowing bubbles from the amazing apertures of their mouths while jaunting from platform to platform. The creepers in the Cave of Monsters can only be ended by entrapping them in bubbles, which float to the ceiling. Bubbles can be appropriated as mobile platforms. When these bubbles burst, the monsters within are no more and they’re cadavers convert into fantastic foodstuffs, bonus items. Licking lots of enemies at the same time will trigger tons more bonus items than merely murdering one or two at once. Occasionally, arcane artifacts appear instead of regularly recurring foodstuffs, bequeathing bonus abilities such as fire, water or lightning. Lettered loot provides players with the capacity to spell the word EXTEND, earning extra lives and exiting to the next level.
Bubble Bobble assailants attack aggressively but biding by particular patterns pertinent to their general genus. Hitting a horror here leads to the loss of life. Here is a limited list of lowlifes confronted in the Cave of Monsters:
If left listless inside a bubble before popping soon enough, an attacker assumes an angry rose red color, moving more mercilessly in pursuit of the player as the stage song speeds up, until a Bubble Dragon is dispatched. Then the furious freak’s frenetic behavior banishes, returning to normal. If only one rogue remains before being put to pasture by players, that final attack also assumes an angry apperception.
Take too much time tediously tramping about the tract of the stage and a special monster appears: an invincible, ghastly ghost of hideous hue who hunts unhasty Bubble Dragons down, homing in on him or her until you’re annihilated.
Finally finding the final fight, the Dragons face down the final boss, finding their frightened fiancees have been shanghaied. Light him up with lightning bubbles from a bottle. Triumphing o’er the titantic Super Drunk, who dishes and dispenses drink by throwing bunches of bottles at the Bubble brothers, allows access to the looted lasses and causes credits to crawl.
And after all my astounding alliterative advice, all I aim to achieve is actualizing and abolishing this anaylsis of Bubble Bobble, an aged antiquity appropriate for art accolades. Whew!
The 8-Bit Review
The black background instantly identifies Bubble Bobble as belonging to Nintendo’s NES (geez, I’m still alliterating!). It’s graphics aren’t hugely impressive, even by NES standards, though the sprites do move pretty quickly and have decent animations. While the stages are colorful, they quickly become monotonous. The biggest visual surprise is when a player successfully collects all the letters for EXTEND, triggering a cavalcade of colors!
Fast-paced, lively, comedic music box repetition. Besides for little fanfares that last only a few seconds, there are really only three tracks: the regular stage theme, the hurried stage theme that’s a sped up variation of the regular version, the final boss theme, and the credits theme. Considering there are over a hundred rooms in Bubble Bobble, you’ll be hearing that regular stage theme quite enough. Sure it’s iconic now but that circus-dance jingle-jangle may leave you searching for the remote to hit that mute button.
It’s simple and effective platforming without ever feeling like it’s unfair. With so many levels and different layouts, that could easily have been a complaint. However, when dying, it really does feel like its your fault. The Dragons are equipped enough to deal with their adversaries provided you have enough speed and wit to control them. Because each stage is almost like an action-puzzle, there’s a high level of challenge and addiction which comes into play. It was designed to eat your quarters at the arcades, originally, after all.
Both competitive and cooperative, Bubble Bobble is just lonesome without a second player. It’s a fairly long platformer so bringing a buddy with you makes it a little easier and a little more palatable. Sharing power-ups and bonus items is a small issue but being able to crank out twice as many bubbles with two Dragons instead of one makes up for that. The game was clearly designed with co-op in mind, and I remember it being one of the first that made me love two-player simultaneous gameplay.
What’s the first thing someone who’s never played a video game before asks when handed a controller? “Which button is shoot and which button is jump?” It’s intuitive. We know it’s a video game so of course you can shoot and jump. I remember it being a shock whenever I played a game where I couldn’t do either of those things. Of course you can shoot and jump! In Bubble Bobble that’s practically all you do. Two buttons, more than enough to kill anything that moves. Could it get more accessible?
Beating Bubble Bobble all the way through is an impressive feat (worthy of the golf clap, at least). It’s a test of endurance since 100 stages can feel awfully long and they do get pretty difficult later on. On a few of them you’ll have to wait and take it all in just to examine your plan of attack. However, getting all the way to the Super Drunk and beating him isn’t the only objective. I’ve never done this, but apparently if you beat level 100 on single-player, you get the “bad-ending” message: “Come here with your friend”. If you complete the 100th level with two players, the message now reads: “Happy End”. I guess that’s the good ending. It’s then that the brothers are transformed back to their human selves and reunited with their girlfriends, and you’re given a code that allows you to unlock Super mode: a much more difficult version of the game. Completing Super mode with two players earns the “Happy End” and also unveils the revelation that Super Drunk is actually the brothers’ parent under the influence. So yes, this game is about dad getting drunk and stealing his sons girlfriends. Edgy! And also an extreme test of platforming skill.
It’s not every day you run into a game about two dragons who spit out bubbles to entrap their enemies. What’s more, the comic action platformer is something of a rarity nowadays, and it was still rare in the West back in the day anyways. The old theme of rescuing a princess (though in this case there are two of them) goes back to the earliest days of the home console, sure. But Bubble Bobble succeeds in so many other unique areas, you may forgive it for playing the “your princess is in another castle” trick on you.
My Personal Grade: 9/10
Every time I forget about this game and then see it again or remember it, I say “Awww… Bubble Bobble“. It occupies a special place in the heart of a child who was just beginning to stretch his gaming legs, and I’ve loved it ever since. Is that pure nostalgia? I don’t know. I hope I’ve made the many merits of Bubble Bobble clear enough in this review, provided you can sift through all that alliteration abuse.
Aggregated Score: 7.6
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