I have a confession to make, I’ve never played Bubble Bobble before I loaded up Bubble Bobble 4 Friends a few days ago. I’ve seen videos of it, and I’ve played similar retro games, but I’ve never had the desire to actually try it out and see what it’s actually like. However, when we were offered a review code for the latest game, which is also a Nintendo Switch exclusive for some reason, I knew it was my time to finally play this classic franchise.
33 years since the original release (September 1986), original developer TAITO and new publisher ININ Games have released a new game in the franchise, one which introduces a few new features as well as modernised visuals and a ‘helpful’ mode which seems a little out of place. In order to celebrate this release, the publishers and distribution partners have gone all out and provided multiple versions you can buy, which I’ll look into later on in the review.
So, as Bubble Bobble 4 Friends is my introduction to the franchise, did it make a good impression or am I regretting accepting the code? Let’s find out…
The story in Bubble Bobble 4 Friends is short and sweet, a child is fast asleep within his messy bedroom, hiding under the covers as he dreams about whatever children dream about these days – Fortnite I imagine. Suddenly, a pair of magical orbs fly through the window and land upon two very special toys, Bub and Bonner (with two n’s). I’m not quite sure where these orbs came from but they had the power to bring both of these toys to life, like Toy story, only in this story Bonner proceeds to bash Bub on his head and chase him off the bed.
That’s about all we get – the kid is asleep, magical orb/bubbles, the toys are alive, it’s now up to you to stop the evil Bonner from doing evil things. Thankfully, off-camera, Bob, Peb and Pab were also awoken from their inanimate slumber, joining forces with you as you set out to take on approx 100 levels consisting of bubbles, platforming, awoken evil toys, and bosses. Other than setting the exposition for the kinds of enemies you’ll encounter and the backdrops within each ‘world’, the story doesn’t really get any deeper than that. Simply make it through the arcade-type levels until you reach the end of the game and show Bonner just how hard you can blow!
If you’ve not played Bubble Bobble before, the gameplay is rather simplistic but also very addictive and almost strategic. You play a bubble-blowing dragon or one of their friends, based on how many people are playing. Each level is set within a single screen, set out like mazes made up of both climbable ledges and winds that blow in different directions. In order to ‘win’ you need to defeat all of the enemies on the screen and then collect the food which drops after their gone. To defeat an enemy, you have to first blow a bubble, in order to trap them, and then either butt-slam or hit the bubbles with your spikes (on your head and your horn). This will cause the bubbles to pop and anything contained within them to cease to be.
The strategic element comes into play when you’re trying to get the top score as that requires chain reactions and combos. Basically, if you blow a load of bubbles then pop one, all bubbles that are touching will pop, one after another. So, if you’ve got multiple enemies floating in a collection of bubbles, you can take out numerous foes with one simple stomp or headbutt. However, they don’t stay trapped forever so you can’t spend too long thinking about what you want to do – get the points by taking them out or push to get a few more in the cluster of bubbles above your head.
The wind directions really help when you’re trying to perform a long combo as enemies obviously can’t walk through walls. However, if they’re floating around within a bubble, that allows them to move through any obstacle as they get pushed along with the airflow. This means you’ll find all the bubbles tend to accumulate in the same area, just sat there waiting to be popped by a spikey-headed chubby dragon. As well as the enemies, there are also six letters to look out for which are scattered across the levels within a world – Spelling out the word EXTEND.
Whilst playing Bubble Bobble 4 Friends, if you manage to find all the letters within each world, you’ll unlock new bonuses and sometimes enhance the abilities which are given to you upon completing the various worlds. Aside from using your bubble-blowing ability (which is very useful), you can unlock more advanced abilities such as spitting out timed bomb bubbles and vomiting up electricity-filled bubbles which generate a line of electricity that covers the entire horizontal width of the screen, eliminating any foes and bubbles in its proximity.
These useful additions will really help you out against both the bosses and regular enemies but they aren’t unlimited. You’ll only receive a certain amount of them which won’t get replenished until you move onto the next level. So, it’s all about ensuring you utilise them at the right moment and don’t just waste them on the first enemy which is heading in your direction.
Bubble Bobble 4 Friends gives you five new abilities, one per completed world, and they can be equipped before you begin any stage after they’ve been unlocked – even allowing you to use them in worlds you previously completed in order to try and get a better score on your next playthrough. These become very useful when you’re up against the bosses and when you unlock the ‘hard mode’…
Just like Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD, I wasn’t expecting Bubble Bobble 4 Friends to actually have bosses as I thought it was going to be a pure arcade title. However, the developers decided to give us a large foe to face off with at the end of each world. These range from being very straightforward (simply jumping on a ledge until it charges at you and then jumping down to fire a barrage of bubbles at them) to requiring a lot of pin-point accuracy as you dodge projectiles and mini enemies which are being thrown at you all over the place.
I will admit that the later bosses caused a little trouble for me as my Joycon has developed the drifting issue, so Bub would occasionally walk off the platforms or not move when I wanted him too – so the addition of the ‘cheat’ function came in useful but it felt so dirty using it! Okay, so it’s not exactly a ‘cheat’ but it is a bit too helpful (as I stated at the beginning of the review). Basically, if you die three times on any stage or boss, you have the choice to either continue or continue with invincibility enabled – without any obvious consequences or restrictions in doing so. As such, the game became incredibly easy (even though it was already rather easy) as you no longer had the fear of death or having to get better at the game.
Once you’ve completed all of the five worlds in the standard difficulty (which as I said above, is very easy bar a few bosses in my case), you gain access to the harder mode, a mode which I believe should have been selectable from the beginning. You’ll be playing through the same worlds and levels as before, only now you’ll have more enemies and more of the advanced kind such as wizards who shoot you and lasers that fire out beams every few seconds. This mode is a challenge and will frustrate you, this is the mode you should play. However, it requires you to play through the entire game in ‘easy’ mode first before you can even access it!
The Original Game
As well as playing Bubble Bobble 4 Friends, the latest game with enhanced visuals and smooth gameplay, you can also play the original arcade classic via the arcade cabinet within the child’s bedroom. I had a go of it and I prefer the newer version indefinitely due to the controls and mechanics which weren’t there in the original game. For example, in Bubble Bobble 4 Friends you can blow bubbles and then jump on them to gain height and ride the winds, in the original you can’t even jump on them without popping them. I guess the original game was just more realistic as a chubby dragon shouldn’t really be able to jump on a bubble – but then again, should a chubby dragon actually exist?
Earlier on I said that four protagonists had awoken, Bub, Bob, Peb and Pab. Basically, up to four players and join in locally on a single Switch unit, either in docked, tabletop or portable mode. There’s no multiplayer, no minigames, and no bonus content for playing with other people, it just allows you to play through the entire campaign with more protagonists running around the screen at the same time. Personally, I think this would help when playing the hard mode as some of those levels can get quite tricky. You can also play the classic 1986 game in two-player co-op mode as well.
My only issue with the co-op mode is that you have no control over which character you get to play as. Player one is always Bub, two is Bob, three is Peb and four is Pab – I would have thought a character selection (although not particularly game-breaking or a deal breaker) would have been a nice addition so everyone can pick who they want. One thing I did like about the mode is that you can actually jump on each other’s heads, like you can with the bubbles, in order to get a little more height and a boost to higher-up ledges.
What version to buy?
There seems to be a trend at the moment, a lot of games are not only releasing both digitally and physically, but they are also producing limited runs and special editions. Sure, companies like Ubisoft have done this for years with their multiple version of Assassin’s Creed and other franchises, but a lot more indies and smaller games are jumping on ‘Limited run’ versions, something I’m not a massive fan of but I know a large number of people are. So, what versions are available to buy…
Today, you can buy Bubble Bobble 4 Friends on the Nintendo Switch e-Shop in Europe, it’s arriving digitally in North and South America in early 2020.
1. ININ have published a standard edition – this is just the game.
2. ININ have published a special edition – this is the game, four character cards, a poster, and two key chains.
3. Strictly Limited Games have published a standard edition – this is the game and either a Bub or Bob 10cm Acrylic Glass print.
4. Strictly Limited Games have published a collector’s edition – this is the game, an art book, the soundtrack, stickers, an arcade flyer, an instructions card, and either a Bub or Bob 10cm Acrylic Glass print.
So, which version will you be picking up? The links above take you to the respective items with their images and more information. The ININ ones are Amazon affiliate links (won’t cost you any more if you pick them up but it does give us a tiny bit of commission to help support the site).
In terms of the visuals and the gameplay mechanics, I’ve not played any previous games other than the original which is in this game and the new version, so all I can say is that the game has improved over the last 33 years. The core gameplay is the same but the inclusion of the modern mechanics, better physics, sharper visuals, and unlockable abilities, helps make the game much more enjoyable and entertaining than the original classic – which is still a fun game to play as well.
The music was all very upbeat and happy, emphasising the arcade-nature of the game with its short loops which aren’t noticeable within the short level playtime. It also has a new version of the Bubble Bobble theme tune, modernised and I imagine very nostalgic for those who played the original classic when they were younger. Each world seems to have a few tracks which play, all of which are unlockable as you collect the EXTEND letters throughout the game.
Finally, I know the game isn’t really a special game as it’s not celebrating 30 years or calling itself an ‘anniversary edition’, but seeing as the game contained the original arcade classic, it would have been nice if there were some more bonus features which talked about the history of the franchise. However, if you do want to know a little more about the history or general information about this game, you can read all about it over on the official website here: http://bubblebobble4friends.inin.games/
If you’re looking for a modernised classic which doesn’t stray too far from the original concept, Bubble Bobble 4 Friends is fun to play both solo and with friends or family. Although the first fifty levels are rather easy and family-friendly, the proceeding fifty within the hard mode will certainly challenge you if you decide to face the evil Bonner alone! The various powerups and abilities you gain throughout your adventure are sure to help out in the trickier levels, with the game offering a safety net via the activation of invincibility to ensure everyone of any skill level can play the game and have fun. This game was my introduction to the franchise, an introduction which made a really good first impression.
Whether you grew up playing the original Bubble Bobble in the arcade or via one of its many home-console ports and sequels, or you’ve never even seen the game before, anyone can simply pick it up and play with no issues. I would have personally liked more of a homage to its past via bonus features or maybe unlockable artwork or information, but that’s not an impact on the game as Bubble Bobble 4 Friends is well-polished and a fun game all around
Bubble Bobble 4 Friends£35.99
- - Contains the new version plus the original arcade classic
- - Allows up for four local players (two for the 1986 game)
- - Fun music and cute visuals
- - 100 levels, 50 easy and 50 more challenging
- - Anyone of any skill level and easily pick up and play
- - The first fifty levels are very easy, only unlocking the harder ones upon completion of the main game
- - The invincibility option (if you die three times) seems a bit like a cheat, but it is optional
- - The first fifty levels will only take you around two hours to get through
- - The price seems a bit too high for a modernised sequel to an arcade game