Back in November 2019, I reviewed Bubble Bobble 4 Friends on the Nintendo Switch and found it to be a delightful game whether playing on your own or with friends (as the title recommends). A few months ago, this classic franchise released on the PlayStation 4 as ‘Bubble Bobble 4 Friends: The Baron is Back!‘ – it’s basically the same game only with a few new features and a hundred new levels to work your way through within a new mode. Considering I already thought that the previous version was lots of fun and a great game, I was eager to see what had changed with this new edition.
As I stated in my Switch review (HERE), it’s been 34 years since the original Bubble Bobble launched, a classic arcade game which was soon ported to almost every home console you can think of thanks to its popularity. This latest game in the franchise was developed by the original development studio, TAITO, and published by ININ Games, a publisher who seems focused on modernising old classics for the new generation of gamers.
So, after spending a number of hours both trying to beat the harder levels and trying to find the new content (seriously), is Bubble Bobble 4 Friends: The Baron is Back! worth picking up on your PlayStation 4 (or shiny new PlayStation 5)? Let’s find out…
As the story is identical to the Switch version, I’ll ‘borrow’ what I wrote from that one…
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 100 levels consisting of bubbles, platforming, awoken evil toys, and bosses. 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!
Bubble Bobble is all about blowing bubbles and ‘bobbling’ along, encasing enemies within your circular projectiles and then taking them out with a simple “pop!”. Each of the 100 levels are single full-screen maze-like platforming stages which are populated with enemies, wind, spikes, and bubble machines. It’s your task to take out all of the enemies on the screen without losing all of your lives, if you manage this then you’ll be rewarded handsomely with fruit just before you move onto the next level.
As this is an arcade game, your score is very important as it determines how many ‘stars’ you get upon completing the world your in and shows everyone just how badass you are (the Bubble Bobble 4 Friends: The Baron is Back! edition introduces online leaderboards). Simply trapping single enemies in bubbles then butt-stomping or popping them (with your spikes) won’t be enough if you wish to be number one in this game, it’s all about planning and performing chain reactions.
As mentioned previously, the levels have wind which gently moves your bubbles around, it also moves all ‘bubbled baddies’ with the flow, often causing them to gather in a clump at the end of the air conveyor. This is where you have to be smart, shifting all the on-screen enemies into this one location allows you to move in and pop (kill) everyone at the same time, creating a big chain and a massive influx of points. You can get even more meticulous and blow bubbles like there’s no tomorrow, creating a link between you and the trapped enemies, allowing you to wipe them out remotely as if you’re lighting the fuse to a stick of dynamite!
Obviously, if you could just take your time and do this then they’ll be no challenge to the game, thankfully the game is aware of this! The enemies will struggle and free themselves after a short time so you have to be clever but swift if you wish to obtain a combo.
Each world consists of ten stages, there are five worlds to play through and two difficulty levels – making it 100 levels in total. When playing on Normal, if you fail three times on a stage (lose all of your lives and opt to continue), you have the option to play that particular stage in ‘Funky Kong’ mode (I.E. you’re invincible). However, when you jump over to the Hard mode (once you’ve completed everything on Normal), you don’t get this option regardless of how many times you die. Also, when you lose all your lives and choose to carry on, your score is wiped clean – thus making obtaining three stars or a high score rather difficult!
Aside from the enemies, hazards, and fruit within each stage, you’ll also find the letters E X T E N D floating around in bubbles – one letter at a time. If you obtain all of these then you’ll unlock or enhance new abilities. There are five abilities to unlock, each one offering a unique way to help you out. Once you own them, you can activate them before you start a world and each stage replenishes how many uses you have. The ability I use the most is the long-distance bubble, but there are others such as vomiting electricity-filled bubbles which shoot off a deadly electric bolt upon popping and even timed bombs which casually float within a, you guessed it, bubble.
You can play the entire game with up to three other people, each controlling one of the four protagonists in the game. This may sound like fun, and it is, but it also brings with it a lot of joyful frustration due to certain mechanics. When playing solo, a single hit from any hazard or enemy results in your death, in co-op you become encased within one of your own bubbles as you cry for help – just like in Yoshi’s Island. If someone can pop you before the time runs out, you come back without losing a life, if not then you’ll respawn but use up one of the shared lives – yes, this game has shared lives as we see in classic games such as Golden Axe.
One thing I feel the game would have benefited from is some sort of multiplayer aspect, pitting each player against each other both locally and online. I know the game is wholesome and all about working together to take down the bad guys (you can literally jump on each other for more height rather than bouncing on bubbles), but an online aspect – other than the leaderboard – would have prolonged the experience in my opinion.
The game begins with access to the ‘Normal’ mode, a mode which I found quite easy both on the PS5 and the Nintendo Switch. Once all fifty levels have been completed, the real challenge begins – I originally, in my previous review, said I felt like Hard mode should be an option from the start, this is something I still agree with as normal is far too easy – especially if you opt to use the invincibility option when you get stuck. The worlds and levels are identical in this mode but the enemies are much harder and come in greater numbers, you also can’t use the invincibility option (as I stated above) so if you get stuck then you have to keep trying until you skillfully proceed.
I won’t lie, I fully completed the game on Normal but I’ve only done one world on hard, the second boss is a pain in the butt and I don’t have the patience to learn his patterns and adapt!
Each of the five worlds has a main boss at the end, within stage ten. These are massive enemies who vary in difficulty, some are as simple as jumping onto high ledges and waiting for the enemies to stun itself, then jump in and blow bubbles on it until you can pop it, others are more complicated as they summon smaller enemies to attack you whilst they also fire projectiles or drop bombs. However, on Normal mode I never really found any of these too hard to handle, not even the mighty Bonner…
You’ll find that the bosses on Normal are night and day when compared to the ones in Hard mode – sure, they’re the same enemies, but this time they ain’t taking any prisoners! The damage required to take them down is increased, the frequency of summoning other smaller foes is increased, the speed is increased, pretty much everything which is ‘bad’ is increased! Plus, without the option to fall back and enable the invincibility mode, if you get stuck at a boss you really do have to concentrate – giving up means you’ll have to complete all nine stages again if you wish to take them on in the future!
Bubble Bobble (1986)
If you’ve had enough of the beautiful and colourful visual design of Bubble Bobble 4 Friends: The Baron is Back!, you can jump back in time and play the original arcade version from the level select screen. This is great for anyone who has nostalgia for the original arcade version of the game, removing all the new abilities and returning to the simplistic mechanics present within the 100-level classic. I tried playing this version but I was really bad at it, I’ve been spoilt by the ability to jump on bubbles to gain more height and using long-shot attacks to encase enemies at a distance.
The Baron is Back!
I had my review ready to go live yesterday until I saw on the website that this new version of the game has an additional 100 levels… I couldn’t find them. I looked high and low and couldn’t find this elusive new ‘world’ with more challenging missions and the return of Baron Von Blubba. As such, I presumed you needed to either obtain all three stars on all levels, grab every EXTEND letter, or complete Hard mode – I set to work on earning these! I couldn’t get past the second boss in Hard mode, I kept dying and losing all my points making it impossible to get three stars, and I collected all but one letter (as I forgot when I was playing). Then, I realised where the new levels were…
If you enter the arcade cabinet whilst the game is set to Hard mode, it becomes the ‘Arcade of the Future’, the ‘BB4F: The Baron is Back!’ bonus levels – I felt very stupid at this point. This is a new mode in which you try to ascend 100 levels without any continues, no fruit for points, no extra lives, and the threat of Baron Von Blubba every ten levels. That’s right, if no continues or extra lives doesn’t scare you, how about having levels with an invincible ghost-like creature which stalks you as you try to take out his minions! To say these levels are hard is a big understatement.
If you bought the Switch version, which didn’t have the online Leaderboards and the Baron levels at launch, it received a free update when the PS4 version launched, adding these into the game.
Is there a physical edition?
Yes, there is…
Strictly Limited Games have a Standard Edition and Collector’s Edition of the game on both the PS4 and the Nintendo Switch (The Switch version will require an update to add the Baron’s content into the game). You can find out more, and check the stock, HERE. As of posting this, they have both editions for the PS4 but only 8% of the Collector’s Edition on the Switch. Alternatively, you can pick up the Standard Edition of both games (with the Baron content on the disc/cart) from Amazon, the PS4 is HERE and the Switch is HERE.
As far as I’m aware, Bubble Bobble 4 Friends: The Baron is Back! is running at 1440p on the PS4 Pro and PS5 consoles (I read this online a few weeks ago). It’s a shame it doesn’t push for the full 2160p, as the PS5 can clearly support it, but unless we get a native PS5 edition, I can’t see that happening. However, on my 4K TV the game looks fantastic, it’s very colourful, sharp, playful, and oozing with charm.
In terms of the music, it truly is magical. I’m not nostalgia to the original games as I’d never played the game until I played this game on the Switch just over a year ago, but I love the music within the game – it’s so happy, upbeat, and simple yet memorable. The best thing is, as you play the game, beat the levels, and collect the EXTEND letters, you unlock the soundtrack to listen to within the game.
Modernising a classic game doesn’t always work out for the best, yet ‘Bubble Bobble 4 Friends: The Baron is Back!‘ perfectly recreates the arcade gameplay of the past whilst utilising modern mechanics. Whether you’re playing on your own or with up to three other people locally, you’re certain to have lots of fun despite possibly getting frustrated when trying to tackle the Hard mode. The unlockable abilities enhance the gameplay, allowing you to strategically gain bigger combos and more points. The new Baron content adds many hours onto the game, bringing back a familiar foe in order to tickle those nostalgiac nerves and increase the tension.
Bubble Bobble 4 Friends: The Baron Is Back!£34.99
- - Very colourful and fun to play
- - Although the first 50 levels are quite easy, Hard mode really tests you
- - Now contains online leaderboards so you can aim to be number one
- - The Baron's content adds 100 new levels which are much harder than the base game
- - Contains the original arcade game
- - The first fifty levels will only take an hour or so to complete
- - I always felt 'dirty' when I enabled the invincibility option, it felt like cheating
- - The price, once again, seems pretty high for what it is