Bubble Bobble is back on Nintendo. Great, but what is it? Bubble Bobble 4 Friends is a modern take on the classic arcade platformer. The franchise has been around since 1986, but hasn’t seen a mainline entry (mobile not included) for around 10 years. Players take control of Bub and Bob, climbing and frantically bubble blowing your way through 100 levels, alone or with friends in jolly co-operation.
In all honesty, I had never played a Bubble Bobble game until now. And while it wasn’t the best platformer I had ever played, there were slight nuances and mechanics that had me surprisingly intrigued. It’s a fun, cute little time for what it is, if a touch basic at times.
Now, how one derives fun from a product tends to be highly subjective. Therefore ALL forms of review are opinionated, and should be taken with a grain of salt. (This included) So let’s examine the product through the lens of metrics such as; Graphical fidelity, story/characters, content/length, controls and gameplay, then finally, sound design and cinematics.
First off we’ve got visuals, and Bubble Bobble 4 is bright, colorful and positively radiant. It looks like all the good parts of Fruit Ninja. Though I do wish they made more use of their 3D animation and depth, regardless, it’s a treat visually. I enjoyed the bold and sometimes neon colours that lend character to the overall aesthetic. With it’s adorable visuals, children will be sure to love it.
Performance was satisfactory on the Switch, and there were never any moments of hitching or texture pop-ins. Frames were constant and it was a smooth experience, even on co-op in tabletop mode. Menu screens are clear crisp, and well animated.
Characters & Story
As previously touched on, players take control of one of four characters. These being; Bub, Bob, Peb, or Pab, little dragon toy dudes. As I’m sure the games developer can explain the plot more rationally than I, let’s take a look:
“One night, a child’s room became enfolded by a miraculous light and every object under its rays suddenly came to life – including the child’s most favorite toy, the little dragon called Bub. Full of jealousy, the wicked magician Bonner challenges the friendly dragon to battle.”ININ Games
There’s honestly not a tonne of story and character work to latch onto, but that’s generally not why most people consider digging their teeth into an arcade platformer. I didn’t come to Bubble Bobble expecting Mass Effect levels of plot detail, but there is at least some semblance of protagonist and antagonist.
Content & Length
Bubble Bobble 4 Friends feels like a fair package. Not only does it include its own 100 levels with an increased difficulty, but also 4 player local co-op and the classic Bubble Bobble and its 100 levels included. Though keep in mind that all this content can only be capitalized on if players truly enjoy the gameplay loop that this game has to offer, and feel compelled to complete it all. For those who do keep coming back, Bubble Bobble should keep them busy for (skill and range of completion varies gameplay length) at least 5-15 hours. Though it’s a game best experienced in bite sized small doses, or with friends.
Controls & Gameplay
In all likelihood this will be the defining factor for many players. Controls are fairly simple, but it’s utilization of gameplay mechanics in relation to it’s skill ceiling are what make Bubble Bobble intriguing. This game can be as mindless, or strategic as you wish to play it.
Movement is tied to the D-pad and left Thumbstick, jump and bubble attack are bound to X & B, or Y & A respectively. Special attacks are bound to the L & R bumpers. Now, the simplicity of the controls is counterbalanced by the intricacy of its bubble mechanics, as basic as they sound. Players shoot bubbles to entrap enemies, then pop the bubble to defeat them. However, any bubble can be bounced on and floats as a platform. When a bubble pops, it pops every adjacent bubble, and in the scenario multiple enemies are defeated together players will receive a chain score. There’s also bosses, but they are at times highly derivative.
To it’s credit, levels are often designed to force players to utilize these mechanics in sometimes creative ways. Bubble Bobble makes the most of the gameplay variation it has to offer, though it’d be fantastic to see a level designer to give players some creative freedom and extra replay ability. Especially considering it’s competing with the evolution of similar games such as Mario and Donkey Kong who’ve both taken the full dive into 3D gameplay. Not to say that there isn’t a market for 2D platforming, simply that: games that don’t innovate, must refine and polish. Bubble Bobble does have something to offer here with it’s surprisingly addictive gameplay. Let’s move onto audio.
Sound Design & Cinematics
There are no cinematics to speak of, though there are minor intro and outro animations. The audio work and music sound like what one would come to expect from a cutesy platformer. There is a little vocal work, but not much that stands out. Pretty average.
I must admit, I had fun with Bubble Bobble. It’s not the greatest arcade platformer I’ve ever played, and it may not have taken the large steps in modernizing it like other franchises. However, it has a solid foundation and fun gameplay. For someone looking for an old-school feeling 2D arcade style game for themselves or their kid, I’d recommend it. Bubble Bobble 4 is currently available in European regions, and will be available for North America in Q1 of 2020.
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A Fun Platformer For All Ages
- Score: - 7.3/107.3/10
+ Addictive Gameplay
+ Fun Mechanically
+ Co-op is Jolly
– Boring Bosses
– Virtually No Plot or Story