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What made it special
Extremely solid gameplay that is great fun, easy to learn, hard to master – all that combined with co-op gameplay and high production values (cute graphics and catchy music that arguably hold up quite well after more than 20 years).
The basic gameplay is shooting non-lethal bubbles that trap the enemies, which can then be bursted to eliminate them. You can also bounce on the bubbles which is required to access parts of some of the stage. By itself and with solid level design that would be enough for Bubble Bobble to be a great game.
But Taito didn’t stop there and added many subtleties that add depth and huge variety. It has tons of power-ups, secrets, and scoring items. As some examples, the game prominently features items that let you kill enemies in different ways other than trapping them in the bubbles first – water trapped in bubbles and small thunder-bolts trapped in bubbles even have many stages being designed around those alternate methods and liberally provide the player with the special bubbles. The game also has more than one “clear all enemies” item with different effects (a bomb, flood the screen in water, huge thunderbolts).
There are (open) umbrellas that skip a number of stages; if one of the players collects the letters to spell Extend that player gets an extra life but also you instantly skip to the next stage; there are also potions that instantly remove the enemies and fill the screen with bonus items (such as musical notes) to be collected under a time limit before skipping to the next stage – collect all the bonus items for a large bonus (a nice detail that encourages co-operation is that both players can get the maximum bonus by each collecting exactly half of the bonus items).
The game is also one early example of multiple endings, and requires both players to get the better endings.
The game stands as a true classic and has a noteworthy legacy of sequels, spin-offs and remakes (for the remakes see the Versions sections). Rainbow Island was the first official, even though the gameplay got changed quite a bit so it may be best to consider it a spin-off: you control the same characters but now in human form, in most stages you have to climb in vertically scrolling levels by means of your rainbow-producing stars. It also has a lot of depth and generated its own sequels, in particular Parasol Stars (which once agains changes the gameplay and reverted closer to the original).
Puzzle Bobble (Bust-a-move) is widely known classic in itself, despite the completely different gameplay. It uses characters from the original and contributed greatly to popularizing the cute dragon protagonists of the original game.
Perhaps lesser known are the “true” sequels in a gameplay sense:
- Bubble Symphony (also known as Bubble Bobble II) lets you choose from 4 dragons with different characteristics.
- Bubble Memories (which may actually be a prequel in terms of story) has large bosses and lets you power up to shoot a huge bobble.
These two games are very faithful to the gameplay of the original, even though with different tweaks, so fans of the original that haven’t tried them should look into these. Sadly they weren’t ported to many home systems (Symphony was ported to the Sega Saturn in Japan).
Beyond the official games, the game “inspired” inumerous unofficial clones (including even an unofficial “port” to Texas Instruments graphing calculators). As an example, Bubble Bobble was clearly the direct inspiration for Super Methane Bros. (originally for the Amiga, ported to PCs and available at sourceforge) – although there are some interesting gameplay differences.
Not really important, but two girls are kidnapped and two boys want to rescue them. This could be the same plot used in Double Dragon, except that with two girls the brothers won’t fight in the end and the dragons involved here are the boys – they have been transformed into actual dragons – relatively harmless bubble-blowing dragons though (but they can shoot fireballs with power-ups). So the quest is to save the girls in distress and get transformed from cute bubble-blowing dragons back into boys. For that, the heroes have to go into the Cave of Monsters…
The game was ported to a large number of systems back in the day, and continues to be made available in different systems. This list we present here is not exhaustive, those interested can check the following video on youtube (and its continuation) showing the various versions:
Some notable versions include:
- NES (a good port, and one that introduced many to the game) and Master System (a very good port for the time, and this version has some entirely new stages).
- The home computer ports for 8-bit systems were a bit gimped.
- The (16-bit) Amiga had a very decent port and of particular note has great music (the intro music is different from the original and worth listening to).
- An early DOS port (by Novalogic) brought the game to PCs, and there is a different port (by Acclaim, who also ported the game to the Saturn and PS1). Both the Novalogic and Acclaim have notable gameplay differences compared to the original. The Acclaim port is called Bubble Bobble featuring Rainbow Islands, it has slightly enhanced graphics compared to the arcade and in terms of gameplay it is nearly arcade perfect (the differences are subtle). As the name indicates, the Acclaim game includes Rainbow Islands (and a graphics remake of Rainbow Islands as well). It is a good version.
- The Acclaim game is a good option, but other than nostalgia or for some curiosities (like extra stages or different music) I believe there is little reason to choose one of the other versions mentioned above today. Instead you can try for one of the more arcade accurate versions, like in the Taito Legends compilation (PC, PS2, XBox).
Different versions and remakes:
- Gameboy: I would not consider the gameboy games ports (there is the original and a sequel) – there is no co-op, the stages are different and don’t fit entirely in the screen (scrolling) and they have a different plot. The gameplay is similar and it holds up well, so it is an interesting diversion for those that are really devoted to the series.
- Game Gear: Much more faithful to the original, but the stages are squashed to fit the screen (they are inspired directly by the arcade counterparts however).
- GBA (Bubble Bobble Old and New) and DS (Bubble Bobble Revolution): these have new versions of the classic with variable quality (the GBA is a remake with new graphics and sound, although I prefer the original graphics and find the sound worse than the original; the DS is a different game with very poor gameplay; in the original release there was even a game-breaking bug). They both have the original game, in GBA you can have an AI-controlled player 2 (not very competent) and in the DS version you can link with another DS to play co-op. The bottom line is that these are worthwhile versions if you want to play Bubble Bobble on an handheld.
- Mega Drive: the game is called Super Bubble Bobble and it is a different game with different stages and enemies.
- WiiWare (Bubble Bobble Plus) / Xbox Live Arcade (Bubble Bobble Neo) has the possibility for 4-player co-op and some extra stages. Fans would do well to check this one out (if they haven’t already), it is possibly the definite version today, and it had good critical reception.
This game is full of secrets! Join us in the forum to discuss your other findings and strategies.