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Bubble Bobble Review

December 27, 2008

The Christmas period is over, my spare time returns, and the prolonged absence of our beloved Atari Legend is proving the old adage “You never know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” Here’s hoping that it’s up and running again soon, its loss would be to great to bear for the clutch of ST gamers still out there. Still, the show must go on, and without AL’s guiding hand I must pick my own game to review. Why not pick an absolute cracker then? OK, I will!


bubble_bobble_01

  • Bubble Bobble
  • Vintage: 1987
  • Developer: Software Creations
  • Publisher: Firebird

Bubble Bobble was an arcade platform romp released in 1986. The evil Baron Von Blubba has turned our heroes, Bub and Bob into two cutesy-pie dinosaurs, nicked their girlfriends and populated their world with all sorts of nasties. Fortunately, Blubba’s nefarious and otherwise sound plan to transform our heroes backfires, enabling them to blow bubbles ensnaring enemies on contact, leaving them vulnerable to the dinos’ trusty spikes. Now it’s up to you to guide our intrepid heroes down through Blubba’s dungeons, defeating his monsters and recovering lost loves.

ST owners would have to wait just one year to receive an excellent conversion programmed by Software Creations. The port is nearly arcade perfect, with only a few barely noticeable changes: the rate at which Bub and Bob fall is slower, and some of the levels are much easier (though the arcade did feature different difficulty settings).

bubble_bobble_04

Grab that cane Bub, you lazy sod!

Using the joystick to move and jump and the fire button to spit bubbles, the controls in Bubble Bobble are a simple as it’s play mechanic: trap enemies in bubbles, then pop them. This simplicity allows the game to develop complexity in other areas; most notably: scoring. It is best to capture all your enemies, group them and then pop them as one, this way maximising your ‘popping score’ and getting the juiciest fruit pick ups afterwards. It is not so easy to do this on every level, so you must balance the potential point reward with the need to survive. Pick-ups provide much more than just points, too: sweeties power up your bubbles, each flavour increasing bubble range, speed and firing rate; candy canes provide huge end-of-level bonuses; running shoes increase speed; cruciforms imbue your dino with godly powers and many, many more.

Collect all 6 'EXTEND' bubbles for an extra life. Skipping the current level can also be a godsend later on in the game.

Collect all 6 'EXTEND' bubbles for an extra life. Skipping the current level can also be a godsend later on in the game.

The pick-ups and scoring perfectly compliment a game where your every action affects your play experience. Everything you do in this game has a bearing on your scoring potential: the amount of bubbles you blow, steps you take, the speed at which you dispatch a level, how long you go without dying – all these and more have a sometimes subtle, invariably significant effect on what’s happening. For example, if you complete a level quickly, the next will contain a juicy bonus or helpful pickup. Some levels are ‘bubble levels’ and upon completion, all empty bubbles still in the room are converted into fruity bonuses. Also, all levels have a convection current pushing the bubbles around which you must take into account: if you capture that enemy now, will you be able to pop him before he escapes? Escapees are peeved, making them twice as fast and therefore twice as dangerous.

bubble_bobble_02

Death from above.

Level design is often devious, always clever, really tying into the avatars’ jump mechanics well (some levels will require you to jump on the bubbles you blow in order to reach higher ground) and often exploiting an aspect of gameplay. For example, one level sees you sat atop a large heart shape filled with enemies. Jumping inside would mean almost certain suicide, so you must wait for bubbles of water (just one of many special bubble types) to float up to you. By popping them with your tail, you release a deadly shower on your enemies trapped within the heart while you wait safely above.

This game is great when played alone, but becomes one of the greatest co-op games ever when shared with a friend. Together, you will learn the best strategies to use for each level, squabble over sweeties, learn to share points and ‘EXTEND’ bubbles to prolong each others’ lives (after all, you are sharing the same continue stockpile). A friend and I would often play the 100 levels through twice over, probably the only game in history that I would be prepared to complete twice in one sitting.

Graphics

Lots of cute well drawn sprites sparsely but well animated glide around colourful levels populated by easily distinguished pick-ups and hazards. A good translation of the arcade’s visuals.

Sound

Simple sound effects and an appropriately cute soundtrack. Sadly, the main theme is very short and loops over and over. I love the song, but it may inspire some desperate lunges for the volume control from those less tolerant.

Conclusion

One of the greatest platform arcade games of all time receives a superb conversion to the Atari ST. Initially impressive for its tight controls, carefully weighted difficulty curve and innovative gameplay mechanics, spend a little time to learn its subtleties and nuances, and you’ll be hooked.

Score: stickstickstickstickstick

Further Reading


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7 comments

  1. no doubt, Bubble Bobble is a legend in time. It’s fun, it’s challenging and it’s girly compatible.

    Also hope that AL will be online again.


  2. Another excellent review. How lovely. And I finally find out after all these years the ST version of Bubble Bobble is such a gem. Still, can’t understand how any of these games can be played without a Tomahawk or Pacman joystick…


  3. (sneaks in and leaves a lovely bottle of Dom Perignon)

    Happy 2009!


  4. This was one of my all time favorite Atari ST games. There is just something as addictive about it. Thanks for doing a review, now I have to go find the disk image and play it…no Atari Legend to use though =(


  5. Bubble Bobble was fantastic! We were young though back then, so even with two of us we didn’t manage to get past level 50 very often. I’m going to have to go find this on abandonware or emulation now!

    By the way, since you seem to have a lot of info on the Atari ST and ST Format I was wondering, have you ever come across a strategy guide for Dungeon Master that I believe was published or given away with ST Format at one point.
    It’s not the official Dungeon Master Strategy Guide, as I’ve managed to get hold of that, and it’s not the one I’m thinking of. The one I used to have was written as though it were by an old adventurer giving advice to newcomers on how to stay alive in the world, and the advice specifically helped in DM.
    I lost my copy years ago and was absolutely gutted, so if anyone has any information about it I’d be very grateful!


    • Hello Mr Ender!

      Can you remember which issue of ST Format it appeared in? Even an approximation of the date, an impression of the cover, or what else was in the issue will help me find it. I have almost every issue so I almost certainly have your DM guide. Sounds like you put a lot of effort into it, so I would be happy to find it for you.

      Have you read my DM review? DM came in first in the Great Atari ST Game Survey too.


  6. This review has lead me on a search of ebay. Goodwork!
    I’ll be checking back more, but still can’t be sure on whetehr to buy an Atari as good condition/complete games are hadr to find!



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