Bubble Bobble’s premise seems like something that one would dream off after a long night of doing hard drugs. You’re a cutesy baby dragon that burps out bubbles. You use these bubbles to capture enemies that look like Poe from The Legend of Zelda, wind up garbage cans with legs, purple ghost whales, tomatoes with four green stems and a propeller beanie cap, and so on. You burst their bubbles and they turn into vegetables that you collect for points. You pick up umbrellas that warp you several levels ahead. You seem to have a thousand levels to clear, but never enough lives to keep going. Sure, all of this seems like a recipe for disaster, and a lot of it comes off as such, but Bubble Bobble has its moments nevertheless.
As you progress through the stages, you gain a more diverse method of dispatching your foes. You’ll always have your bubbles, but you’ll also be able to pop water filled bubbles that wash downward and through all enemies in its path, lightning bolts that dart out horizontally in the opposite direction you’re facing, cover the ground in fire, etc. Most often you’ll find your bubbles will be the best way to dispatch anything that comes your way. Adding a second player to the mix adds up the number of ways you can simultaneously dispatch foes, and is quite often the best way to play Bubble Bobble. It adds a sense of gratification when you clear out a particularly difficult stage together. Thankfully, you won’t have any worries about accidentally killing each other, as the most detrimental thing you can accidentally, or intentionally do to a partner is pop the fire balloon and snare them down briefly.
The controls are a bid rigid. At no time will you feel secure with how you control your character. Jumping adds another dimension of uncertainty. Moving your character in the air feels like you’re the only one navigating a Macy’s Thanksgiving day parade float. Precision doesn’t exist. You also never feel like you can shoot your bubbles fast enough, and without a power up, you really don’t. Often enough, you’ll burp out a bubble a split second to fast, and the enemy will just ram right into you before you are able to burp one more out. If you lose a life, you lose whatever bubble power up you inherited previously.
Although the look is extremely simplistic, it benefits Bubble Bobble more than you may think. With stages formed out of tiny square blocks that stay the same color until the next stage, the look helps build stages into a more complex area to get around and eliminate your enemies in. The results are some truly unique looking stages throughout, with some truly frustrating ones mixed in. There are some stages that require you to hop on and off of the bubbles you blow, which I never found easy to do. I often times can jump twice and then burst every bubble down below after a mistimed jump. The music? There’s maybe three different songs in the game, with one of them playing throughout 97% of the game. While it’s not an ear bleeding melody, mixed with how the characters look so cutesy, the ice cream sundaes all around and all the bring and colorful fruits and vegetables all around, you’ll want to start sucking your thumb or licking a giant lollipop.
There’s plenty of little annoyances running rampant in Bubble Bobble, that all add up to some major frustration. I swear that every single time I am about to grab a power up, like candy to make me shoot more bubbles and father ahead of me, or gems for points, they disappear just as I am about to grab them. They stay on screen for what seems like 5 seconds, and whenever you’re within range, they disappear. Often times, you’ll start running to the other side in a reckless manner and die just before you get there. What a cruel joke. It’s like dangling a carrot above a horse, and just before he bites, you slap the horse in the face and laugh. Jumping on bubbles never works consistently, making enemies in a far off, isolated area next to impossible to get. Take too long defeating your enemies, and an invincible enemy comes after you and hunts you down. Finally, the amount of dying you do later on becomes borderline absurd. Luckily, the password system is painless, and you can continue where you left off as much as you want, until you turn off the system.
While Bubble Bobble does have its moments, and even though it is a bit fun once you get into it, the number of little frustrations add up fast. While it’s still possible to have a good time with the game solo, you’ll encounter points in time where you’ll wan to give up play for a while. Grab a friend and take the game on, and although all the little issues won’t disappear, you’ll more than likely have a better time, and survive a lot longer with the assistance.