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Bubble Bobble (NES) artwork

Bubble Bobble (NES) review


With its simple concept and execution, Bubble Bobble is a game that you can easily pick up and enjoy at any given time. The problem is putting it back down.

You play as a tiny baby dinosaur that shoots bubbles. Each level consists of a single screen filled with platforms and enemies. First you shoot enemies with bubbles to trap them and then you pop those bubbles to defeat the enemies before they can escape. Once you clear all enemies from a level, you can move onto the next one. For bonus fun, you can team up with a second player and enjoy simultaneous co-op play. The graphics are simple but cute, the theme song catchy (though that might have something to do with the fact that you listen to it for 98% of the game).

If you’ve played Bubble Bobble at any point, you probably remember all of the above and more. But Bubble Bobble has a few awesome features you may not know about or fully appreciate.

1) Drop-in co-op, kind of. Sure, the best way to play co-op is to just start a new game or use a password to pick a level after choosing the two-player mode from the menu screen. But did you know the second player can join a single-player game at any time? Simply press the Start button on the second controller and another friendly dinosaur will appear immediately. He can start firing bubbles and poppin’ fools without delay. The only down side is that he makes his grand entrance by first stealing a life from player 1. Oops!

2) There are more than a hundred items, and many of them do not appear randomly. Bubble Bobble has tons of power ups that grant you different abilities or have different effects on the current level. They may appear to spawn randomly, but that’s not actually the case. The game keeps track of how many times you’ve done certain things, such as popping bubbles or falling through the floor, looping back through the ceiling. Once you hit certain milestones, specific items appear in the following level. For example, if you pop 15 water bubbles, an orange parasol will appear and let you skip three levels. If you fall through 21 openings in the floor, you’ll get a red potion that clears the stage of enemies and fills it with food, effectively turning it into a bonus stage. A modern-day version of Bubble Bobble would keep track of every item you’ve discovered (and, in fact, the WiiWare remake, Bubble Bobble Plus, does exactly that) and encourage you to collect them all. Knowing which items spawn based on which triggers adds a layer of depth to the proceedings that most people will never notice. This also makes it more of an “arcade” type game than you may realize. Manipulating the system and prompting the best items to spawn can make a score run in Bubble Bobble as technical and impressive as a glitch-abusing speed run for any other game.

3) There’s a ridiculous number of levels. At some point, the level tally at the top of the screen stops using numbers in the tens spot and replaces them with letters. The counter only has two digits, but there are 115 levels just in regular Bubble Bobble. That total doesn’t even account for awesome thing number 4.

4) There’s a whole extra game after you finish the main game. Completing the game unlocks Super Bubble Bobble, the extra mode that slightly alters the appearance of the levels and remixes the enemies, making the stages more difficult in the process. Like the main game, Super Bubble Bobble contains more than 100 levels. There are 113 additional screens, in fact, bringing the final tally to 228. That’s a ton of content for a 1988 NES game. Thankfully, every level in both games is immediately accessible with a password, and you can even revisit levels you’ve already cleared.

5) There are multiple endings. Four of them, in fact. Beating the final boss in the regular Bubble Bobble will let you see the worst of those. The remaining three endings are found by collecting a certain item in level 99 and finishing the game with one or two players in either regular Bubble Bobble or Super Bubble Bobble. So, if you need a reason to replay all of those levels in co-op (aside from the inherent joy of playing simple co-op NES games), there you go.

I will admit to being absolutely biased about this game. I have been playing Bubble Bobble for upwards of two decades and I have very fond memories of doing so with my cousin on cool summer evenings at family barbecues. I get nostalgic for the bright, colourful graphics and happy, energetic chiptunes. Still, even now that I’m in my late 20s, I find myself returning to Bubble Bobble regularly. Nostalgia aside, it must have some legitimately good qualities if it keeps bringing me back after all those years, right? Right.


Roto13's avatar
Staff review by Rhody Tobin (August 17, 2012)

Rhody likes to press the keys on his keyboard. Sometimes the resulting letters form strings of words that kind of make sense when you think about them for a moment. Most times they're just random gibberish that should be ignored. Ball-peen wobble glurk.

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