Bubble Bobble (NES) review
""Now it is the beginning of a fantastic story! Let us make a journey to the cave of monsters! "
"Now it is the beginning of a fantastic story! Let us make a journey to the cave of monsters!
Those words kick off a grand adventure. While I'll never be sure what's so fantastic about the story, the introduction to the game paints a small but enthusiastic picture of things to come as you venture into a cave of monsters. Fitting, too, because there isn't much better way to describe Bubble Bobble than "small but enthusiastic." It's not the kind of game to have sprawling maps, or a myriad of gameplay modes, or a deep, engaging plot, but it does have simple unbridled enthusiasm for what it does. Also, it has Bub.
Bub is a dragon, and at first glance he seems to be a mockery of everything Dragons stand for. He's three feet tall, his head comprises most of his mass, and he has cartoonishly huge puppy eyes. Also, he spits bubbles instead of fire, making the game's title into a series of puns. Right about the time you start to wonder if things could get any more obnoxiously adorable, you find out that Bub's bubbles are tools for slaughter, encasing all who stand in his way in a wistfully floating transparent coffin. For when Bub (or his companion Bob. Puns!) pops the bubbles, their contents are destroyed, sending monster corpses tumbling through the air like so many snowflakes. When they land, they turn into berries or hamburger or martinis or diamonds or any number of other score-padding artifacts, which you must collect because dragons adore treasure, and pizza. Bub loves his job.
Wanton destruction isn't Bub's game, though, and you won't progress by simply spraying at random. Never underestimate the bubbles. Even empty ones act as temporary floating platforms which you can jump on to reach previously inaccessible terrain.
As you might have guessed, the eventual goal of the game is to descend to the bottom of the cave of monsters, 100 floors due down from the beginning. Each floor has a predesigned layout of the same dimensions as the screen, and a set of monsters that you must dispatch to move on to the next one. Even though it's basically constant action, the design makes the game almost half puzzle. Every level has the same layout every time, they're very compact and straight forward, and that makes figuring each one out a science. In addition to a unique layout and enemy composition, each level also has its own invisible air currents, which affect the way errant bubbles drift about the stage. Often the solution involves finding the right place to shoot a bubble so that you can ride it to otherwise unreachable areas and get that one nagging bad guy.
Whatever the case, find the solution quickly, because if you don't Baron von Blubba will make his appearance, and he's out for blood. The single most potent foe you will face, von Blubba is a flying ghost whale that is determined to make your life hell from the moment he appears. Seeing a white whale has only ever led to tragedy, there's no point in fighting him. The only way to get rid of him is to complete the level before he gets to you, and he will. With increasing vigor, he will stalk you, travelling through walls and bubbles. Technically, letting him kill you gets rid of him as well...for a little while, but by then he's already chilled your blood and reduced your stock of lives.
The best that can be done is to never let him appear out of spite. You'll have plenty of that for him by the end of your adventure.
Even with von Blubba and his hoarde of assistants, not everything is out to get you. For every bouncing foe with springs for legs there's a bubble filled with fire that will cleanse anything that touches it. For every space invader knock-off raining lasers on you from above, there's a cleansing torrent of water to wash them away. The power ups factor heavily into the puzzle aspect of the game. Sometimes you'll stumble across trinkets that bluntly help you on your way. The coveted umbrella does this quite literally, letting you skip over a number of levels without the hassle of clearing them first. Not all of the items are as dramatically helpful, but you'll be thankful for lightning when you can shoot it into otherwise inaccessible coves nestled deep within the level.
Bubble Bobble is an exercise in everything memorable about old school gaming. It requires coordination, pinpoint jumps, problem solving, and speed, the lack of any of which which will see you falling to your death, forgotten in some dark corner of a monster infested cave. The intro might be wrong about the story, but it was indeed the beginning of something fantastic. And though it's fantastically simple, Bubble Bobble is no less a marvel for it.
Community review by dragoon_of_infinity (September 30, 2008)
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