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Bubble Ghost (Game Boy) artwork

Bubble Ghost (Game Boy) review

"A cleaner apparition of a ghastly computer game"

Christophe Andrťaniís Bubble Ghost on the Atari ST was a modest success for its platform in 1987. First published by the French company ERE Informatique and then later acquired and re-published as Bubble + by the larger Infogrames, Bubble Ghost was ported to half a dozen computer platforms in the late 1980s.

The objective of the game is to push around a fragile bubble through a haunted mansion, screen-by-screen, avoiding pop scares like candles and spikes. The ethereal ghost controlled by the player is both immortal and able to pass through walls and objects whereas the bubble is easily dispatched by the slightest contact with anything. The ghostís only means of affecting the world is by blowing (think the chill down your spine), which can be used to interact with both the bubble and various switches and objects in the mansion. Itís a fun and breezy puzzle game where figuring out the solution to a puzzle does not necessarily mean you can execute it, giving the possibility for improving your time and score on repeated playthroughs. There are also a few alternate route through the mansion if the player can navigate to a more difficult exit in specific rooms.

On computers, Bubble Ghost can be a fairly brisk adventure. The ghost is controlled by the mouse, using the mouse buttons to change the direction the ghost is facing and the keyboard to blow. The ghost is essentially your mouse cursor, and screens can be completed (or lost) quickly with mouse controls. Most computers also have the option to play with the keyboard instead, which is a notably slower but more precise experience.

In 1990, Opera House developed a version for the mouse-less Game Boy. Both Opera House and the publisher Pony Canyon/FCI specialized in conversions of popular Western PC games to home consoles and Japanese computers at this time and were accustomed to getting complex computer interfaces working on hardware it was never to run on. These Japanese-made versions were usually remakes rather than ports, with their own style and interface wholly different from the original.

The Game Boy version of Bubble Ghost is by far the most divergent from the original Atari ST both in style and in play. Not having a mouse, the controls have been reworked for a D-pad and the Game Boyís limited resources. While you might think that this plays similar to using arrow keys on a computer, it isnít. The Game Boy doesnít have enough buttons to support movement, rotation, and blowing, so rather than trying to force some sort of awkward mode switching scheme, rotation is simply done automatically for the player based on the ghostís position relative to the bubble. If the player is above the bubble, itíll be blown downward; this works at 45į angles as well. As a result, the Game Boy version is easier, less tedious, and more precise since the player doesnít need to fumble with the ghostís angle while moving around. The Game Boy version also removes an overheat mechanic found in computer versions where the ghost turns red and runs out of breath if blowing too long. This limitation didnít really add anything to the formula, so its exclusion is likely deliberate rather than an oversight.

The pacing of Bubble Ghost is deliberately cautious, like one of those tiling wooden board toys where you try to get a marble through a maze. There is no time limit, although the player is rewarded bonus points for clearing each stage before a panic-inducing bonus bar depletes (though the only penalty for letting the bonus vanish is less points and thus less opportunities for additional lives).

The Game Boy and computer version have largely identical levels with respect to hazard placement and walls. Things are smaller to accommodate the Game Boyís smaller resolution, but this appears to have been done proportionally. It helps that the computer version has relatively large sprites that could be scaled down without much detail lost. The art has been reworked with Japanese sensibilities in mind, changing the titular ghost from a shapeless, semi-transparent apparition to a cartoon with a solid form and big friendly eyes. This change applies to packing materials as well as the in-game art, which is altogether brighter. On a PC, the unlit screen is black with sprites appearing lighter, but on Game Boy this is reversed, turning the solid black backgrounds of the mansion into well-lit puzzle rooms, giving the game a more cartoon-like feel.

After 35 levels, the ghost will vacate the mansion and the game is complete. A skilled player with knowledge of the solution for each room can blaze through these in about 15 minutes, though new players will probably run into a few game overs before surmounting this challenge. Once finished, there isnít a compelling reason to return to the adventure unless you enjoyed the puzzles and want to play them again. This is probably a good length, considering there is only one song that plays while traversing the mansion, and while it is catchy no single track can be tolerated for much longer.

A remake of the computer version is available through steam, and while more readily available it lacks the improvements seen in the Game Boy version. The Game Boy version is probably the most enjoyable way to play, but it unfortunately has not been re-released or included in any compilations. Itís worth tracking down and giving a try though as its unique theme and play stand out among all the block-pushing puzzlers that haunt the Game Boyís library.

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Featured community review by dagoss (November 05, 2021)

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