Monday, 10 February 2014

Bubble Bobble

It's cute, it's bouncy, and it’s bubble-y and a little bobble-y too. It's Rainbow Islands. No, no it's not. You'd have to be absolutely shit-brained to think that after such a lead-in. It's the arcade classic that is Bubble Bobble (and ported to NES, Megadrive, Gameboy and a whole plethora of other machines and systems), what we have here is a game that took the standard idea back in 1986 of having platform games that usually focused on just one room/screen at a time, and then turned it into the semi-puzzler, semi-action fest that is now known as Bubble Bobble.

The recipe, take two dragons and colour-code Green and Blue as necessary. Conjure up 100+ levels each of almost a full screen in size and drop the two (maximum 2, minimum 1) dragons into the levels. Ensure they can move freely, descend at a steady rate when falling and can jump up through platforms but not downwards through them. Provide bubbles as a means of attack for the dragons.

Once ready, carefully sprinkle enemies on the upper layers of the levels and in the lower layers of the levels include much more liberally with a smattering of spread here and there through the middle layers of this bake-off. Next, add water, heat and electricity as bonus power bubbles, include catching jingle and play until puking rainbows out of your eyeballs.

Allow room for bonus levels, power ups and warps, toss in some bones as a compulsory measure to devour the meal and ensure that the meal cannot be devoured in solo. Also hide some extra levels of the mixture, somewhere else that's difficult to get to, just for the added fuck-you required in older arcade games. Cook steadily until top layer is nicely browned, middle layers are a little tricky and the base layers are rock hard.

Murder self for over torturing metaphor of making a cake in comparison to creating Bubble Bobble.

The above is a basic rundown for the uninitiated, as to what happens in Bubble Bobble. You control your happily big-mouthed dragon as he jumps about the levels, picking up power ups and bonuses, blowing bubbles at the opponents and trapping them, before popping the bubbles to kill the enemies. Hopefully, before they break out and (usually just as you get to them) don't kill you by running into you, or the rare ones, firing some projectile at you.

Your power ups run the gamut of speed increase, rapid fire bubbles, long bubbles, fire balls instead of bubbles (can't bounce on these though), firing lightning bubbles (which launch a lightning bolt across the screen when popped). Popping multiple enemies at once gives you added bonuses and releases bonus bubbles that when popped, provide a letter of the word "EXTEND" which when completed, finishes that level and gives you a bonus life for your adorably cute and certainly marketable, dragon.

Enemies look as cute and friendly as the dragons do and you'd be forgiven for thinking that his whole setup might have been lifted from some kiddies’ daytime TV show between blowing bubbles at people and singing crappy songs to each other. Thankfully this isn't Barney (get the shotgun...) and we're instead treated to a wholesome, responsive and enjoyable game. For the most part.

The first 30-40 levels are fine. Gradually easing you into the idea of the game and then challenging you with the warp holes that drop you out of the bottom, ease you back in at the top of the screen so you can quickly escape or follow after various enemies. It's around level 40 onwards that you'll come a real cropper if you haven't mastered the timing of the bubbles, bouncing on bubbles to elevate higher, knowing where you can blow through a wall when jumping and not get hit and be able to race around the levels quickly to get to the items you need.

Level 99 earns the title of pigfucker of the year (1986, and runner up in 1932... or not) where you've a very short amount of time to navigate the level to a point where an item will appear that will permit you to the secret bonus levels and the TRUE final boss monster... only boss monster... There's just one big boss monster and depending how you get there (and how many players there are) will determine if you get the true ending. Most won't get past level 20 unless focused on the goals and familiar with the power ups, how they work and of course, their optimal use and deployment within the game itself.

Sometimes you'll get other items like the umbrella which lets you skip 3-5 levels, crosses that wipe out multiple enemies, bottles that give you bonuses and lets you end that level at that point. Candies to modify your bubbles, shoes to run faster and so on and so forth. The game feels huge and it pads the game play rather well but the fact the music goes on for SO long is irritating to say the least. There are some changes such as when you're running short of the hidden time limit in a level, where the music speeds up. Or when the skull whale, Baron Von Blubba, turns up to hunt you down for taking too long and finally, the boss room which sounds very different. Oh and certain bonuses.

Controls however are very responsive and the simplicity of the game is kept that way with just Jump and Shoot. Thankfully it didn't go for Up as jump and use one button, but I think that would have killed the playability and drowned the series at the first block into a big soapy bath of bubble liquid. This would have been very ironic but thankfully not.

It's a good fun game, more fun at the time it was released when things like variation and the internet, weren't around to give us a larger knowledge of what is and was available at the time. But it's bright, it's colourful and loud enough for us all to enjoy the fun mechanics of the game and have a few hours of enjoyment from the system rather than many other games that I could think of that were a pure waste of circuits. You could do better, but you'd be hard pressed to find it, even these days.