I still remember renting Bubble Bobble for the first time way back in 1991 when I was just seven years old and was a new Nintendo owner. I don’t remember why I chose this game that I knew nothing about, but it led to many more rentals, an eventual purchase, and a lifelong addiction. I still play at least a few times a month, as this remains my favorite go-to game. Throughout the years there have been several remakes, ports, and new iterations – and almost all of them have disappointed me. Some, such as Bubble Bobble Old & New for the GBA and Bubble Bobble DS, have featured almost perfect ports of the arcade version (which is very similar to the NES), but all of the new games, sequels, and spin-offs are either horrible, or simply fail to capture the magic and fun of the original title. I was excited to see Bubble Bobble 4 Friends coming to the Switch, but as I’ve been let down before, I didn’t exactly have the highest hopes.
Those not familiar with how the game plays, it consists of single-screen stages, complete with monsters and different layouts for each level. You play as bubble-blowing dinosaurs, Bub and Bob. The objective is to trap the monsters inside the bubbles and then to pop them. Once all of the monsters are defeated, you have a short time to collect the prizes and then you progress to the next stage, each of which gets increasingly more difficult. There are a healthy variety of monsters, all of which have unique attacks and patterns. Each stage you’ll have to form a quick method of attack, navigating the room’s design. In classic Bubble Bobble, the stages go continuously into the 100s, with only one final boss fight at the end. Here there is a big change with different themed worlds (Bookshelf Forest, Toyland Terminal, etc.) each containing 10 stages – the last features a boss battle. When you complete a world, you get a stat chart, and are assigned 1, 2, or 3 stars based on your total score, time, and performance. There are unlockables and bonuses for 3-staring a world, so there is plenty of replayability here.
For almost 30 years now and I’ve called Bubble Bobble on NES my favorite video game and I know the stages inside and out. My dream would be to see a true arcade sequel with identical gameplay and mechanics with all new stages and enemies. Bubble Bobble 4 Friends is yet another version that is all over the place. The premise and objectives are the same, but too much has changed or just feels off to a veteran player like myself. My two biggest issues lie in the mechanics. Bobbling – the act of bouncing on bubbles to move upward – is extremely easy now, because now you have to press down to pop bubbles rather than just fall or crash into them. Jumping into a live enemy and firing a bubble is a common and necessary strategy in the classic version. Here, when you do this, you’ll always perish. These may sound like nit-picky things to someone new to the series, but it completely changes the rhythm of the game that resulted in so many cheap and unfair deaths while playing.
The classic version is filled with all sorts of power-ups and randomly generated special items used to assist you. Lightning bolts, bombs, fire-breath, flood, and enemy-freeze are staples in Bubble Bobble. Almost all of these are gone. The power-ups you do have access to you earn by clearing worlds, then assigning one, which has limited usage, at the beginning of your playthrough. Also, the bonus prizes and secret rooms seem to be absent. Popping clusters of enemies still gets you extra points and larger prizes, which is an essential part of the game for high-score whores like myself. However, the prizes and point system is vastly different. This I got used to after awhile, but again, why mess with perfection?
Although, I have a ton of complaints with this game, I still really enjoyed playing through it, and it does have several positives. First the boss battles are great. Each is an enormous monster with a different attack strategy. All were fun battles and fairly difficult. The game still presents a great challenge, particularly getting through the world without using continues and attempting to get a 3-star score. Of course the co-op multiplayer is a huge selling point. Here, lives are divided up evenly and if a team member gets hit, they become trapped in a bubble and you can save them. Multiplayer here is very casual and meant for families, as there is no online support, or any competitive modes. Of course my favorite part of the game is the port of the arcade version on my Switch. The NES version will forever be my favorite, but this is a very solid conversion that tracks your scores.
The game thankfully has almost no story, just a quick intro clip of Bub in his room (complete with a playable arcade unit) being attacked by the magician Bonner. I don’t care much for the graphic style here. The monsters were charming in the original, but here they seem too cutesy instead. This art style looks like it’s geared for very small children, and indeed this game does have an invincibility feature, so it really is perfect for any age, even toddlers. Although I like the worlds and their themes, the stages lack the originality and creativity of the original. The soundtrack is a nice touch, the first world features a remix of the classic theme, but the rest of the world have their own all-new music, all with the same happy and joy-filled sound. Although one thing I loath is the annoying yelling sounds that Bub and his friends emit.
For anyone who doesn’t have quick access to Bubble Bobble on the NES, this game is worth purchasing just for the inclusion of the classic arcade game. However I have so many mixed feelings about the all-new game. There are some great ideas here, but the wonky game mechanics, kiddy graphics, and absence of iconic power-ups, prizes, and enemies left an odd taste with me. There is lots of replay value here, as once you defeat Bonner, the hard mode unlocks, and normal mode was no cakewalk. However, there are only 5 worlds with 50 total stages, which is much less than the 100+ fans are used to. If you’re completely new to the franchise then this is a good purchase. Longtime fans may not like some of the changes.
Bubble Bobble 4 Friends Review
- Graphics - 5/105/10
- Sound - 7/107/10
- Gameplay - 6.5/106.5/10
- Lasting Appeal - 9/109/10
Final Thoughts: WORTH CONSIDERING
This is a game that everybody should get some enjoyment out of, but odds are you’ll spend much more time playing the included arcade port. One day I hope to see the quality sequel diehard fans deserve, but for now I am happy to be able to get my Bubble Bobble fix on the Switch. I still had a good time playing through it, and was satisfied completing it, but the original is still light years ahead of this.