Bubble Bobble 4 Friends Review: Bubblin’
Kalvin Martinez / Apr 13th, 2020 No Comments
There is a tightrope walk when creating a new entry in a beloved and long running series. What can you change while keeping the experience similar to what fans know? Do you keep the experience markedly similar with some modern conveniences and updated graphics? It is a struggle to know the best path, but that sweet spot is possible.
Bubble Bobble 4 Friends does what it needs to do: deliver nostalgia inducing gameplay that includes enough updates to keep it from being a glorified remake. It is a fun experience that doesn’t wear out its welcome.
Bubs and Bobs
Blow bubbles, transform enemies into fruit, and up that score! Bubble Bobble 4 Friend’s gameplay is a simple formula: Bob must blow bubbles to encapsulate the enemies populating each level then stomp or jump into them to transform them into delicious fruit. By collecting fruit and completing each level quickly, you’ll get a higher score.
Bubble Bobble 4 Friends is broken up into 5 different worlds. Each world has various levels leading into a massive boss fight. Naturally, the game eases you into its gameplay with easy levels in the first world. It gives you the opportunity to feel comfortable blowing bubbles, popping them, and acclimating to the game’s platforming. In a way it lulls you into a false sense of security because the game ramps up its difficulty at your first boss fight.
The first boss fight gives you a better sense of the game’s difficulty. Bob can blow a bubble like nobody’s business, but he is no speed demon. In terms of mobility, he is outclassed by the larger yet more nimble boss, but he has hops. So, the key to avoiding an untimely death at the hand’s of the boss is to utilize platforms to get the height advantage or run underneath a boss as they hop around where timing is key.
Despite the challenge, the key to victory is still the same: blow bubbles. Except you don’t encapsulate the boss (even though a boss in a giant bubble would be a sight to see), but rather you bog them down with so many bubbles they take damage and can’t help but give up.
Our plucky protagonist Bob’s mobility is a limitation that must be taken into account as levels become more arduous. Unlike the original game, there is no screen wrapping and warping. Levels are closed off meaning you have to utilize their layouts and your bubbles to move around. Since Bob can’t move fast or dodge out of harm’s way, thought must be put into how best to clear each level.
In what is the most decidedly old-school touch, pattern recognition is highly important. Both in levels with more enemy variety and for boss fights. You can make up for a lack of fleet foot by knowing how enemies move and using that knowledge to figure out a plan to clear levels quickly and efficiently.
While the gameplay is a delightful throwback, it does make some updates like new power-ups and the EXTEND mechanic. The various power-ups like the lightning gloves give you a powerful way to clear a lot of enemies when you pop the bubble. Through the EXTEND mechanic you can upgrade these power ups by popping letter balloons strewn throughout each world. The bubbles disappear after a while, so being quick is key to gathering all of them before the world’s end.
Despite Bubble Bobble 4 Friends giving a healthy dose of nostalgia. It also has the drawback of certain retro elements that feel outdated: the lives system and the score system. While both make sense for an arcade, they feel less important when playing in the comfort of your home. Lives and continues by extension are a mechanic to keep you pumping in quarters, but here they feel arbitrary.
Same with a high score, it makes sense to have your initials immortalized in your local arcade for all time (or until someone beats your score). It also is a good tactic to keep those quarters coming, but in 2020 it doesn’t really matter too much. The two mechanics feed into one another, which makes your mileage and enjoyment of them vary.
Bubble Bobble 4 Friends doesn’t radically change the formula of the 1986 classic, but it doesn’t need to shake it up completely. The gameplay additions are smart and help add some additional complexity to the core bubble encasing gameplay. Its 4 player co-op echoes the feeling of playing with a buddy in an arcade without having to pump in quarters to keep your game going. It is nostalgic without being too reverent to what came before.
Additionally, as a bonus when you pick up Bubble Bobble 4 Friends, you’ll receive a free DLC expansion pack later this year.
tags: Bubble Bobble 4 Friends , Bubble Bobble 4 Friends review , Nintendo Switch , review , Taito