Title: Bubble Bobble 4 Friends
Release Date: March 31, 2020
Reviewed On: Switch
Publisher: ININ Games
Genre: Platform Game
Bubble Bobble is a series of arcade-style platformers, which dates back to its original Arcade Machine version from 1986. Now, the series has come to Nintendo Switch in North America with Bubble Bobble 4 Friends. It’s easy to spot the visual differences when compared to its predecessors, but that sadly doesn’t save this title from its lack of content.
The basic gameplay of Bubble Bobble 4 Friends is pretty easy to understand. In fact, you can boil it down to four sentences: You blow bubbles to use as platforms, or to trap enemies in. Using the spikes on your back, you’re able to pop bubbles. Popping a bubble with an enemy in it kills the enemy. However, touching an enemy directly makes you lose a life.
Bubble Bobble 4 Friends builds upon the baseline set by other Bubble Bobble games. You can duck to pass through narrow passages, and after defeating a boss, you gain an upgrade. Each upgrade allows you to do something special by pressing the R button, for instance, blowing a bubble further, or creating a bubble that eventually explodes. Doing this uses up a meter, which can be refilled by eating fruit that drops from defeated enemies. In addition, there’s also a new stomp move to pop bubbles below you.
The plot consists of toys coming to life. The toy magician Bonner is jealous that Bub (that’s the green dinosaur on the cover, folks) is the favorite local toy. Beyond that, not many plot details are needed; it’s an arcade-style experience, so the real focus is getting better scores. In other words, the game is simple. However, it can also be simple to a fault.
Ignoring the Arcade version of Bubble Bobble, 4 Friends itself only has 50 stages. That is five worlds with nine levels and a boss fight at the end of each. To me, the themes of each level start to blend with the exception of the space level. This isn’t helped by the fact that the child’s bedroom serves as the background for every stage, seen from different angles, or that each boss design is vaguely the same shape but painted a different color. In that aspect, particularly, it feels like Taito stuck too closely to the simple graphics of the arcade cabinet.
Speaking of, Bubble Bobble 4 Friends includes a playable version of this original arcade game. While I never managed to make it that far into it, I enjoyed playing that version a lot more. When I died, respawning felt quicker. The 2D sprite seemed to convey where my spikes’ hitbox was far better than the 3D model of the main game. The fixed resolution meant the camera wouldn’t ever zoom out, which made it harder to see what was happening on the screen.
Of course, in both versions, you still frustratingly die in one hit. But when you’re looking at an emulated arcade screen, that suddenly feels more natural. The difference in my enjoyment was little things that built up. This also means that I would only have bought this game for the 34-year-old arcade game mode. However, this suddenly makes Bubble Bobble 4 Friends’ $40 price tag a lot less easy to justify.
I appreciate how easy Bubble Bobble 4 Friends is to pick up and play. I’d recommend it to fans of chasing high-scores in the arcade, especially if you liked the original Bubble Bobble. However, past the nostalgia, there’s nothing that will keep you playing for much longer after you get through this incredibly short experience. Throw in the high price tag, and I’d say that you’re better off blowing a few quarters at an actual arcade then bringing this experience home with you.
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