Friday, April 9, 2010

AA look - Bubble Bobble

The puzzle platformer genre is all about the following:

-Cute main characters
-Using some kind of weapon or ability to turn enemies into gems, food, or other kinds of goodies.
-Tons of levels
-Some method of destroying multiple enemies at once for big bonuses

Today I'm going to look at a classic in the genre. While Taito's Bubble Bobble wasn't their first foray in the genre it is their most popular and its influence brought us the likes of Snow Brothers as well as other games in the genre.

This magical journey to rescue the player's family runs 100 stages in length. It's a tall order but there are a few shortcuts along the way. It's best not to worry about reaching the end anyway because you'll be too focused on the old adage of survival and scoring. Each of these stages is arranged differently in terms of walls and platforms and set numbers & types of enemies will appear. Destroy all of them to reach the next stage.

Before we can go any further let's look at the heroes Bub & Bob. They can jump and move around but their most important quality is obviously their ability to spit bubbles. These bubbles are magic in that not only can they capture enemies but they are also strong enough to support a small dinosaur in case they need to reach a higher platform. Other bubbles float on-screen and they can harness the power of fire, lightning, or water. It's uncertain how bubbles manage to hold all this stuff but it's a magical world so whatever. All player bubbles that catch the enemy will capture them. Captured enemies can then be destroyed but if the player grabs multiple enemies and causes a chain reaction the points will increase several times over.

At the beginning of each stage the player will arrive before the enemy. This is important because it gives the player a couple seconds to figure out the enemy placement and what they're going to do next. In this game a lot of the success is going to come from forming a plan that'll lead to rounding up all of the foes while keeping the player from harm. Most stages should only take about 10 seconds to finish. If you take any longer it's probably because you're stuck in a hole somewhere or have died. Besides a ghost will appear around 15 to 20 seconds into the stage so it's not wise to goof around.

To keep things from being too predictable a number of magical items will appear in each stage. One is usually just some sort of food that grants bonus points while the other is usually something special like a power-up. These power-ups can make the player faster and give them the ability to blow faster bubbles with longer range. One should also look out for special items that can clear the screen of enemies in a myriad of ways. Umbrellas allow the player to skip a few stages while magic potions can lead to bonus rounds. Lettered bubbles that spell EXTEND will show up in pairs and if you collect all of them that'll lead to 1up and a free pass to the next stage. There's all these ways to skip stages but it can be at the expense of points. There are also a handful of secret areas that can only be accessed if you know about them and don't die.

It's a predictable game in that no matter the combination of enemies and stage design those first couple seconds where a plan of attack is formulated remain essential to succeeding. Once everything starts moving the game becomes a bit more difficult but thankfully there's a feature that'll help to keep the player alive. Bubbles are about the size of the player and in a pinch they can destroy an enemy even if they're practically on top of the player. It's a great idea because it allows the player some chance of survival. Enemies will also look both ways before jumping to a higher platform. This is handy for not being caught unawares.

Still when the extra lives dry up the toll of taking on 100 stages will eventually wear the player down. I've been playing this game off and on for close to twenty years and my record is only stage 33. It's a very different game compared to the NES version as that one had unlimited continues and passwords. Like I said before though getting to the end doesn't really matter. Sure you saved the day but by the end you'll be more impressed by by the fact that you reached the end than by any sort of "Congratulations" the game will give you.

Regardless of where you stand on the genre, the Bubble Bobble series, or just this game it's worth checking this one out. Not only is it an influential game it is also enjoyable even today, something I definitely can't say about some other "classic" arcade games.

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