by William Thompson
reviewed on PC
Popping a bubble
I’ll show my age here, but I spent countless hours over the school holidays with friends playing platform games such as Super Mario Bros, Rainbow Islands and Bubble Bobble. The later was particularly enjoyable, with players (either alone or with a friend) taking control of one of two bubble-blowing dragons and working their way through the 100 levels on offer.
Bubble Bobble 4 Friends follows a similar formula to the original but allows up to four friends to team up to work their way through the levels. The game is broken up into several stages, each with around 20 levels that conclude with a battle with the stage boss. Like the original 1986 game, Bubble Bobble 4 Friends introduces a range of enemy attackers that gradually get tougher as you progress through the levels. Players run, jump, and shoot bubbles from their mouths like a cartoon character that has just gulped down a bottle or washing detergent. Once an enemy has been trapped within a bubble, the bubble can be popped and the enemy dies. It is a simple mechanic that continues to work well.
Bubble Bobble 4 Friends seems to have been aimed at a younger demographic, as the difficulty level is set quite low. However, after defeating the final boss, all the levels can be replayed on a higher difficulty setting, which does provide a tougher challenge. The bright, colourful cartoon characters and backgrounds, as well as the lively tunes further accentuate the feeling that the game has been developed for younger gamers. Of course, this allows them to appreciate the adventures of Bob and Bub (and friends) as older gamers reminisce about their time with the original.
The early bosses are almost extensions to the easy levels and are a walk in the park (at least until you replay on the harder difficulty). The last couple of bosses though can take some beating. Well, that is until you work out their patterns, and then they too can be defeated quite easily.
Bubble bubble, toil and trouble
Playing with four players is great fun, but it can be somewhat challenging. With so many players on the screen at once, players can often get in each other’s way. Between friends, enemies and unpopped bubbles, it can get somewhat hectic on screen, particularly on latter levels when enemy projectiles are thrown into the mix. Indeed, in some of the levels it actually pays for one or two players to just do nothing so that they won’t impede other players.
As well as the screen filling up in later levels, I also had some issues during the game working out the locations that my avatar could use as a platform. Some of the levels have brick-like platforms which characters can stand upon, but in other levels, similar brickwork simply acts as a background. On more than one occasion, my downfall was bought about by the fact that I thought I was jumping onto a platform, only to fall onto an enemy character below.
But, with that said, most of the levels are reasonably well laid out, with the number of lives, player score and “EXTEND” letters collected, clearly displayed. The colourful visuals have a cute style, that wouldn’t be out of place in a Saturday morning cartoon, and the opening and closing cinematics provide for a cuteness overload.
If you’re not happy with the included levels, Bubble Bobble 4 Friends comes with a Workshop that allows players to create their own masterpieces. The simple system lets players design their own platform and add in a range of enemy characters. Playing your own levels created with the level designer certainly adds a heap of replayability to the game.
For me though, the biggest inclusion in Bubble Bobble 4 Friends, is the ability to relive some of my youth, by playing the original. All the levels are there, and I’ll no doubt spend ample time with my kids trying to re-conquer them all. Unfortunately, I did have some issues with the responsiveness of the controls in this addition, but having the original certainly allows for added game time.
Sorry to burst your bubble
I definitely enjoyed heading back to the simpler gameplay of Bubble Bobble 4 Friends. But the main game is far too short for any long-term gaming. The lower difficulty setting certainly allows younger gamers to play with a degree of confidence. However, it will leave older gamers wanting something extra. The addition of the original game does increase the nostalgia, but the issues of poor controller responsiveness somewhat limit the enjoyment. If you have a young family and want to show them a comparison between games of yesteryear and today, Bubble Bobble 4 Friends is worth a look, but look elsewhere if you’re looking for a challenging platformer.
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Fun team co-op. Includes original game
Main game is short