Original version: Bubble Bobble, released in 1986 for arcade
The Japanese obsession with all things cute continues! Let’s join the little bubble dragons Bub and Bob as they explore a world of bubbles, food, and secrets to collect. What’s not to love?
Published by Taito, the same company that brought us the cute aliens in Space Invaders, Bubble Bobble was an instant success both in the arcade with its original version, and at home with its many ports. The premise is simple, the gameplay is easy to grasp but difficult to master, the music is infectious (oh, goodness, is it infectious!), the levels are very inventive while being contained within a single screen, and the character designs are, well, adorable.
The designer, Mitsuji Fukio, intended to design a game that appealed to women. After drawing up a list of over 100 items, he finally settled upon bubbles as the game’s main mechanic. He imagined that having a screen of bubbles would be exhilarating to the player, and that being able to pop them would spur the player onward. Mitsuji worked tirelessly on the game, striving to constantly improve what he had. He often worked on weekends and holidays, either adding new content or editing and refining what was already there. I’d say that his efforts paid off, as Bubble Bobble is a nonstop ride of fun and cuteness.
Have a look for yourself.
Has the music burned a niche in your brain? It has mine.
As you can see, there is a good variety of enemies, level layouts, secrets, and special items. If the letters spelling EXTEND are collected, the player receives an extra life and immediately advances to the next level. There are 100 levels, with a boss at the final one. Bubble Bobble was one of the first games to feature multiple possible endings. The ending is determined by the player’s performance. Somewhat disappointingly, the “true” ending can only be reached in two-player mode, although this is forgivable seeing as Mitsuji intended the game to be played by couples. Somewhat confusingly, the game can be played in “super mode” with a higher difficulty and an even truer ending is revealed.
The immense popularity of Bubble Bobble led to not only many ports, but also to many sequels and spin-offs. Perhaps the most well-known spin-off is Puzzle Bobble, known in the US as Bust-a-Move. It is, of course, no less adorable than the original.
Bubble Bobble hasn’t enjoyed the same degree of fame as some other video games, and its characters seem to be more popular outside the gaming world than inside it.
Bub and Bob do look really nice on a T-shirt, I must say.
But for those of us who remember, Bubble Bobble holds a special place in our hearts. The simple fun and charismatic charm make this game a timeless classic.
P.S. The music won’t stop playing in my brain! Somebody help me!
Bubble Bobble was included in the collection Taito Legends, which you can buy a physical copy of here. If you own a Bubble Bobble arcade cabinet, you can download a backup rom here and run it with MAME.