Bubble Bobble is back and expanded with BUBBLE BOBBLE 4 FRIENDS: The Baron is Back! This version is an upgraded version of the one that was released earlier this year for the Nintendo Switch. As the title implies, this game can be played with up to four friends in local co-op. You have a couple of game options here: Arcade of Memories or the main campaign. Arcade of Memories is a simple port of the original Taito Bubble Bobble arcade game, which can be played with two players as well if you have a friend hanging around who happens to like 8-bit bubble-spewing dragon-things. The campaign is comprised of five worlds, which are in turn made up of 9 consecutive stages and a boss fight. You start off in Bookshelf Forest, unlocking worlds as you go until you end up in Bonner’s Castle for the final showdown. Sort of. We’ll get to that a little later on.
Much like the original from 1986, albeit with a few new bells and whistles, the game concept is simple: trap the enemies in bubbles to destroy them and clear the stage. Shooting a bubble will capture an enemy. From there, you can either stomp the bubble or boop it with your spikey backside to pop it and vanquish the enemy inside. If you leave them in a bubble for too long, they will eventually break out and become enraged. Enraged enemies move much faster than they would normally. Why wouldn’t you just pop them right away, you ask? Well, they are a few good reasons. There are plenty of directional air currents in a level to push your bubbles around, so there’s a chance they will be pushed out of your reach before you can deliver the final coup de grace. It could also be that before you can get to them, you’ll fall victim to an enemy yourself, or one of the spiky hazards that can populate some of the more difficult levels. Or, more likely, you will want to gather as many trapped enemies as you can in one spot to pop them all at once in a hugely satisfying (and extra point-rewarding) chain. One of my gripes with BB4 is the bubble hit detection. If you aren’t perfectly on level with an enemy the bubble won’t snag them. It has happened to me more than a few times where I was on a slightly higher platform than a nearby goon and even though my bubble was touching his head, it didn’t register as a capture. Oddly enough, I didn’t have this problem when jumping and shooting; only when standing on a platform. Bosses are where the game gets interesting. To beat a boss, you must memorize their patterns while dodging their attacks until you can safely shoot ‘em up, bubbly-style. It takes quite a few hits before you finally trap them in a big bubble and pop them, earning you a special skill and a huge pile of points.
Each world has two things to aim for, other than earning a high score and beating the boss. Depending on how good you do, you can earn a rating of up to three stars, which unlocks music from that level to listen to in the Memory Album. The other is grabbing all the letters of the word EXTEND. While passing through the levels, you will come across the floating letters. If you don’t grab them quickly they disappear. Grabbing one nets you an extra life, while grabbing them all increases the level of one of your skills. Skills are earned after defeating a boss and can be equipped before entering a world. Skills are limited in use but can be replenished by eating the food dropped by defeated enemies. There are five in total, which can grant you effects like bubbles that explode after a time, or a special dash move that allows you to safely pass through bad guys while doing it. Another cool feature aimed at increasing accessibility is the invincibility mode. Once you lose all your lives, you get a game over. Continuing starts you off at your current stage and if you get game over three times on the same stage, you are offered a chance to play your current stage while invincible. I think it’s a nice feature for kids who get easily frustrated when they can’t clear a level. After all, the point of a title like this is to have fun, right?
Once you beat the last boss, the kiddie gloves are off. You unlock hard mode, which is (obviously) a harder version of the levels you just beat. Enemies are much more unpredictable, they’re always enraged, and in addition to being laid out differently, the levels contain more hazards. To make things worse, the EXTEND letters vanish much more quickly. And on top of all that, there is no invincibility mode. Besides the addition of another 50 levels, there is also a new arcade machine to play: Arcade of the Future. Arcade of the Future is a challenge mode in which you must climb a tower by completing levels. If you die, you cannot continue and must start all over again from the bottom of the tower. On the bright side, once you clear a level you can play it in training mode as much as you like.
In terms of presentation, BB4 hit the nail on the head. The music is upbeat, light, and catchy. The visuals are clean and bright, while the visual effects are nice and flashy. I do have an issue with it being a little too busy on the eyes, however. With all the visuals effects going on, like the wind current and whatnot, plus the background and foreground structures, I occasionally have trouble differentiating between what is a solid platform and what isn’t. When I’m in the heat of the moment jumping, dodging, and shooting bubbles like some kind of maniacal cartoon Dirty Harry, my gut instinct tells me to jump towards that solid brick platform, which just turns out to be a background design.
Honestly, even though there are a hundred levels, I feel like there isn’t much content here. If you just want to whip through the game you could do so in half an hour. If you add hard mode to that, then maybe two hours tops. After that, how much mileage you’re going to get out of this game depends on how much you enjoy pushing yourself to do things like completing all the levels with a 3-star rating, getting all the EXTENDs, or playing the tower mode in Arcade of the Future. If you want to have a bit of fun with your kids, or you are an old-school gamer who enjoys achieving true mastery over a game by memorizing patterns and earning the highest scores, then go ahead a pick this game up. Other than that, I have a hard time recommending this to most casual gamers.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 5/10
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