Growing up in a family that loved gaming, I dedicated equal amounts of time to Mortal Kombat, Diddy King Racing, Tetris, and everything in-between. For all the arcade hits and early console must-plays I experienced, though, Bubble Bobble wasn’t one of them. I had dabbled with the popular Bust-a-Move spinoff series here and there over the years, but it was only recently that I began diving into the wide and surprisingly confusing world of Bubble Bobble. The 1986 arcade classic spawned numerous sequels on a variety of platforms from an equal variety of publishers and developers since its release, resulting in a cavalcade of Bubble Bobble 2s that each follow up on the original in their own unique ways. Nobody can quite agree on which sequel is the best or the most faithful, but original developer Taito seems to be taking matters into its own hands with Bubble Bobble 4 Friends, a new entry in the long-dormant platformer series that aims to return to the adorable roots that started it all.
Bubble Bobble 4 Friends embraces the old-school feel and charm of the original while giving things a fresh, modern coat of paint, presenting a simple and to-the-point platformer experience. In fact, you can compare just how faithful it is to the original quite easily, since the very first 1986 Bubble Bobble is included in-game to play at your leisure.
Bubble Bobble 4 Friends sees you controlling an adorable little green dragon who is rudely awoken from his slumber and tasked with traversing dozens of two-dimensional arenas full of dreamworld baddies that need to be swiftly dispatched. You won’t be hopping on enemy heads like Mario or mashing buttons to swipe your claws at them, though. Instead, you’ll be spitting bubbles out of your mouth that can be used to either trap an unsuspecting foe or hop onto and use as a floating platform to bridge a path to your adorable enemies. Once your screen is full of bubbles, you’ll need to pop one and watch the chain reaction play out as every connected enemy-bubble is swiftly deleted.
Gameplay can take a few stages to get used to. Laying down bubbles as floating platforms and utilizing them effectively can be tricky, but with incredibly simple stage layouts and rarely punishing enemy patterns, finding ways to navigate the arena and chain bubble kills together as effectively as possible is where the score-chasing fun of the game comes from.
There isn’t too much deviation from that gameplay loop over the 50 stages of Bubble Bobble 4 Friends. Minor wrinkles occur on every 10th stage, however. The first is that every 10th stage is a boss battle, where you’re now tasked with hitting a much larger enemy with an assault of bubbles until they are eventually tranquilized. I found these to be the best moments of the game, as the Mega Man-lite nature of the projectile-flinging and platform navigating in these boss arenas was far more challenging and satisfying than any of the regular levels of the game.
Beating a boss unlocks new skills to use in regular stages, allowing you to equip unique, secondary bubble attacks that do things like fire long-range bubbles or horizontally devastating lightning bubbles. They’re minor upgrades, but they offer a fun new set of tools to incentivize you to revisit older levels and aim for a better score. Hopping back into old levels with friends via co-op can freshen things up, too, as the game supports up to 4 adorable little bubble-blowing dragons at once. Having a full party can be a little chaotic at times, but it helps turn the sometimes monotonous puzzle action into a goofy and ever so competitive afternoon of co-op delight.
That incentive to revisit levels is key because there isn’t a whole lot of content to speak of in Bubble Bobble 4 Friends. You’ll be done with the 50 stages in just under a couple hours, at which point you’ll unlock remixed and slightly more challenging versions of those stages. Besides these more difficult levels and the arcade version of Bubble Bobble, there isn’t a lot of staying power in this new entry. You’ll still be delighted by it during the brief time you spend with it, thanks to adorable 3D visuals and sharp music. It’s just a shame that there’s so little to do here, especially after such a long wait for a new entry in the series.
A review code was provided by the publisher.