First Impressions: Bubble Bobble Plus!

Bub and Bob hit the WiiWare service in style.

I've got a confession to make, and it's not that I don't like Bubble Bobble, because I do like it and the two arcade follow-ups: Bubble Symphony and Bubble Memories. No, I actually want to confess that I didn't want to buy or play this game tonight.

Now, like everyone else I saw the announcement which came out of the blue and thought: wow, a new Bubble Bobble! Especially after the brilliant work done by Taito with Space Invaders Get Even. Then this morning WiiFolder put up a video and my heart sank. My first thought was "WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?" because what I saw in the video looked like an exact remake of the original arcade game with some slightly tarted-up graphics.

Nevertheless I lived up to my commitment to WiiWare World and bought the game. Don't get me wrong, when I first launched the game I could only see the flaws (the jumping being slightly slower than in the arcade, which doesn't speed up even when you get the shoe; the enemy AI not matching the arcade exactly; the 3D rendered look to the game), but by the end I had no regrets.

But let's start at the beginning. After being prompted to create a save profile (you can have up to four and choose from Miis or Bubble Bobble characters) you get the choice to play the game normally, play the score attack mode (these are the scores that you can upload to the WiFi leaderboards), check out the WiFi leaderboards and upload your scores or check out the options.

Options are the usual BGM/SE levels as well as being able to change the Mii associated with your save profile, but the main reason to check out this section will only be revealed after playing the game for a bit.

The basic game is a one or two player affair featuring Bub and Bob. It's a shot-for-shot remake of the original game with a sprite texture laid over 3D renders of the characters and backgrounds. Some people will hate this; I'm largely indifferent though I don't see why we couldn't just have higher-resolution 2D sprites (might have made the games take up less blocks, too). If you've played Bubble Bobble there's no real surprises here: you get the same opening text and the same opening graphic, the same fruit rewards, special items, levels, etc. One of the other three choices is a different version of the normal game which features harder enemies (they resemble the ones from the Super Bubble Bobble bootleg), but is otherwise the Normal game.

The other two game choices are Arrange modes with either original enemies or the harder ones. Arrange Mode can be played with 1-4 players and has different (though possibly more bland) levels. The characters are fixed (the yellow and pink dinosaurs are Pub and Pob incidentally), so if you play solo you're Bub and that's it. Weirdly you can start with up to four players, but if no other controllers are active the other characters aren't AI controlled, but just sit there and get killed over and over again. I'm not sure why there's an option to start with more players than there are active controllers, but that's what they did.

There are menu choices to play the two DLC packs: Experts Map 1 and Experts Map 2, but you'll need to buy those (200 points and 50 levels each) so they're initially greyed out. Go back to the main menu and choose the second option and you can play these four modes, but record the scores and time and upload this information for the WiFi leaderboard which offers choice of Japan or Worldwide rank views. I'm so pleased to report my awesome score of over 400K on Arrange Mode has landed me a 4th place position (far ahead of Joshy from WiiFolder), but I cannot imagine this will last.

My first play of these modes I wasn't terribly thrilled and thinking dark thoughts, but after trying each of them a second time the negative feelings melted away and I was just enjoying playing Bubble Bobble on my Wii. Even better, when I revisited the Options menu I checked out the final two entries and found that they're lovely little virtual card albums: one for special items like power-ups and one for fruits and other treats you collect for points. Initially pages of blank squares, as you earn them in play you'll find them here. Very nice touch and gives you playing incentive to complete your photo album of Bubble Bobble trivia.

If you like classic arcade fun or you like Bubble Bobble you really cannot go wrong with this one; just try not to let the new look put you off the game and give it a chance. You've got 200 levels out of the box (the change of enemies doesn't count as new levels for me, despite the adverts to the contrary) with another 100 to download -- that's more Bubble Bobble than you can probably handle.

Now, when are we getting an updated Elevator Action Taito?