With the upcoming release of the Nintendo Entertainment System: NES Classic Edition (NA) / Nintendo Classic Mini: Nintendo Entertainment System (EU), we're going to provide short profiles of all 30 games included on the system. Now we turn our attention to Bubble Bobble; don't forget to check out the first entry in this series, in which we look at Balloon Fight.
When we wrote about Balloon Fight we highlighted how the NES played host to a number of arcade-like experiences, with ports delivering addictive, intense games into the living room. Bubble Bobble is another game to fall under that category, yet it's far from being a simplistic coin guzzler - much of its appeal originates in its secrets and quirky mechanics that make every playthrough interesting. The gameplay is a lot of fun too; that always helps.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, let's outline some key facts:
- The arcade arrived in August 1986 and became a critical and commercial success.
- Though many think of it as a 'NES' game, it arrived on a staggering range of platforms as Taito made the most of the game's popularity.
- It arrived on the NES in North America in late 1988, but it arrived nearly two years later (October 1990) in Europe.
A critical and commercial hit, Bubble Bobble on NES was one of the stronger conversions from the original (the Master System version is also rated highly). The core concept is both simple and bizarre - two dinosaur brothers called Bub and Bob have to fight through 100 stages by shooting enemies with bubbles before destroying them. The stages are single-screen affairs, but basic mechanics don't hide underlying complexities. In fact, it's in secrets and hidden extras that Bubble Bobble truly shines.
For example, some enemies drop power ups that can make you faster or have more powerful attacks, and achieving combos - of sorts - can bring access to more points and more hidden goodies; for score chasers this game has a lot to offer. The list of power-ups is surprisingly long, and there are more rewards for collecting 'EXTEND' letters (as just one example, triggered by putting those combos together). While a first playthrough may focus on simply clearing 100 levels, it's in subsequent enforced playthroughs where things get really interesting.
Taito pulled a trick seen in some other classics of this era, where simply clearing the game once isn't enough. Intriguingly - and in a move that could suit the NES Mini well - you get a 'Happy' ending if you play through it with two players, and there are more secrets (and another 'Super' playthrough to earn) besides. We're unsure how many to share here (various Wikis have the answers), so perhaps we'll produce a mini guide once the system arrives. There are even 'codes' that you can input for extra features and quirky events in the game.
In any case, the incentive to beat the game in co-op is very real, and this could be a particularly entertaining option in multiplayer on the miniaturised system. Whether playing solo or with a buddy, this will likely be one of the most compulsive games on the Mini NES; the controls and smart design mean it scores highly in some 'best NES' games lists. It's a title that showed impressive development skill from Taito, too, with air currents and various power-up mechanics shaking up play; by NES standards it was a hugely accomplished effort.
It's not just the excellent control and gameplay that shine in Bubble Bobble, but also the quirky humour. Some of the memorable aspects are found in enemy names. The Japanese name for Willy Whistle units is translated as 'Drunk', while a boss called Grumple Grommit was called 'Super Drunk' in the Japanese text. The localisation team certainly had fun; if you take too long to clear a stage a foe called Baron Von Blubba appears and chases you. This is a game that, through its overall presentation, forces you to smile.
Back in the '80s and beyond Bubble Bobble was widely ported, to systems as diverse as the Amiga and ZX Spectrum. There's a Game Boy version that's tricky due to the fact the stage can't fit on the screen all at once, so requires scrolling. It's even arrived in more recent times on the Nokia N-Gage - yep, even the N-Gage had a version.
All told, this will certainly be among the stronger titles on the Mini NES. A hit when it was released and critically acclaimed, the addictive and well constructed arcade gameplay means it remains hugely fun to this day. As a title that not only supports co-op but actively encourages it, we expect it to be a go-to title when trying out the Mini NES with a buddy.