It's hard to argue that Bub and Bob aren't the most adorable video game dinosaurs of all time (sorry, Yoshi), so we were delighted when the dynamic duo returned with the Switch-exclusive Bubble Bobble 4 Friends back in 2019. It was exactly as we remembered their pixels back in the dusty halls of the arcade growing up, just a little cuddlier.
But it reminded us of another arm of Taito's bubble-trapping series that we dearly missed — Puzzle Bobble, also known as Bust-A-Move. This spin-off series swapped bubble traps for bubble bursting and turned the platforming duo into puzzle masters. Clearing bubbles was the name of the game, and this spin-off series is arguably as well-known as Taito's original dino arcade classic.
So it makes sense that ININ Games and Taito would follow up Bubble Bobble 4 Friends with Puzzle Bobble Everybubble!, which boasts four-player co-op, multiplayer, and a lengthy new story mode. We've been given an exclusive trailer for the game and some extended hands-on time with this cute and colourful adventure, the first console game in the series (not counting the 2020 VR game or the Touhou Spell Bubble crossover title) since 2011's Bust-A-Move Universe on 3DS. And, so far, Everybubble! has given us the warm fuzzies of one of our favourite spin-offs growing up.
If you've played a Puzzle Bobble game before, Everybubble! isn't going to surprise you from a gameplay point of view. Your aim is to clear the screen of all the bubbles by matching colours before they cross the line at the bottom of the screen. You do this by shooting bubbles up using a machine, which you can aim anywhere and shoot directly into the mass of colourful orbs or cleverly bounce them off of walls to reach those trickier spots. Special types of bubbles are introduced into the mix, and it's all very pleasant, cute, and sometimes cutthroat.
Some of the original game's NPCs in story mode were often a nightmare to beat and required some deft bubble blasting, but Everybubble! feels a bit more gentle, and so far, we've had no one-on-one duels during the main game. The presentation and bouncy music certainly add to that feel, with hummable tunes and a pastel palette to keep everything feeling more relaxed than we remember. The lovely cartoon-style visuals are overloaded with charm which made us (and still does make us) grin. It's a warm dose of nostalgia with, occasionally, a hint of a challenge, particularly if you're trying to get the best star and achieve three stars in everything.
Each chapter in story mode has different conditions to fulfil. One location might require you to save your friends, whereas in others you might just have to burst every bubble. It means your tactics may need to change, and for those who are experts at bubble popping, there's EX Mode, which you unlock after you get a three-star rating in every stage in a particular chapter in story mode. These are slightly tougher levels with tighter time restrictions, and these aim to put your bubble-shooting skills to the test.
Judging from the time we've spent with it, the core of Puzzle Bobble may be the same but the one big feature of Everybubble! is hinted at in the title — co-op. Every
bubbleone can get involved. It doesn't matter whether it's standard Vs. mode or story mode, up to four players can play together and help (or hinder) your progress. For story mode, this means the stage stretches and there are more bubbles for you and your friends (NPC or human) to burst.
Four-player co-op doesn't burst the bubble at all. Co-op can make levels easier — especially if you're not used to the Puzzle Bobble formula — but it can also make them more difficult depending on the skill level of your fellow bubblers. NPCs regularly caused us to fail, and it meant we had to keep an eye on a much larger stage rather than just keeping our own section from dropping below the line. Playing with friends, however, is much more enjoyable going by what we've tried in local co-op. We haven't tested online multiplayer just yet, but if you're feeling less charitable, you can also set up one vs. one matches with online friends.
We also got to spend a bit of time playing Puzzle Bobble vs. Space Invaders, a brand new mode created to celebrate Space Invaders' 45th (!!) anniversary. It's exactly what you think it is — you aim and shoot your bubbles up at the invaders to burst the matching-colour bubbles to destroy the robots. To do that, you need to make sure every single bubble attached to the laser-shooting device has been popped. The jagged edges of the definitely un-cuddly invaders are all contained in bubbles in keeping with Everybubble's aesthetic, so it's not quite the pixel-tinged Taito blowout you might be expecting (at least from what we've played so far).
The Space Invaders mode is actually a lot harder than it sounds, and maybe this is because, mentally, we couldn't get away from the idea that we were playing Puzzle Bobble. Walking Bob, Bub, Peb, and/or Pab along the bottom of the screen, rather than aiming to shoot the bubbles from a 180-degree axis, takes a while to adjust to. It's honestly quite fun to see the little dinosaurs walk along the bottom of a planet and throw their bubbles directly above them, but it does feel a bit weird at first.
Every bubble — and everyone — matters here, then, and from our early impressions of this long-awaited return, we think this is shaping up to be a warm, cuddly, arcade hug. If Bubble Bobble can make a successful and cosy return for the franchise, then we're reasonably confident that Puzzle Bobble Everybubble! can do the same and make fans remember why the spin-off became as popular as it did in arcades — particularly in Japan.
Puzzle Bobble Everybubble! is scheduled to launch exclusively on Switch on 23rd May 2023, and we'll be back for more in this bubble-bursting bonanza nearer the time.