Title: Bubble Bobble 4 Friends
Publisher: ININ Games
Genre: Action, Arcade, Party
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Audience: PEGI 3
Release Date: 19/11/19
Price: £35.99 – Rapid Reviews UK were very kindly provided with a review code for this title.
Taito’s 1986 twin-dragon bubble-blowing classic gets its fourth numbered sequel in 2019. As with the many arcade classics of the era, the reboots, re-releases and spin-offs have been abundant, but with good reason: Bubble Bobble still plays well.
Bub and Bob’s first adventure has always been one I’ve held in high esteem from owning the C64 version all those years ago. The humble arcade score chaser was full of hidden levels, collectables and even multiple endings, leaving its mark on the younger me. And damn, that main theme still rocks. With this in mind, I’m pleased to report that Bubble Bobble 4 Friends includes the arcade original unlocked from the beginning! Nice.
Although BB4F (which, yes, does look like a boy band acronym) was clearly developed with a limited budget in mind, there’s plenty of care and attention given to what you do get. For instance, the menu starts you off in a toy-filled bedroom, complete with an arcade machine (which is where you play the original Bubble Bobble, naturally). It’s a charming set up when combined with the short opening cinematic. However, ‘short’ quickly becomes a running theme.
For those unfamiliar, Bubble Bobble’s core gameplay loop consists of blowing bubbles to capture enemies, then popping the bubbles by squashing them, stomping on them or using the spikes on your back. Bubbles can be used as platforms too, allowing you to reach harder to reach areas by following the level’s visible airflow. Each enemy drops a piece of fruit or sweet treat, which are collected for bonus points. All this happens on a single, static screen with a different platform layout for each stage, lasting around a minute or so on average. What starts off a breezy bit of popping later develops into on-screen mania, with bouncy enemies, projectiles and bubbles littering the screen. I had a blast just trying to work out where I was supposed to be looking just to survive.
Our readers will know that at Rapid Reviews we’re always looking for titles that offer accessibility to as many gamers as possible. BB4F manages this well with a simple three-button control system and up to four-player co-op, making this an excellent choice for families with young children, offering a per-level invincibility option should you fail to clear the stage after a few attempts. For those looking for a more significant challenge, the hard mode has you covered. Let me say it took me many, many, attempts to beat the fourth boss in particular.
Graphically you’re getting an HD coat of paint on the classic look with popping colours but no pizazz. The 3D modelled versions of Bub & Co are cute but limited. Animations, while very basic, are smooth, as is the frame rare but that’s all she wrote as BB4F takes no risks and sticks rigidly to its child-friendly simplicity to a fault. There are no notable glitches and performance holds firm no matter the level of frothy havoc adorning the screen. Still, any result to the contrary would be surprising on modern hardware (including the Switch’s relatively meagre Tegra chip). My daughter loves the music, and I don’t blame her; the menu music is pleasant and catchy with in-game music matching the vibrant tone. Nothing sticks like that original theme though so it’s nice that there’s a nice remix of it in the opening stages.
Most retro gamers at this point will be asking what’s new. Truthfully? Not a lot. Taito’s tried and tested formula needs no great change to be enjoyed by a modern audience. However, as much fun as the minute-to-minute local multiplayer is, it’s difficult to recommend this for a single-player run. Feeling flat at times, mainly owing to the lack of content – the main arcade and the original 1986 Bubble Bobble are the only modes to be found – with fewer secrets, stages (just 50 that are also remixed for hard mode) and enemy variants than the original.
Letter collecting doesn’t whisk you away to a secret area, instead offering a boost to the few equipable, and uninspired, power-ups. Boss fights can be exciting when fighting as a group but follow very dull and obvious patterns which become less interesting when playing alone. There’s a tough challenge available through the hard mode, and it effectively doubles the game size, but honestly, it still falls far too short in terms of value, especially when compared with something like Super Bomberman R.
In truth, scoring Bubble Bobble 4 Friends is a bit of an arbitrary exercise as it ultimately comes down to how you feel about a game that intends to be nothing but a fun, quick-play arcade score-chaser, etched in the image of its forefather, entirely at the expense of new ideas and depth.
I had a blast with my family and have no doubt we will return. The core is refined and polished — the classic gameplay, perfect. The accessibility, on point. Unfortunately, it lasts about as long as a bubble in a bath. Plus, you know, you could always play the superior original.
Rapid Reviews Rating
You can purchase Bubble Bobble 4 Friends from the Nintendo eShop on the following link, https://www.nintendo.co.uk/Games/Nintendo-Switch/Bubble-Bobble-4-Friends-1679668.html
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.