If you haven’t heard of Bubble Bobble by now, then odds are you’re not into classic arcade gaming like I am, so gather round children and let gramps tell you a little story.
Bubble Bobble is a classic platform game in the truest sense of the word: all the action takes place on one screen broken up by platforms. There were 100 levels in the original arcade game (plus some hidden ones), with each level having different patterns of platforms and enemies to dispatch. These levels would often have a hole in the bottom of the screen which allowed players and enemies to drop through and come out at the top of the screen (and vice-versa for flying enemies). Enemies were dispatched by having your cute dinosaur blow bubbles to trap them and burst them to release bonus fruits. Power-up items appeared with some frequency on each level, upgrading player speed and bubble shooting power as well as allowing the skipping of levels and other fun effects; all while a lovely soundtrack played in the background.
This classic game has had many incarnations on home consoles, including the somewhat decent NES port which has been available on the Wii Virtual Console for some time. Bubble Bobble Wii (known as Bubble Bobble Plus in the rest of the world) is a WiiWare update of the game which stays quite faithful to the original in content if not appearance, and adds many new levels as well as 4-player action and online leaderboards.
Right out of the box you get two sets of levels and “Super” versions of them. Access to two Expert Mode level packs can be unlocked for 200 points each (they are included with the main game download and appear as greyed out options on the main game select screen) for a grand total of 300 levels of Bubble Bobble. The “Super” versions of Classic and Arrange Modes have harder enemies that will be familiar to anyone who has ever played the arcade bootleg Super Bubble Bobble. All six game modes can be played normal or Ranked, which has fixed play settings for difficulty, number of lives and number of continues (10 for Classic and Arrange modes; 5 for Expert). Your Ranked scores can be uploaded and viewed in local or worldwide leaderboards to see how your Bubble Bobble skills stack up against other players. When not playing a Ranked game you can choose Easy, Normal, Hard or So Hard difficulty settings. Difficulty settings affect the duration of bubbles on screen and aggressiveness/speed of enemies.
The classic game levels look just like the original arcade ones. The characters are the most obvious change to the game with 3D renders replacing the old 2D sprites. This face lift is minor and shouldn’t offend purists too much, though I think that nicer looking 2D sprites would have been preferred. The game has been tweaked a bit to add some balance: getting the speed-up power up only modestly improves jumping speed and bubbles “decay” faster than in the past so going for big combos becomes riskier (you can combo by bursting more than one bubble at the same time). You’ll also notice that once past the first level enemies that have become enraged due to excessive time or being freed from bubbles will no longer revert to normal after a player death. Like the original arcade game these levels and their Super versions are only playable by one or two players.
Arrange mode introduces the option to play 100 new levels with up to four players. Many of these are quite challenging layouts having ramps and areas that cause bubbles to float upward or downward and sometimes multiple entry and exit points in the floor and ceiling.
The Expert levels are in two sets of 50 each and the name is justly applied. They are extremely challenging; some will have you trying to figure out how to reach your enemies, let alone dispatch them. As with Arrange Mode you can play these levels with 1-4 players.
Bubble Bobble Wii is a great set of Bubble Bobble levels. 256 blocks is on the hefty side for a WiiWare game, but the gameplay is the same and the added levels more than make up for any bad feelings over the graphical retouching (though it is presented in 480i for those that have issues with that). Even better is the photo/card album which records the power ups and food items found across the different modes as you acquire them. Getting your album filled by finding all the goodies and upping your score on the leaderboards should be sufficient incentive to keep you coming back even without the brilliant gameplay. Add to all of this a new and interesting musical soundtrack and you have a compelling package that old and new players can appreciate for the low cost of 800 points (1200 including the unlockable levels).