Bubble-Busting Makes Me Feel Good.
The latest entry in the long-running single-screen platformer series, Bubble Bobble 4 Friends, marks the return of developer Taito’s loveable, bubble-blowing dinos. However, while previous games in the series have been strictly for one to two players, this time around the series’ mascots Bub and Bob are joined by two more spiky companions, allowing for some quality four-player chaos. With a stronger emphasis on co-op play, fun bonus items to collect, and sever other exciting twists to spice up the arcade classic’s formula, Bubble Bobble 4 Friends is a fun –though somewhat fleeting– addition to the Switch’s library.
Bubble Bobble 4 Friends’ story is about as paper-thin as they come. The game begins with plush versions of the green dino Bub and the series’ recurring villain Bonner (alternately known as Drunk and Willy Whistle in the Japanese and English versions of Bubble Bobble, respectively), resting peacefully in a child’s bed. Suddenly, Bonner, overcome by a mysterious force, bonk’s Bub upside the head, and before you know it, the prehistoric protagonist and his friends are off on another adventure.
As I said, the story isn’t anything memorable – but it doesn’t need to be. The game’s a single-screen platformer, after all. All the narrative serves to do is give you an excuse to jump into the action and kick some Bonner butt, which it does perfectly well.
Once You Pop, You Can’t Stop.
In case you’ve never played a Bubble Bobble game before, the goal is simple. The game features five worlds, each made up of 10 single-screen stages. To clear a stage, you need to defeat all of the enemies you’ll find bouncing about, looking to send our dinosaur friends back to the Stone Age. Tapping the “Y” or “A” button will cause your character to blow bubbles, which can trap enemies. Once caught, you can jump into or onto a bubble to pop it, thus killing the captured baddie. You can also chain bubbles together like strings of foam, and bursting one bubble in a mass of them will pop the entire chain. With that in mind, it’s always good to try to group trapped enemies and dispatch them all at once and boost your score multiplier.
One new feature found in the game is the addition of special skills. These are unlocked by beating the game’s five boss characters and can come in handy as the stages become increasingly tricky to navigate. Thunder Bubble, for example, can toast enemies with a horizontal blast of electrical energy, while Bomb Bubbles function as buoyant time bombs. In addition to these attack-boosting powers, you can also unlock a few to help you get around. These include a Dash power that lets you pass through enemies unscathed, as well as the ability to temporarily stop the wind currents that blow your bubbles around the stage.
If you’re able to pop tp collect all of the E-X-T-E-N-D bubbles in any given stage, you’ll earn extra lives as well as useful upgrades to your skills. These upgrades all come in handy and can make your life a bit easier in Bubble Bobble 4 Friends. Of course, the optional invincibility mode that unlocks when you continue too many times doesn’t hurt, either.
Sharing Some Suds With The Buds.
No doubt, Bubble Bobble 4 Friends is great fun when played solo. But, as you’ve probably surmised from the title, it’s when playing with others that it shines its brightest. While the single-player mode is more deliberate, adding more players into the mix transforms it into the kind of chaotic experience that makes it the perfect “party game.”
Much like the more recent New Super Mario Bros. releases, Bubble Bobble 4 Friends becomes incredibly frantic with multiple players. When playing with a group of friends, seemingly simple jumps can result in players bouncing off one another in a giant, spiked mass as everyone scrambles to land on the same platform or ride the same floating bubble. Rather than making the game frustrating, though, these moments of joyous calamity are almost certain to result in raucous laughter. As you can probably imagine, things only get more insane when each player is using a different special ability as the screen fills with explosions, bursts of lightning, and other over-the-top effects.
You only need to be hit once to lose a life in the single-player game. However, getting hit in multiplayer causes you to become trapped in a bubble for a short time. This gives your teammates a few seconds to come over and free you before your untimely demise is official.
As disorderly as it is, Bubble Bobble 4 Friends’ co-op is a blast through and through. It’s just a shame there’s no option to play online or competitively. When it comes to bubble-busting with friends, this game is strictly a couch co-op affair.
Fizzy Fun While It Lasts.
As a longtime fan of the series, I enjoyed my time with Bubble Bobble 4 Friends, though its fun-sized story makes it a bit tough to justify plunking down the $40 asking price. On paper, the game’s 50 stages spread across five unique worlds sound great. The problem is they go by in the blink of an eye. I was able to complete my first playthrough of Bubble Bobble 4 Friends in about two hours. Though it’s worth noting that beating the game unlocks the game’s Hard Mode, which certainly adds some replay value to the package, another nice feature is the inclusion of the full 1986 arcade game, which gives provides another 100 stages for you to burst your way through. Frankly, I enjoyed diving into this Taito classic just as much as the newest release – even if the slowdown could be a bit unbearable at times.
The game’s brevity aside, Bubble Bobble 4 Friends is a blast while it lasts. I love the new upgradable skills, which add an extra layer of depth to the arcade antics without trying to reinvent the wheel. And the ability to participate in multiplayer mayhem with four players makes Taito’s latest offering one of the most enjoyable party games to find its way to the Switch to date. Still, even with the unlockable Hard Mode and the entire Bubble Bobble arcade game to keep you busy after you wrap up the main story, a few extra stages to master and support for online multiplayer would undoubtedly have been welcome. But these minor gripes won’t keep Bubble Bobble 4 Friends from being a hit at your next game night.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: Switch (Reviewed); Developer: Taito; Publisher: ININ Games ;Players: 1-4; Released: March 31, 2020; ESRB: E for Everyone; MSRP: $39.99
Full disclosure: A review code was provided by the game’s publisher.