Having crawled out of the womb and into the era of Donkey Kong, I’ve spent my entire conscious life watching the evolution of modern gaming. Unfortunately, as Forrest Gumpy as it feels to have witnessed something historical that I take a deep interest in, I’ve had to face the onslaught of humorless dicks who have never played a game in their life calling me an anti-social, violence-crazed, killer-in-the-works. But while I’m tallying up the number of football injuries versus the collective maimings incurred in the last twelve months of high school football, I have to concede with these people on one point; the sheer mass of games like Halo, Call of Duty, Modern Warfare, and all the other testosterone-dripping, military propaganda scenarios being released now do kind of point to a preoccupation with violence. But hey, when the amazon reviews for Game of Thrones complain about too much sex without a word on all the appendages lost in the series, I think our societies obsession with bludgeoning one another goes a little beyond the monkey-see-monkey-do argument against video games.
What these people fail to see is the plentiful cornucopia of games that don’t wallow in their own wrath. Yes, it’s very nice of Jenova Chen to develop a game that gets away from the shoot-kill-win mentality, but it would be nice if people could remember that games like this already do exist. Let’s go back to, say, 1986 and examine a little gem called Bubble Bobble.
As a reviewer, there’s really not much to describe. You play as Bub and Bob, two Bubble Dragons that resemble Godzilla chibis. Instead of shooting a gun, you breath bubbles. Instead of killing enemies, you trap them in said bubbles, then pop the bubbles to turn them into food. Yes, I suppose you could go all Mufasa on me and imply that that’s a metaphor for the Circle of Life, but I say, “Screw you! It’s fun!” As always, the ultimate test of a game’s value is how much you enjoy it, and while it’s less violent than your standard cartoon, Bubble Bobble manages to radiate enough bright colors and simple-yet-addicting gameplay to have kept my interest over the last several decades.
The game has a simple learning curve. Hit start. Three monsters? Try blowing a bubble. Easy enough. Pop them and sit back for 99 more levels of this! But Bubble Bobble manages to avoid a repetitive feel for the most part. The shape of the levels forces the player to change tactics to solve puzzles in gameplay. How do you pop the bubble when you can’t reach it? How do you get to a monster trapped inside a shape? Certain levels change game physics and make bubble float or sink differently (and in one case, much more quickly) than usual.
I don’t mean to give the impression the game is perfect, though. As much variety as it introduces, a hundred levels can become a little repetitive from time to time. Furthermore, the level designs sometimes get too fun and wind up with pits or nooks that your bubble dragon can get stuck in. When that happens, you’d better hope the monsters can still kill you (which causes you to respawn in your starting position) or that you recruited another player who’s savvy enough not to get stuck.
Another minor point, while the large variety of fruit, veggies, snack food, and other bonus items does add to the ability to get excited over cartoonish details, it does sometimes work against the player. With dozens of items that do no more than grant point, sometimes it’s hard to realize that some times increase your speed, let you stream bubbles faster, or even warp ahead several stages. Perhaps, though, part of the challenge is to recognize which items to prioritize before they time out and vanish.
Difficulty, as to be expected from NES-era games, resembles breaking a pine log with your fist; you know it’s impossible, but it looks like fun so you’ll gladly pulp your hand into a maraca trying to do it. The game does offer continue options. On the NES, restarting after a game over gives the option to begin at any stage you previously cleared since turning the machine on, while the arcade system, with a spirit of capitalism that would make games that require DLC bow down in reverence, only asks for another coin to keep Charon from ferrying you back out of the building.
Differences between the arcade and home versions don’t amount to much beyond that. The cabinet systems allow for better detail on enemies, fruits, and the tiles that make up the levels, but the NES version includes background music. Granted, after 99 levels of the same song, it’ll start to echo through your living room long after you’ve shut the game off, but I still say it was kind enough for the game developers to include one.
Fun, simple, and non-time-consuming, Bubble Bobble doesn’t have much to offend anyone. I’m sure a handful of gamers view themselves as “serious” and wouldn’t be caught dead playing anything doesn’t involve trying to imagine how fun it would be to get shot in battle, but chances are most people will find something about this game to like, no matter what their taste in games.