One of the biggest games to dominate the scene during the golden age of arcades was Bubble Bobble, a cute Japanese action platformer that centers around little dinosaurs that can blow bubbles from their mouths. Although this original game later spawned a ton of sequels and ports that repeated the concept, it also led to the development of spin-offs such as Bobble puzzle in 1994. Abandoning its platformer roots, this new game focused on tile-matching action and quickly garnered its own following. Taito now saw fit to continue the legacy Puzzle Bobble Everybubble!a new record that brings new ideas.
Puzzle Bobble follows a relatively simple gameplay formula where you shoot colored bubbles from the bottom of the screen into a mass of bubbles at the top of the screen, which disappear when your shots form a group of three or more bubbles of the same color. A big part of the challenge is that you’re constantly under pressure to perform, as the bubbles are usually either slowly pressing down on you from above, or you’re only given a limited amount of time to clear all outside. Combine that with the fact that you can never quite tell where your shot is going to land, and it’s an experience that straddles a fine line between stressful and relaxing. Mistakes accumulate quickly, making it much more difficult to execute planned shots, but playing too slow and methodical means you risk failure or at least a lower rating at this stage.
Fifteen levels are available in each world—more EX stages can be unlocked if you can meet the three-star requirements for each level—and each world introduces some new tricks to help diversify the gameplay. For example, in one level appear transparent bubbles that take on the color of what you shoot, and in another – bubbles that change colors at set intervals. While some of these gimmicks may seem like they lower the difficulty curve too much, suddenly making levels much easier or much harder than the ones you just completed, we still appreciate that a few tweaks can make you approach the board in a completely different way way
Those of you who aren’t thrilled with the smaller, goal-oriented nature of the story mode levels will be happy to know that you’ll unlock Baron’s Tower relatively early on, which acts as an endless survival mode that tasks you with clearing bubbles while you you will not inevitably become overwhelmed. Your score is then compared to a global leaderboard and there are a few higher difficulty levels you can try to turn up the heat a bit. There is also something quite strange Space invaders (another Taito property, of course) a crossover mode where you run your dinosaur back and forth and shoot bubbles at invading alien bubbles while dodging lasers. This mode isn’t too different from the core gameplay formula, but it’s a cool addition that’s worth checking out.
While the story mode appears to have been designed for solo play, you can also choose up to three local friends or AI companions to help you out, with the board changing its size and design to match the extra firepower. While it’s great to play like this when you have friends on hand to chat with and strategize in real-time, the AI is a different story. For the most part, in our experience, the AI companion could shoot bubbles competently and accurately, but the mistakes it made were costly and annoying. At times it felt like a blatant attempt to sabotage a steady level run, and we even had a few instances where our partner just stopped completely shooting bubbles, requiring us to do hopeless double duty to try and fight back the wave. Then you can play in co-op with friends, but we recommend playing completely solo if you don’t have anyone nearby.
Those of you who want something more competitive will be happy to see that there is also a versus mode, and it can be played both online and in person. The rules here are mostly the same as in story mode – all players start with mirrors of the same board, and clearing large strips in a short amount of time will send a bunch of trash bubbles onto all opponents’ boards to trip them up. Although this puzzle is not very detailed, it still offers simple and addictive fun that almost anyone can pick up quickly. While we didn’t get to try the online version of this mode during the review period, the online version includes random matchmaking and ranked levels that are sure to add plenty of playtime to those looking to climb the ranks.
In terms of presentation, Puzzle Bobble does a great job of showcasing a vibrant, rainbow-filled world as a backdrop for endless bubble boards. While the visuals aren’t particularly flashy, the boards are always easy to read, and we appreciate how the backgrounds change with each world, creating a sense of “journeying” through Rainbow Island. That said, it still feels like more effort could have been put into creating a more visually crisp art style; what is here finebut we often felt that these assets could easily have been extracted from the mobile title with less effort.
As for the soundtrack, Puzzle Bobble features a collection of light-hearted tunes that seem like a surprising mix of whimsical Kirby music and oddities Splatoonmusic. This is punctuated by frequent exclamations in Japanese, be it an overexcited “GoOoOoOOOOO!!!!” when you start a stage or a winning “Payonpah!” when you clear all the bubbles. Nothing here is particularly memorable, but you can never say that Puzzle Bobble lacks energy.
Puzzle Bobble Everybubble! feels like a fitting, worthy new entry in a long series. There’s a rich mix of single and multiplayer/online modes on offer, and while the AI bots can leave a bit to be desired, overall it’s a well-rounded and engaging package that’s sure to appeal to all action-puzzle fans. We’d recommend this to anyone looking for an engaging puzzle that doesn’t require too much mental investment to get through and keeps you on your toes. The simple and brilliant game design presented here is admirable and will surely eat up hours of your time once you are hooked.