Bubble Bobble, Puzzle Bobble, Bust-A-Move. All feature the cute little dragon duo Bub and Bob, but it can get a little confusing as to exactly what the difference is between each game. Here we’re going to focus on where it all started, when Bubble Bobble hit arcades around the world back in 1986 – a staggering 35 years ago.
As was often the case, our heroes were on a mission to save their damsels in distress. To do this, they needed to fight their way through the Cave of Monsters, consisting of 100 levels that became increasingly more challenging as they descended towards their final battle with Super Drunk (or Grumple Gromit).
Bub and Bob took care of enemies by blowing bubbles, trapping them and then popping said bubble they were imprisoned in. In turn, this dropped bonus items such as fruit and even steins of beer. Grabbing these would also net you some decent points. I guess battling evil is thirsty work.
Each level presented a different arrangement of platforms for you to navigate, whilst fending off an increasing amount of bad guys trying to take you down. Some would cast forcefields to cancel out your bubbles, and others would move quickly and erratically, putting your reflexes to the test. The later levels were nothing short of frantic.
Certain items would temporarily grant you special abilities, such as one which mimicked the effects of the “Super Star” in Super Mario Bros., whilst some bubbles could be used to attack your enemies with the elements (fire, water and lightning). If you managed to collect all the bubbles which spelt out EXTEND, you would be granted an extra life and be taken immediately to the next level. This could come in very handy indeed.
However, Bubble Bobble was always meant to be played cooperatively. So much so, that if you complete the one hundred levels solo, you’ll see a message informing you the game has not truly ended, and for a happy outcome you will need to complete the game with a friend. I’m sure there’s a life lesson in there somewhere.
Bubble Bobble was a huge success for Taito, who had already released a long list of games before it, including Arkanoid in the same year (that’s the one where you break the blocks with a ball if you’re unsure). As a result Bubble Bobble made its way to home consoles in the years that followed. It also inspired many similar games after its release, leaving a lasting legacy in the arcade game market. It was seen by many as a huge leap forward for the company in terms of the quality of its game output.
Some eight years later, Puzzle Bubble was born as a spin off (of sorts) to the main game. This was a hugely popular game in its own right (I have ploughed more hours into it than I care to admit) where you had to match coloured balls to clear the play zone. This series is also known as Bust-A-Move (we got there readers).
For me, it’s the cutesy but surprisingly enjoyable music that is one of Bubble Bobble’s most recognisable hallmarks. It’s upbeat, repetitive and sickeningly sweet which is pretty much everything that should make it unbearable. But instead it’s a joy to listen to, even if it isn’t one of the most famous chiptunes of the era.
Bubble Bobble is often an overlooked classic of the era, in my humble opinion. However, the puzzler inside me has to admit that Puzzle Bobble is actually my favourite of the two. It is, of course, important to recognise and pay tribute to the original, without which its puzzle-orientated spin off would never have seen the light of day.
The legacy of Bubble Bobble speaks for itself. Countless sequels, a hugely popular spin off and numerous games that it inspired show just how groundbreaking the original was. If there’s a bubble shaped gap in your gaming history knowledge, I suggest you pop off to fill it.