Bubble Bobble / Firebird 1987
Screenshots: play/stop

Bubble Bobble became an instant hit in the arcades when Taito released it in 1986. As Commodore sales were doing very well at the same time, it wasn't very long before Firebird Software got the rights to make a home computer version.

Bubble Bobble is a game where two brothers, Bub and Bob, have been transmuted into bubble-blowing dragons by the evil Super Drunk. In order to turn back to humans, and to rescue their kidnapped girlfriends, they have to travel through 100 levels of platform-inspired gaming. Ah, those Japanese storylines!

Hindering them on the way are eight different types of monsters: Bubble Buster, Stoner, Beluga, Hullaballoon, Colley, Incendo, Willy Whistle and Super Socket. Bubble Buster is the first monster you encounter, and a new type of monster is introduced gradually throughout the game. To kill these monsters, you have to blow a bubble towards them, so they are caught in it (getting "bubbled"). You then pop the bubble by hitting it with your spikes, on the top of your head or your back. Popping more than one bubble at a time yields higher points.

As well as these monsters, there is a skeleton-ghost called Baron von Blubba, who comes to chase you if you take too long on a level. (The game urges you to "Hurry Up!" if you are starting to take your time, at which point you have around 30 seconds to complete the level before the Baron appears.) The baron chases you by alternating between moving horizontally and vertically by increasing steps, until he finally catches up with you.

There's also the main boss, Super Drunk (called "Grumple Grommit" in the American instructions), who appears on level 100. You have to hit him with 100 lightning bolts and pop his bubble to complete the game.

Thankfully, Bub and Bob don't just have to rely on their bubbles, which can be a little limiting on later levels. One or two special items appear on each level that, when picked up, will give you special powers. You have different colored candy that will speed up or lengthen the power of your bubbles, sneakers that will let you run and jump twice as fast, crosses which send bolts of lightning down from the sky, potions that will end the level and allow you to collect lots of points, laterns which give explosions or more special items to appear and umbrellas that warp you 3-7 levels onward.

On top of these special items are special bubbles. Water bubbles cause a mini waterfall when popped. You also have Fire and Lightning bubbles which are released when popped. Finally, there are bubbles with letters in them that, once collected to spell the word "EXTEND", will give you an extra life and immediately finish the level you're on.

For more fun, you can have two players playing at the same time, as a tag-team, and it obviously makes the game a little easier to play, especially on the later levels. Add to that the "secret rooms" and you've got yourself a whole lot of game to explore!

Software Creations, who programmed the Commodore 64 version, have done an excellent job of porting the arcade version over to the humble '64. They have gotten over the problem of lots of items on the screen by making them characters rather than sprites. This makes the game a little slower than it's arcade counterpart, but it's only a slight slowdown and is forgiveable. When you get into the game you won't even notice it.

The graphics have also been brilliantly converted. The arcade game had 256 colors to play with, so squeezing them into 16 colors was a big task, which thankfully has been well executed.

The sound has also been faithfully converted. It gets annoyingly repetitive if you listen to it for too long and you're not actually playing the game, but you don't really notice it when you're in the action. In fact you'll catch yourself humming along if you're doing well!

The Commodore version gets round the arcade's "insert coin" by giving you 10 credits to play with in each gaming session. These are used up as and when you lose all your lives in one game, and you can continue from that point. Even in a two-player game you only get ten credits, which works quite well. The game's easier with two players, so you get less credits to share between each other. It becomes a little lop-sided if one player isn't as good as the other, but it generally works out well.

All in all, the Commodore version of Bubble Bobble is a "must-have" game. It's as much fun to play solo as in two-player mode, and the cute graphics and bouncy music add to the excellent platform-style gaming. Trying to get one level further will make you come back for more, and the levels, although they get harder, are never impossible but refreshingly challenging. It stands out as being one of the better arcade conversions.

Reviewed by Boz.

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