Bubble Bobble 4 Friends was one of the surprise game announcements in the last few months. Taito’s classic Bubble Bobble franchise got a brand new entry exclusively for Nintendo Switch in the form of Bubble Bobble 4 Friends that features a four player co-op mode as a big focus. While it is available in Europe already, Taito’s newest Bubble Bobble game will be available in North America on Nintendo Switch in early 2020. I’ve been playing it for review over the last few weeks and have enjoyed most of what I played.
Bubble Bobble 4 Friends features not only new levels with some interesting game mechanics but also the original Bubble Bobble arcade game from 1986 fully playable as a bonus. The original entry is playable through the Arcade of Memories in the stage select and it includes all the stages. When it comes to the new game itself, Bubble Bobble 4 Friends isn’t just a fresh coat of paint on a popular arcade classic but one that builds on the original in some interesting ways.
You still play as Bub or Bob solo or with a few friends while trying to clear each enemy on the screen. This is the core gameplay loop. You use bubbles to trap enemies before you pop them and even to reach inaccessible areas. Enemies trapped in bubbles move closer together and you can use this to chain combos to increase your own score. The game is divided into different worlds that have their own stages and each world ends with a boss fight. Defeating said boss nets you a special item you can equip to gain an additional skill. New to the core gameplay of Bubble Bobble in Bubble Bobble 4 Friends is the EXTEND bubble system that lets you enhance the item you earn in boss fights.
In terms of accessibility, you can continue a stage if you lose all your lives but gain an option to continue with invincibility after a few game overs. There isn’t a difficulty setting initially but you do unlock one when you complete the game. This adds one layer of replayability with newer enemies in earlier stages but still doesn’t excuse the fact that the overall package doesn’t seem like it justifies the price point.
When it comes to visuals, Bubble Bobble 4 Friends uses 3D models on a 2D plane for the core gameplay levels. The levels layouts are pretty good for the most part with some levels from the middle of the main story mode that stand out. In terms of art direction, I feel like a lot of the charm in the original has been lost with some things in the environment looking bland giving a few levels a very inconsistent look. Performance on the other hand is very good both docked and handheld. I only noticed some slowdown during stage transitions. As expected, there is a distinct lack of anti aliasing and the stage select backgrounds don’t look too good when docked.
The original Bubble Bobble is known for a great catchy soundtrack. Bubble Bobble 4 Friends does justice to the original with an upbeat soundtrack. There’s even a music player you can use to listen to unlocked music in the game. Sound effects are also well done. For a new entry in a series that spans decades, Bubble Bobble 4 Friends gets the important stuff right.
The biggest issue with Bubble Bobble 4 Friends is that you will likely be done with everything it has to offer rather quickly. There isn’t an online mode or even online leaderboards. Replaying levels to unlock a few more things and raise your score can only take you so far when it comes to replayability. In a lot of ways, this feels like a game made for fans more than newcomers because those who enjoy the core gameplay loop will adore Bubble Bobble 4 Friends but newcomers are probably better off getting the original through the arcade classics release which is much cheaper.
Overall, Bubble Bobble 4 Friends is a very good package for fans of the gameplay but the asking price remains too high for what is on offer. The lack of a competitive mode or leaderboards is very disappointing. Hopefully a future update can address these issues because as a franchise revival, Bubble Bobble 4 Friends gets a lot right.