Drinking game: Take a sip everytime I say the word Bubble.
I like looking at simple games that may potentially have more to offer than it seems. Upon a revisit I expected my childhood nostalgia game Bubble Bobble to be an enjoyable yet shallow experience. But as I thought deeper and researched more I noticed how unique the game is, how there’s more to being good than may seem, and how the scoring system is more complex than the game lets on. It’s also a great lesson on the fact that how much a game can be critisized depends on the amount of factual knowledge is known about that game, and that new knowledge can always be discovered that changes the nature of the game.
Bubble Bobble is the popularizer of what I personally call the 2D Arena Platformer, a type of almost exclusively Japanese Action Game that involves a series of single screen levels in which your only objective is to kill all the enemies. That may sound boring and repetitive, which it is to some extent, but bubble bobble really differentiates in how its core elements of the genre of combat and platforming work, while encoruaging the right behavior through the scoring system to keep things interesting. It’s a game that showcases that Japanese game design of starting with a single concept and building the entire game around it.
Before I start I’d like to tell which version I played and about the technical issues I had. At first I played the Arcade Japanese 0.1 version on the very hard dip swithch without knowing I still had that dip switch on. I wanted to save state every 10 stages but it kept freezing. When it froze I had to restart the groovymame64 0.196. emulator which somehow took like 2 minutes, then load the game for like 1 minute, and then redo my keys. Sometimes I had to restart my PC entirely and sometimes my recording program crashed the game too. I later then fixed the emulator reboot times, but at stage 54 I couldn’t continue. I then played on the US. 5.1 version on the default settings. Btw, yes, the NES version has differences including level changes. Anyways, It turns out the game does not support savestates at all and that this causes the freezes. Thus I had to replay the game again in Retroarch’s Final Burn Alpha version as it supports savestates, but this emulation is glitchier. I also wanted to use precise measurments in timing, buut I just don’t know how, maybe the 60 hz nature of my screen is messing with the 59 point something hertz nature of the game we’re emulating.
‘Each stage is a clear mini loop. You wait until you’re ready, you trap the enemies, you pop them, you pick shit up before the time runs out, and you watch an animation that puts you into the next level. About half of the time is actually spent in action and the other half is picking things up and waiting, which gives the game a kind of stop and go feel where there’s tension at the start and rest at the end in every single level. That can make it feel a bit monotonous. Every level is really short so they all feel like little mini challenges, almost like small action puzzles in a sense.
The controls in bubble bobble are very direct as while there is a jump frame on the ground said jump starts pretty much immediately, turning around happens pretty much instantly. This is rather necessary with how fast the enemies get later on and the nature of this game’s jump. The controls are also floaty and pretty stiff. Going up and down take pretty mucht the same amount of time with no visible acceleration, though there’s only like 3 frames when hanging in the peak. Despite the enemies being quite fast it has a total airtime of about 52 milliseconds with a jumpheight of about 1 fifth of the screen if you’d include the black part. That wouldn’t be weird if it wasn’t for that you can’t control your jumpheight at all thus creating a commitment requiring jump. When you jump, you risk something dangerous coming below your feet just when you land or touching something when going on the way up. If you press jump and later press forwards you can tap the button to move in miniscule increments in the jump.
Even if you hold it you won’t go far at all, slightly more than 2 stage tiles at most even though it takes just as long as a regular jump. A regular jump goes in the arc drawn on screen (why measure it when I can literally show it) and covers the distance of about a fourth of the screen without the walls included. In a normal jump where you hold forwards while jumping, one must almost entirely commit to it. However, you can hold back in the middle of the jump which makes the character turn around and only slightly adjust. Once your jump gets below the height of the ground you stood on you will float down quite slowly, and in it you can only adjust slightly in the same manner of the jump and then press forwards style jump. Phantom platform collision does not exist, the player only falls off when the character sprite has nothing to stand on. Even just falling off of the platform feels slow, like you are gliding downwards, though one has more control over turning around right after falling than in a game like Mario Bros. Combined with enemy speed getting faster than the player at points, The result of bubble bobble’s control style is that Bubble Bobble is very much about anticipating what comes next through knowledge of enemy behavior and adjusting your movement accoardingly. Most of the different jumps come from the height distances and that fits the action focus. It also complements that one needs to rely more on the special mechanics of the game to perform more jumps.
In Bubble Bobble all you’re doing is killing enemies. As action platformers aren’t known for all that interesting enemy to enemy combat, it is good Bubble Bobble has an interesting attack method up its sleeves that complements the only things the game really has going for it at its core: Platforming, and Attacking. Sure it’s very simple and repetitive to execute but it works in making the game stand out. The core idea of the game is that you can shoot bubbles which trap enemies, and that you then have to squash the bubbles with your spikes (though you can do it with any side in actual gameplay) to kill the enemies. This attack serves as both a method to interact with the enviorment through complementing platforming abilities, as well as the method to both interact with and kill enemies. Essentially, you can shoot platforms with some unique properties which also serve as a 2 step kill weapon. I’ll say more about this later.
The bubbles have a certain time they take to reach the max distance of about a fourth of the playing field. Unlike a lot of old games, you can shoot as many as you want on screen at a time but they’ll just pop after a while. Instead, you are limited by a timer for how frequently you can shoot. If you fire a bubble, it will take about 24 to 29 milliseconds to begin shooting the next bubble. This may sound short but it’s actually quite lengthy in practice. Because of this when a lot of enemies follow you and you shoot one, there’s a bit of time when you are left completely vulnurable. While bubbles can be shot without commitment as you can shoot while moving, the high amount of time it takes to fire a new one adds another element of having to anticipate to succeed. It means you will have to play defensively. You can’t just barge into a large group of enemies, you have to either safely get rid of them from a distance so they won’t reach you, or be sure that you have enough time and room to dodge the other enemies and then all trap them. It’s also that your movement speed isn’t exactly the fastest, even if you can reach the other side of the screen in about 3 seconds and the top in slightly less. Again, plan your moves ahead.
So, what makes these bubbles so special? For one they allow you to interact with the enemies in the only way you can that isn’t killing them: trapping them will change their location depending on where the bubble floats to as after a while they will fall out. Second they serve as some really strange platforms that can only be spawned at a certain range, move around, and disappear after a while you can use to interact with the enviorment. After firing they will all float around in different directions and speeds depending on the stage its invisible bubble streams. I’ll get into more of that later. If you walk into them for a while, jump on to them once, or jump into them once, they will disappear. If you hold the jump button however you will jump on one, and this is where that low distance jump and move later jump comes in handy as it allows you to more easily ride the bubble if it moves very slow horizontally. Because of the different ways they float one can’t just ride the bubbles but also use them to climb in various ways. One can even use it to climb to the top of the stage and end up at the bottom. Another thing is that it makes the stage enviorment have more of an impact on the gameplay, as if you’re crammed between two walls the bubble will pop. You need enough room to shoot bubbles, which means cramped spaces are riskier. There’s also some stages where you can walk through a slight hole in the wall, and then shoot past it, but you can’t normally shoot past it.
If you walk into a bubble in short bursts or nothing is behind it, it will not pop, so you can push them. Bubbles floating towards you will actually push you and yess this can lead to your death in some stages such as 19 giving some urgency, but if you walk against them with the right timing OR stand in the opposite direction to let them float into your spikes they will pop instead. While you can’t shoot upwards and have little range, you can shoot a lot of bubbles and make it so that they collide with one another as they float. If you then pop the right one, all the other ones will pop as well, and as long as an enemy is in a bubble close enough to the other bubbles, you will kill it. In stage 89 I could not for the life of me get on this platform with the enemies, but I saw special fire bubbles were floating up which you can kill the enemis with. So I stood in the right range to form a row of bubbles under the fire bubble and popped all of them right when the fire bubble passed the platform. The fire fell out, and killed the enemies.
In Bubble Bobble there’s actually two ways to attack, the first is the 1 step kill, risky low range attack and the second are just using your bubbles regularly. As for the first, If you fire a bubble right in front of an object it will pop right away. Thus if you do this on an enemy, it will die in one hit. Accoarding to Stragety wiki some call this ”kissing’ monsters” due to the way it looks. This requires timing adjustement based on the enemy speed or its and your air movement. It has incredibly low range which means it leaves you more vulnurable after using it. The typical tactic is to do it and then walk backwards right after so that it pops more quickly. When there’s a low count of enemies at once this is actually easier and more time efficient, however it will give you less points.
If you trap an enemy in a bubble, but they manage to escape as it pops by itself, they will get angry and when they’re angry they’re much faster. This gives a sense of urgency to pop the bubbles and some kind of punishment for being careless. Enemies will also get angry if you take too long to finish the stage. Take even longer, and an unkillable skel enemy will try to chase you down until the end of the stage, moving only in bursts in short increments.
You can actually trap an enemy in a bubble and jump off of it while popping it if you have good timing, which can be used to escape lots of projectile enemies on one lane like in the evil stage that is 42.
Stages in Bubble Bobble aren’t progressive sets of challenges. Instead they are arena’s in which traversing through them fluently presents serveral mini challenges, but where the player will go is always dependant on the player and his situation. These mini traversal challenges are often not forced and not immediately obvious from taking a glance at the level. In that sense it’s like a really really dumbed down version of exploration platformers like Mario 64. I’d also like to note that like a lot of arcade games, if you fall into the bottom of the screen you end up on the top, creating another movement option. BUT if you’re good with bubble jumping you can actually jump from the top to the bottom. This is required to not get stuck in a few stages.
While you can jump through all platforms, if it’s thick, it will halt a lot of your forward movement, which makes different map geometry stand out more and allows for certain jumps that can’t be made. Same goes for if you want to jump against a staircase shape, this gives more forward movement but still very little. Geometry can almost always be jumped through, and because of this if you jump through at the side edge or jump higher just so you won’t reach the platform you can shoot bubbles through without actually passing through and this can be used quite a lot. Some places can even be jumped through, but you won’t be able to move back. Meanwhile walls and platforms can’t normally be shot through so they can be used to shorten your range. Walls are basically anti range and anti jump capability obstacles.
While in most games the stages will just differ from geometry and enemy placement, and a lot of arcade games had bubble bobble’s system where if you move from the bottom screen you fall out on the top and vice verca, Bubble Bobble directly ties its bubble properties to the stages. The game is truly focused around its main concept of bubbles. As said Each stage has its own stream in which the bubbles flow after shooting them. Usually they will amass to a central place on the map, or serveral central places, but this depends. There is a stage for example where they will just float up directly. Each stage will also have different floating speeds, and bubbles that spawn in the stage itself without you shooting them. Item spawn locations differ per stage. Enemies can have different speeds in each stage too, and the amount of time you’re allowed to last changes as well. Enemy speed will impact your kiss timings, as well as timing challenges when an enemy is patrolling a platform, and dodge timings and spotting oppertunities.
They will also have different times of how long bubbles last when an enemy is trapped. If this is short there will be less of a chance to keep enemies away from you by putting them into a bubble while dealing with others making it harder. If bubbles last for a short amount of time the kissing monsters technique is encouraged, as well as killing the enemy through the game’s special bubbles. I’ve noticed that when the time is short they often put these bubbles there forming a kind of puzzle and timing challange to try to quickly kill the enemies with them.
These special bubbles which will appear in certain stages are based on the elements and will all make what’s basically an attack come out. That’s right, it’s an attack that comes from the enviorment and floats around. The water bubble will make a stream of water slide down killing enemies alongside it, and if you get on the scream you will go with them but it won’t hurt you. the stream will move on the opposite direction of where you popped it. Why go along with the water instead of just letting it fall onto enemies? Well if you ride it you’ll change position and you can actually pass through tiny holes which is used in some stages. On top of this is if you’ve trapped enemies a normal stream will not be able to kill the enemies, yet if you ride it, you will pop the bubbles.
Then we have electricity bubbles, which will fire a straight horizontal one tile electricitty symbol to the opposite direction which will freeze in place for a bit as it hits an enemy and then move on. You can hit quite a few enemies with a single well timed shot. Fire balls will make fire drop down and when it lands will create a row of fire that kills enemies, but also stuns your movement if you touch it forcing you to hop along the fire instead of walk on it. lastly there’s the 1 in 4096 chance fireball which I actually managed to get on my playthrough that allows you to shoot fast horizontal piercing fireballs that just kill anything on their path for like 5 rounds. It’s nice to see that these attacks often play an integral role to making the stages feel different instead of just being disposable gimmicks.
Bubble Bobble can be played in serveral ways. One can play for survival, one can play for speed, and what’s the encouraged way to play is to play for score, which will also involve some survival and speed. When it comes to survival, it will have to do with the stage layout and enemies. Being good at not getting hit in Bubble Bobble is knowing the enemy behavior and acting prematurely. For example If I jump to X location will I be able to still dodge the enemies when I land?
A lot of enemies have a more difficult counterpart. There are 4 ground enemies with regular movement. The standard fodder enemy that works on touch damage called Zen-chan just walks around usually falling down from platform to platform, jumping forwards when there’s a gap and occasionally jumping up at a certain interval if the player is on a higher level. This is standard enemy behavior, their behavior changes the most based on which height level the player is standing. However they don’t chase the player as obviously as let’s say a serious sam enemy that constantly charges at you. That makes the player have influence while still making the enemy placement have a good influence.
A stepup up from Zen chan is the ghost mighta from taito’s earleir game chack n’ pop, which is similar but throws a slow horizontal projectile that disappears when in contact with a wall. Hidgegons are the more difficult counterpart of zen chan as they spit piercing, fast fireballs. Lastly Super Drunk is the more difficult counterpart to mighta, which moves faster with a faster projectile that doesn’t disappear, and even bounces back like a boomerang. We then have 2 ground enemies with special movement. Banebou (literally spring pole) goes in a bouncing pattern which switches between what seems like two jump distances and still shows the up or down jump pattern. This is so quick you can’t really jump under it, their challenge comes more from them moving in bursts in a hard to predict manner, and it also means it’s hard to jump over them. They often come in large groups placed on top of eachother so you often gotta make it so that they stop syncing up and pick off single ones. The last ground enemy is the rather fast Invader which moves exactly like their game space invaders moving left and right and falling down any gap while shooting lasers down. The only 2 flying enemies are Monsta, the main enemy of taito’s game Chack n’ pop, and Pulpul. Monstas always bounce around in 90 degree turns making them predictable but hard to dodge and aim for. Their more difficult counterpart pulpul has a more erratic harder to predict pattern that moves around in a more curved like pattern. I’ll just show it on screen.
The whole crux is that you’ll try to be dodgind or capturing one enemy but than the different moving pattern of another throws you off and it turns out that move will get you killed by said other enemy. Most movement will be based on enemies their movement as you fear their touch damage or pick which ones you want to capture. There isn’t a clear heirarchy in which enemies you’d want to kill first in the enemy design itself aside from going for stronger ones first, BUT depending on the stage geometry and enemy combinations there will definitely be less dangerous orders of dealing with enemies.
At the start when most enemies don’t have projectiles, kissing monsters is rather easy to do, but later on it gets more risky when the projectiles start to come in. The projectiles of the space invaders are to create more horizontal dodging, while those of the others force jumping. You might be fucked when you land though. A cool tactic is to trap the enemy, shoot another bubble, jump onto the bubbles to stay in the eair when you need to. It’s also a good time to make use of the increased range by putting bubbles together and popping them all.
When a stage starts, enemies are frozen for a while. This allows one to scan the level shape and pick which enemies to kill first. If you will already kiss kill some monsters here will have an impact on the difficulty of the stage and your score. Which monsters you kill will also have an impact because enemy behavior will often be very similar at the start, even if it changes a bit depending on where you stand so you still have some indirect interaction with how it will play out.
The crux of Bubble Bobble isn’t in survival however. The crux is to trap multiple enemies in bubbles and pop them all at once. This is encouraged by the scoring system, and said scoring system is much more involved than one may initially think. Sadly there’s some rather random elements to the scoring system so a better score does not always indicate a better performance, but better players will pretty much always be getting higher scores than worst ones. Before I actually get into how it works, what’s interesting in Bubble Bobble is that the scoring system encourages one to do certain things without directly asking it of the player. What I mean is that in a lot of modern games, you will see your score divided into different scores, such as seeing stuff like a ”time taken” counter. Instead Bubble Bobble encourages time in a more indirect way I find more creative.
So, how does it work? Increasing your score in bubble bobble is mostly dependant on picking up the many item drops that exist in the game by simply walking over them. There are 4 types of these.
1 -Enemy defeat bonus.
2 – Point items
3 – Special items
4 – Level Rewards
First we have 1: the enemy defeat bonus.
When an enemy is killed a food item will spawn. It will travel in an arc of a seemingly random direction and you can only pick it up when it reaches the ground. I’d actually say that this travelling arc is one of the flaws because I never really get where it will end up and usually it despawns or the level ends before I manage to do it. When you end a level, you get a certain amount of seconds to pick them up before the gamemoves on.
It may seem like which you get is random, but in actuality it just depends on how many enemies you’ve popped at once. For each enemy you pop extra, the score of the item is doubled. Pop one enemy and you get a 500 point banana, Pop 2 and you get a 1000 point orange, pop 3 and you get a 2000 point peach, etc. The graphics are useful for remembering point amounts. This popping multiple enemies at once thing is the core mechanic of Bubble Bobble. In fact it gives you a ton of points even if you don’t pick up the items, starting at thousand, but doubling for each enemy added, and in the demo screen it teaches you this immediately.
Because of it encouraging this core mechanic by rewarding you you’re always trying to look for ways to do the biggest multipops as quickly as possible, because it gives a lot of benefit. it is kind of interesting to see how many of the drops you can get on top of popping a lot. If you pop everything at once, you will trigger the level end and thus you don’t get a lot of time for pickups. Pop once, and you get enough time to pick it up, but as you’re taking time your next level spawn will get worse. It also encourages the game’s co operative play, because one person can do the pop while the other helps picking up the items. Buut..You both have seperate score counters which makes it look kind of competetive? What should players tally up their scores together? I dunno. It’s all rather messy, but I kind of like this conflict in principle, it just needs tweaking to actually make it all work in practice.
Keep in mind that points give extra lives at 30.thousand, 100 thousand and 400 thousand points, so multipopping always somewhat increase survivability. It does not just increase your item drops though, it will also make bubbles with letters called Extend bubbles spawn in maps that have holes at the top or bottom in which they can flow through. If you pop 3 bubbles, 2 extend bubles will spawn in the next stage with those holes. Pop 4, and 3 extend bubbles will spawn. If you manage to get 1 of each letter to spell extend, you will gain an extra life, as well as skip to the next stage. Because of that multipopping increases survivability more than one may think, and even increases speed. Note that they will despawn when you finish a level so you gotta either take the time to pick them up or skip them. Thing is which letter will spawn is randomized.
However, even popping the same ones is benifitial because it can help with item spawns. I’ll get into that more later.
2: Regular Item Stage spawns. In every stage, there is a set per stage location where an item will spawn after being in the stage for 7 seconds. I actually think there should’ve been a way to see where every item will spawn before they actually spawn there so that it doesn’t create trial and error but sadly that’s not the case. The interesting thing about Bubble Bobble is that which item will spawn here is not random but depends entirely on the actions of the player. These regular items that fall under category 2 are all based on how quick you beat the last stage. If you were slow enough for a skel enemy to appear, in the next stage you get green pepper that only gives 10 points. And yes all the low value items are healthy ones. Finish the stage in 0 seconds, and you get a gold crown of a whopping 10 thousand points. And there’s many, many items in between. You may think how the fuck do I win in 0 seconds, but there’s a type of special items that can skip levels. I just find this an interesting way to encourage speed, it doesn’t just tally it up, it directly ties it into the item based scoring system. This also means it doesn’t clash with the Multi pop scoring system. It means your goal in bubble bubble isn’t to be as fast as possible, it’s to multi pop as much as you can as fast as possible, as multi popping has priority.
And special items are the next type of item to explain.
3: Special items.
Special Items are items that actually do something, like powerups. These spawn in yet another map specific location on the map slightly later than the regular one. These are again not random, they’re based on either doing various actions in the stage or collecting other things. I’m going to try to go over as many as I can. Yes this is objective info, but info not often said on youtube.
For almost everything you do the game keeps a counter in the background, and if a certain amount is reached, that item will spawn in the spawn location of the next stage. If you’ve met two conditions, the game will spawn only 1 item, and that’s the item that had the highest value. even if someone doesn’t know this, It’s funny how the way you play ends up deciding what kind of items you end up spawning, making the player have more of an impact on how the game plays out. It adds to player expression and stragety. The most basic items come from doing the most basic tasks of blowing bubbles, popping bubbles, and jumping 35 or more times. Blowing gives a bubble range powerup, which watch out may make impact which bubble jumps you can make, popping gives a bubble speed powerup, and jumping gives a rapid fire powerup. As jumping takes long, this is the hardest to get, but rapid fire is also the most useful of these powerups because if a bunch of enemies get up to you at once you can fire enough bubbles in time to kill them all.
If you’ve jumped 35 times, but blown 60 times, it will still give the rapid fire powerup. I’d actually find it an interesting idea if it didn’t. Then you’d have to try to not perform one action, while trying to perform the other as many times as you can. I don’t know if it would actually work but it’d be interesting to try that in a different entry.
There’s also running shoes that increase your speed (not just running speed but jumping speed too), which spawn if you’ve walked the length of a stage 15 times. The running shoes, while very benifitial, are also harder to control as you get less time to make your bubble jumps and certain timings change. All These basic items just encourage you to do basic stuff as much as you can.
Next up are items spawned by killing with the special bubbles such as water and fire bubbles, as well as just popping them. This way it encourages players to use the special bubbles more, on top of the stages often being designed in such a way that using them would allow one to kill the enemies faster even if it’s a bit harder to aim, which will make the regular item spawn better as well. Popping water bubbles makes the level skip umbrellas appear. 15 = orange which skips 3 stages. You may wonder if that messes things up because you’ll end up missing points, but to counteract this the game has another set of items I’ll mention later. You may also wonder if water bubbles give you multi pop points if you didn’t trap them in bubbles, and the answer is no. However they turn enemy drops into diomands to offset the issue. It can be hard to know what will be better in the long term. Should you trap the enemies and then use the water so you get pop bonus if you can or should you get the diomands? I dunno.
Popping Lightning Bubbles can spawn a time stopper, and killing with them can spawn stars that fall on the screen and kill enemies. Popping fire bubbles can spawn a bomb that clears the screen, or an item that makes 10 extend bubbles spawn. Killing can spawn the screen clear as well. Water is for speed, lightning and fire are offensive. This begs the question whether it is more benifitial to take longer in one stage to pop more of these bubbles causing the next stage to have a lower point item, but also making it so that in the next stage one of the screen clear items may spawn, which in turn will make the point item in the stage after higher. I do not have the patience to do the math/
Crosses are powerful automatic screen filling attacks gotten by simplty collecting amounts of special items.
Rings are great as they reward you with straight up points for doing mundane actions. Pink gives points per jump, red per bubble blown, and blue per pixel moved. These are tied directly to the candies, as 3 pink candies gives the jump one, 3 yellow candies the bubble one, and 3 blue candies the pixel one. As you may notice It does not give the candies related to the effect. This really begs the question which candies are the most benefitial to go for. It’s also interesting how it means that to get the candies, you need to do one action. But if you get 3 of that candy, you need to do another action to keep increasing your score. Which will then kind of force you to do that which will then spawn another color candy. Maybe it was done to balance things out so people would keep getting different candies? I don’t know.
Lanterns are vary valuable for their benifits. The first two lanterns are kind of consollation prizes that encourage co op and also encourage spending a ton of money. If player 1 joins the game 5 times you get a lantern that gives the effects of all 3 rings. If player 2 joins 5 times you get the effect of all 3 rings and all candles.
The next lantern is the item to counteract the skipping of levels issue. It is a screen kill item, BUT it changes all the enemies on screen into 6 thousand point diomands. I don’t know if this is actually worth it most of the time, that would have to be playtested and I simply do not have the motivation to. The last one also gives 3 candy effects, but you gotta collect a lot of freeze clocks, which were collected through popping lightning bubbles. Because of that, Lightning Bubbles are quite valuable.
There are more consollation prize items as well for players who are doing bad. Reach the hurry up screen too much, and you get an item that makes the screen flash if a special item is about to appear, or an item that makes a ball bounce accross the screen in 90 degree corners killing enemies that touch it. There’s also the opposite, an item that punishes being even slower. Make skel appear too much and a skull will make comets fly accross the screen making any enemy they touch angry. That’s just kicking someone while they’re down.
There’s still a few more items left. Collecting defeated enemy fruits makes an item appear that freezes enemies but also makes them killed if you run into them. Thus encouraging one to pickup regular items. Collecting a crown may spawn an crystal ball that makes special items appear faster, around 4 seconds. This is probably to partially counteract the issue of being very fast in one stage, but then needing to take wait to even be able to pick up your reward, which means you’ll get to complete this stage slower. Still though, you’d never be able to benefit from the best rewards every stage. It again begs the question what’s more benifitial.
There’s an item for beginning 777 levels which turns stuff into potions. There’s not even that many levels in the game. But on single player the game loops over and over. Which is kinda lame, I mean a great player could easily go on until you reach the max score through that. But hey appearantly that can make this incredibly rare item spawn.
Umbrellas aren’t the only way to skip stages. If you don’t die and reach stages 20, 30 and 40 you can reach a secret room with items and a message. But if you reach stage 50 one appears that warps you to stage 70.
Remember when I said collecting extend bubbles of the same type is actually not a bad thing? If you collect 3 of the same type you get a staff, and this staff then spawns a chest when the stage ends which spawns a giant point item. It is the D staff that gives the most points, so it is always advised to give her the D. As well as anything that isn’t a healthy food.
Potions enable a minigame where all enemies disappear and instead everywhere on the screen are collectibles you need to collect within the time limit. These have the weirdest condition of all. Stages have holes and if you fall into the bottom you come out on top. But doing this x amount of times actually makes the potions drop.
While recording for the first time ever I coincidentally stumbled accross the 1 in 4096 fire bubble which gives you fire breath for 5 rounds. No clue why it has to be so rare but I guess that’s kind of amusing in the days where we didn’t have the internet. Lots of rumors were made about games back then so it’d make for some interesting playground talk.
Lastly if you enter certain names in the high score screen when you’re done, you can spawn cheat items that have some kind of effect on the next game. And yes one of them is triggered by calling yourself SEX. The game encourages you to be crude so I’ll give it points for that..
But WAIT, there’s more! We didn’t discuss the 4th type of item yet, the bonus items!
This is the most cryptic condition of them all. These special rewards are given when you finish a stage under a certain condition and they’ll make all remaining popped bubbles become said rewards. While it’s already encouraged to blow a lot of bubbles when trying to do multi pops because that increases the chance of actually popping all of them, these items encourage it as well. How are they triggered? Well, first off there’s just certain levels where this automatically happens. All levels that can be divided by 5 suck as 5,10, 15, etc up to level 50 have it, as well as a few stages later and stage 1. This is just throwing the player a bone for making progress I guess, and the higher the stage the better. They don’t give many points.
Buut the cryptic part is that if the 10 and 100 digits of your score counter are the same when you kill the enemies, such as your score ending with 110 points, there’s better ones that will always spawn for every regular bubble that got popped. It will also happen if 2 players have the same 10 and 100 digit score and those items will give even more points. 990 gives the best ones. You may be thinking, but skeptic how the fuck is anyone supposed to exploit that? Well, for every bubble you pop, which you can simply do by standing into the wall and shooting, you gain 10 points, and for every bubble you jump on you get 10 points as well. It’s almost asif this was intentional. So what players often do is let one player pop the bubbles and the other edit their score in time through popping bubbles against the wall. What ends up happening is that you have to pay attention to your score and decide whether it’s worth it or not to pull off, especially as you’re gonna need space to blow extra bubbles that will turn into items, while not doing anything that gives points before you kill everything. It requires some dedication. You’d also have to think about how to get the best one, you’d need to do it everytime you have 900 points and then wall blow some bubbles to get to 990, but if you blow one more bubble bam you’re back to the low tier, so there’s some risk reward involved there.
And there you have it. The convoluted scoring system of Bubble Bobble. It encourages you to do as much as possible, collect as much as possible, but it rewards you most for simply multi popping, which is the main mechanic of the game and setting up these traps for a more satisfying big climax inherently feels better than going for small instant gratification of killing single enemies. I do sometimes wish it also had a time combo system where if I couldn’t multi pop I’d still get more points if I popped bubbles in a row but seperately. Multi popping is quite satisfying, especially as the bubbles will still switch position so you may actually only cause half of them to pop. The more bubbles you blow extra the less chance of this happening but that takes time.
What’s really cool is that there exists an iphone game I can’t play that showcases just how important this multipop mechanic was to taito. Instead of it being a minigame unrelated to Bubble Bobble, it actually stripped down bubble bobbble to its minimal core by making a minigame around multi popping, where you quickly pick the locations in which the most enemies would pop and pop all of them in a low amount of turns. I actually think normal bobble would lend itself well to one of those simple mobile games where you try to get 3 stars in every short stage.
The point system of Bubble Bobble is incredibly convoluted, especially for an arcade game without a manual. I think for most players such as myself there’s too much to take into consideration in these short ass stages for them to conciously try to do things the best way possible. It just goes by way too fast and you just can’t keep track of everything. Hell fact it’s often hard to judge what of serveral options are better than others without a damn calculator. Should I take more time to match my score for the special reward? Or should I finish the stage quickly? I mean I guess for some people that shit’s fun to figure out but keep in mind this is an arcade machine, it can not save, and mame does not support savestates for it. It’s just too unclear for its own sake. It does incentivise players to play the way the devs want you to though, while still allowing player expression and trying to map out a good route. I think there’s serveral factors that kind of make certain point differences hinge on luck, however the point system still works in that shitty players simply will have less points than good ones.
What’s interesting is that while I can find point system info for the third entry, for its sequel Bubble symphony, I can’t find any of this information at all. So I can’t know if they changed anything about the system. That showcases to me how important objective information can be in critisizing games and how a lot of said information is actually unavailable to the public.
A game’s critical reception of a game changes based on how much players know. Just look at multiplayer games where the entire meta changes because someone makes a single discovery like the bunnyhopping technique in quake. I actually believe that if we want to take game critique forward, the developers should make as much info about the game public as they can. Sure, you can’t foresee an exploit like bunnyhopping, but you can definitely give infor like the scoring system of this game. If the players don’t know something exists, than they can’t reap any of the benifits of it as it will just seem random. A player can only control something and use it to their advantage if they know how it works.
The game’s crypticness doesn’t end there. There is an INCREDIBLY convoluted way to unlock the game’s super mode that replaces regular enemies with their harder counterpart. You gotta finish the game with two players, go into that door with the secret message, somehow decode it from that cryptic ass message, then use a buttom combination code at the title screen which only seems to work if you beat the game just before that, and finally you can do it. Speaking of which, you can only do it with 2 players. This game does anything to make you hate yourself for being alone.
Here’s a list of benifits with 2 players. With 2 players you can:
-Actually finish the game and see the real ending
– Get the highest point items
– Get the highest special reward items
-Get unlimited continues
– Get the first 2 lanterns
– Get an easier time for special reward items
– Get an easier time collecting all the fruits before they disappear
– Get an easier time simply beating these mostly symmetrical levels
more quickly, plus one can pop while the other traps.
– Have an easier time because you have twice the fire speed, meaning you’ll be able to
trap more enemies in time before they kill you if you work together.
Christ. They say a lot of co op games have the other person be useless. But this game takes the idea of having to work together a bit too far. And also, the game loops in singleplayer, so you can actually get the max possible score by just playing forever which is kinda lame.
I”m quite disappointed in that the sequels after the arcade trilogy don’t really seem to do much with the game’s ideas. They don’t improve upon little areas they could improve like showing where items will spawn, more interesting special bubbles, or making additions to the point system, or maybe keeping a tally of your actions in a menu, or making things less hectic, or making it easier to know where fruits will end up and control that, etc.. They also don’t try to make the core concept of popping more interesting, I bet people could think of some mechanics that change things up. Instead they usually had some kind of unrelated gimmick such as switching characters with different colors.
Now that I’ve finished the game design portion I’d also like to take some time to talk about Bubble Bobble’s stages for a bit. Theoretically speaking, what would make a set of bubble bobble stages good? That’s a tough question isn’t it? I mean what would make one bad? If you’d just have a flat line and some monsters it wouldn’t really work. All the options you would have would be to shoot, and if the enemies are fast enough and shoot projectiles you’d be fucked. Then you could jump, and with these limited controls you can’t do much. Then you could trap an enemy, jump on a bubble to stay in the air to dodge a projectile and then pop, I actually used that tactic in an actual stage once which is quite cool but what I’m trying to say is a flat line won’t give us many options. Meanwhile we have stage one which is basically 3 of them stacked on top and..It works fine in the context of stage 1. So I can’t really say what makes a single stage good, instead it’s all about 1: Making sure all of the game’s mechanics get a use at some point, and 2: having sets of stages that are different enough for the game to not feel like it’s genuinely repeating itself. That’s all it can do really. I mean sure there are certain stages that give more options than others, but the game is kind of about finding an optimal quick stragety for each stage anyways so it’s not all that necessary. What’s surprising is how well bubble bobble actually managed to do both.
Full Jump: 52 Milliseconds
Up: 25 milliseconds
3 milliseconds in air
24 milliseconds down.
Walking Horizontally: 2:57 (more space)
4 jumps horizontal, 5 jumps up but goes over screen.
Jumping up: 2:53 (less space but you can walk through)
24-27 milliseconds to get to second bubble.
29 milliseconds when enemy is trapped. Conclusion: Almost half a second.
-1 to 4: Standard enemies, different formations.
1: Jump up 3 times, shoot 3 times.
2: Jump up twice, then in the middle jump and shoot to a direction, then as the enemies come down shoot left and right. Good stage to try the special reward
3: Just jump to the middle, shoot 4 times.
4: Jump next to the first guy, and just time more bubbles, this time there’s more enemies.
5: Water level 1: Trap the enemies each time you jump up. Now you get some time to collect letters. When the water bubble appears go for it and automatically kill the enemies.
6: Water level 2: First time there’s ghost enemies. The barely there stream here makes it so that you can’t multi pop them and have to rely on water. This time you can’t immediately trap everything. You can’t get to the bottom right enemy without jumping, but then you’ll accidentally get to the next platform. So instead just move up a platform, side step the guy and wait until he jumps up. Then pop the water bubbles on top.
7- Similar to the early stages, but This time every enemy is a ghost and thus it’s a bit trickier to trap them as you’ll likely have to jump over one of their balls.
8: This one’s interesting as they come from 2 sides, but if you jump in the middle and then trap them, they’ll float to two different sides. So you gotta try to trap them on the same side which is a bit trickier but not that much.
9: Full of ghosts but in an erratic placement with more chaotic platforms that make it a bit harder to see how to quickly trap them.
10:Water stage 3: First stage with flying enemies and the geometry. This is the first stage where bubble time is low. The geometry is quite unique for the first time, you can only jump up and get out to the middle there, or take the small side which you can either jump to the platform or fall down from. You can shoot past the wall hole at the bottom which is cool, but the enemy will likely pop out. In Co op you could easily let one player shoot from here and let the other player move up to kill everything.
11: Water stage 4: Another low bubble time stage encouraging you to use water, but this time instead of the water falling on an open place it falls on ground at the top. The level geometry is the first ”shape” based stage. Killing the enemies here with water is harder. I think the water bubbles should have come out earlier.
Stage 12: Water stage 5: Flying enemies only but all placed in a hole in the sides. Here bubble time is higher so you can still choose to go for normal bubbles. The first stage where wall height will stop your jumps. Here you can’t cross the first gaps because the walls will stop your forward momentum. Kill one enemy in the freeze phase by jumping into the wall. Then drop down and get some other ones. Drop down again to get more, it requires a bit more movement than past stages, then try to pop water inside the tube thing and if there’s still enemies left you’re required to bubble climb jump to get out. The bubble stream makes it so you can’t jump on top of the thing at the start. But you can jump inside one of the tube things and bubble jump your way up, even if there’s not really a point as you can also just fall down.
Stage 13: Water stage 6: Another flying enemy stage, and also a shape stage (a heart). This time they’re all trapped inside the shape save for 2 (1 of which can be easily killed at the freeze point) and there’s required water bubble use to get in there from the top. You can also however get in from the bottom by bubble jumping to kill the mearlier, but the water can kill them all instantly.
Stage 14: Mixup of flying enemies and 2 ghost enemies. Another shape level, this time one that blocks a lot of your jumps in the middle. You gotta fall down the hole to get on top but the ground enemies will move down. This one has a bubble stream that makes it hard to get multi pops and a pretty low bubble time.
Stage 15: A more advanced layered geometry. If you jump up you’ll be stuck with the enemies and you gotta kiss them ,and your jumps are hampered. You gotta do a pretty easy bubble jump to get out. You can then jump into the water bubble over the wall and kill the enemies, just make sure they’re all on one side. If you go down to get to the top the enemies will likely be too fast to fall into without dying but maybe you could make it with running shoes I dunno.
16: A dense geometry with flying enemies. Jumping is severely hampered and the bubble stream all goes into one point pretty quickly. Bubble time is low though, so choose when to pop wisely. A bunch of enemies will already be in the middle and you can bubble jump up there.
17: Lightning stage 1: flying enemies in a line and 2 ghosts trapped in a place you can only jump into, and the items spawn inside this thing. Lightning Bubbles amass to the sides, you can hit quite a lot with it.
18: Water stage 7: Incredibly dense in a repetitive pattern , causing you to have little to no space to shoot enemies. Bubble time is low. but there’s standard enemies. It’s a bit harder to predict where the water will go when here.
19: Lightning stage 2: Advancement of stage 12, flying enemies are in multiple pipes of this time 1 space with a wide pipe in the middle where the bubbles amass. Pretty low bubble time. It’s safer to make the lightning bubbles pop at the right time to kill them by bubble jumping as they go up. You can still trap a bunch of enemies by dropping down into these tiny platforms, but you’ll be limited in dodge options and you gotta walk into bubbles coming your way to not get blown off. Also, the first two enemies can be killed by jumping into the wall and kissing them through it. Lightning bubbles amass to the middle as well.
20: Water stage 8: 3 U turn pattern flying enemies in the middle. You can only get down through sliding in the water. 2 ghost enemies are in a platform on top. You can get to them with the water. The stream allows one to bubble jump to the ghosts. There’s platforms there to more easily dodge them. As the bubble time is low it’s best to multi pop the flying enemies, then bubble jump up and multi pop the two ghosts instead of using the water.
21: A layered stage with small little holes where there’s enemies, which will likely jump up if you’re a layer above them, get out, then move down, then get into the holes again. As enemies move back and forth kissing and jumping up here can be a bit of a timing challenge. You can also move up prematurely and fight them outside. Thing is bubbles amass inside one of the holes. Even if there’s low bubble time, you can get more multi pops if you get in there. You only really can with the ghosts at first though, the standard enemies have holes that are too small
22: Lightning stage 3: A variation of stage 19. Here all enemies are trapped in a shape inside. They’re the u turn flying enemies, lightning moves accross the sides so you gotta time the lightning shot. With the u turns it’s a bit harder, but staying alive is much easier. Also you get more choices in where you can time the lightning bolts as they move all the way up instead of moving to the center when in the middle of the screen.
23: This shape in the middle allows one to jump through with a well timed jump (if not the wideness will stop your forward momentum) , but not go back without falling off again. Anywho, 5 u turn enemies that come down. If you stand in the bottom middle you can get all of them. There’ high bubble time but it takes long before they amass so you only get to multi pop way later. Your best bet is to drop to the bottom hole and kiss 1 enemy to death, then multi pop the rest as that’s much faster.
24: Closed Word at top stage ”bubble” hinting to trap them all, 7 u turn enemies. Just dodge, then drop down, get back up and get the remaining ones. Yyou can trap them all and multi pop m easily as they ammass to the bottom.
25: Fire stage 1: An open word at top stage with regular flying enemies all in one spot. Jump through the wall and you can kiss one to death, then you can kiss the rest to death as it has low bubble time. Or you can wait until the fire bubbles appear and make fire appear in the hole and they’ll fly against it pretty soon. The word popcorn gives a hint to fry them.
26: Fire stage 2: Similar to stage 7 with 7 ghosts, 3 in the middle, 2 on each side, which will drop down. There’s a lot of urgency in this stage. Stand on the ground for too long, and either the ghost will touch you or one of the projectiles will. Stand on the little mini platforms, and one of the ghosts will jump up and fall slower than you and you will need to move out of the way, but there might be a ghost below. You also can’t shoot far because the little platforms are in the way. Bubble time is pretty low but after a pretty long time fire bubbles come down and they’re perfect to deal with this scenario as the enemies will all often be on the same ground. I also like how the players get two little holes to decide when they’re gonna get out.
27: A pretty dense stage with multiple flying enemies of both types. Their movements are erratic because they can’t move through walls.
28: Fire stage 3: I mean the fire is basically there for if you fuck it up. But there’s a long verticle stack of ghost enemies that will fall down. You can almost immediately trap all of them. Then you have to move back and dodge by the platform, then move down again, and you can kill all of them at once in the middle with the long bubble time. The fire bubbles could be useful, but they take too long to come.
29: This seems to be a reference to one of the levels inChack n pop. Monstas, thick platforms that mess with your jumps, and 1 ghost on top.
30: Lighting stage 4. Bouncing enemy introduction. They’re all trapped in these holes open from the top bouncing around. You can kiss them but it requires some good timing due to the way they move. It’s very hard to trap them because of their position, and that’s where the lightning bubbles come in, they’re prefect for the task. Clever. There’s also two u turn enemies to not make things look too stale.
31: Very dense stage with like 7 ghosts coming from the top. You can get a few as they go down and then get the rest at the bottom. If you leave all of them there though..You’ll be fucked if you stay on ground. It’s too dense. What’s really weird is that if you stand above them they get stuck in a loop. Bubble time is high but the stream takes so slow to get to the end it’s better to do small multi pops.
32: Open big hole in the middle with a small entrance where there’s a buncha vertically lined up u turn enemies. You basically have to time when you can safely get in there. Then just walk to the side and shoot, or maybe jump shoot.
33: Fire stage 4: Regular enemies in the shape of that enemy. Some in small holes you have to kiss by jumping into the wall. The rest you gotta use your back to pop the fire bubble with so that it falls in there right into the remaining enemies. It’s clever in terms of an idea, but in execution it’s always pretty much the same thing. Still, makes for a memorable moment.
34: ANOTHER ghosts fall down stage, this time all on different levels with a more erratic open platform pattern. Just jump up and down to the platform to defend yourself. It has low bubble time but you can do a few multi pops.
35: This stage is fucking annoying. You’re stuck with 3 regular enemies at the bottom layer. KISS them cause bubble time is short and otherwise they will float towards the next layer and it makes it damn near impossible to not die after. It says ”JUMP” at the top as a hint that you gotta use the bubbles to get up. But after that the enemies will patrol around and you gotta time it right to Kiss and jump up. After that you finish the rest off on the final layer. You can not go down. It’s damn nigh impossible to get back up if you manage to get stuck on top so don’t do that.
36: Second time you really see springer enemies. It’s a shape level with just a question mark in the middle and they’ll all fall down. Trap them by jumping and alternating between left and right as fast as possible, then shoot a bubble in the middle, bubble jump up, and quickly try to kill them all. You get very little time but it’s definitely possible.
37: Fire Stage 5: Not a big fan of this one.. First just kiss all the ones stuck in the holes, there’s no other way. If you get stuck in there be prepared for some shitty ass bubble jumping in a cramped space. Required bubble jump up the left side. Then you either do a required push of the fire ball (yes, they actually utilize pushing) or wait until they line up and kill the last one
38: Fire stage 6: This one’s cool, it’s obvious what to do. Jumpers are at the bottom. Bubbles move up. Some are fire balls. Fall when there’s 1 fire one, and also a regular bubble to jump on, and they’ll all walk into the fire.
39: Fire stage 7: Required Bubble Jump up, then fall down with the fireballs and enemies. Low bubble time so can’t really multi pop much. You fall faster than enemies so you can kiss them from above. Fire feels a bit useless here.
40: A layered stage that introduces the fireball enemies. They’re very fast and will go down. You can simply not stand on one layer for too long. You can try to get all of them as they go down but the bubble time is too low for a multi pop. You can also go down the hole instead and make them move upwards.
41: 7 u turn enemies. Very similar to stage 24 in looks but there’s no ground, the top is pretty closed and has an exclamation mark. U turn enemies are all on different spots instead of vertically stacked. Thing is, Bubble time is really low making it opposite from stage 24. This is basically ”Kiss the flying enemies” the stage, which requires a bit of timing and dodging.