REVIEW: ‘Bubble Bobble 4 Friends’ is a Lackluster Continuation of a Classic (Switch)

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Bubble Bobble 4 Friends

Bubble Bobble 4 Friends is a platforming game for up to four players developed by Taito and published by ININ Games. The evil wizard Bonner is causing trouble and it’s up to the daring dinosaurs Bub and Bob to stop him. They’ll have to put all their skills to the test as they jump over perils and blast enemies with bubbles in order to reach the evil wizard.

I love a great nostalgia trip. And few games invoke more nostalgia for me than the NES classic Bubble Bobble. I played that game for countless hours as a kid. Alongside either my sister or my dad, I conquered every level to the point where I had their order memorized. So when I got the opportunity to review Bubble Bobble 4 Friends, I had to jump at the chance. While there are some improvements here to keep it up to the times, it seems some memories are best left in the past.

The basic structure of Bubble Bobble 4 Friends holds true to its arcade formula. Each level comprises of a single screen players complete by clearing out all the enemies. The primary tool used for this endeavor is your character’s ability to fire bubbles from their mouth. These bubbles can be used to trap enemies. With a timely pop of the bubble, the enemy is then defeated.

While great as a weapon, bubbles also serve as platforms the player can leap to in order to cross large gaps. To further add to this aspect of gameplay, most levels have an air current flowing through the stage. Bubbles will drift along with the current allowing Bub and Bob to get even further by repeatedly bouncing on a bubble as it drifts along.

The biggest change Bubble Bobble 4 Friends brings over its predecessor is the inclusion of skills. After the player clears each world they get access to a new skill. Skills range from bubbles that fly further to a dash maneuver to dodge enemy attacks. While these abilities are interesting, they come with some restrictions that greatly hamper their inclusion in the game.

The first problem is the limits put on their use. Since each skill has a limited number of uses to it you have to be careful with them. While some, like the far-reaching bubbles, have a generous 10 uses, others can only be used a single time. This can be mitigated to an extent by leveling skills up. Though that function comes with its own challenges.

In many of the levels in Bubble Bobble 4 Friends, you will find one of the letters that spell the word ‘extend.’ If over the course of a single world you manage to gather all the letters, it will upgrade the skill that world provides. As the game goes on these letters become extremely difficult to capture. They only remain on the screen for a fixed period of time, so acquiring them has to be your focus.

While the limited uses of many skills held up for my interest in them, an even greater hurdle comes from how players are allowed to access their skills between levels. Or more specifically, how they can’t.

Bubble Bobble 4 Friends

At the start of each world, the player is asked which skill they want to take into the world. After that, the only way to swap a skill out is to exit the world and restart it. This made it so I always picked the most broadly useful skills. If I could have selected a new ability when I restarted a level after dying, I probably would’ve gotten a lot more use out of some of the more niche offerings.

The level design in Bubble Bobble 4 Friends suffers from some struggles of its own. The most noticeable is how wildly random the difficulty tends to be. While the moment-to-moment platforming action plays well enough, many levels feel like their challenge is built around the player trying to get the extend letter in each level. If the player simply wants to complete the stage, it often is not overly difficult. Until it is. Then the game suddenly unleashes torrents of projectiles that make keeping tabs on what’s happening a frustrating challenge. More of my deaths were followed by, “where did that come from!?” than any other response. This made an overwhelming number of my deaths feel cheap and undeserved — not feelings that are conducive to enjoying a game.

The aspects of Bubble Bobble 4 Friends I cannot fault are the visual and  audio design. The toy box visual aesthetic is implemented wonderfully. It gives the game a fun, wholesome feeling that warmed my heart. As I moved through each world, I always enjoyed seeing the new visual focus.

I also appreciated the modernized version of the classic music tracks featured here. The tunes in Bubble Bobble always provided a wonderful bounce to the experience. These updates revitalized the old tracks splendidly. As a bonus, this game also comes with the original coop offering from the 80s. It was fun getting to pop some bubbles in those stages again. Though, the simplistic design might not appeal to anyone not going in with the nostalgia glasses on.

In the end, Bubble Bobble 4 Friends is a mediocre platforming experience. Inconsistent level design and restricted access to using abilities holds this game back from being a truly enjoyable experience. I will continue to remember Bub and Bob fondly from my youth, but this outing does little to build upon the legacy.

Bubble Bobble 4 Friends is available March 31st on the Nintendo Switch.

Bubble Bobble 4 Friends
  • 5/10
    Rating - 5/10
5/10

TL;DR

In the end, Bubble Bobble 4 Friends is a mediocre platforming experience. Inconsistent level design and restrictive ability access holds this game back from being a truly enjoyable experience. I will continue to remember Bub and Bob fondly from my youth, but this outing does little to build upon the legacy.