As games become bigger, prettier, and overall more technically impressive, more power is required of our consoles and PCs to play most games. While this has obviously led to the inception of some of the greatest games of the era, there’s been an unintended consequence. It’s become quite a bit more difficult to create games that support local multiplayer. This makes sense. When playing a game in split-screen, your machine essentially has to render the game world, and all the information within, twice. This simply isn’t practical for a lot of massive open world, high definition games, but we still want something to play with our friends and family. Thankfully, there are a number of smaller games to fill this niche offering a range of mechanics and quality. Bubble Bobble 4 Friends, developed by Taito, places the focus on working together in order to solve increasingly difficult levels.
While technically number four in the series, there have been over a dozen other sequels made for the popular arcade game. Bubble Bobble 4 Friends is a puzzle platformer that features all of the same mechanics from the original, plus some new innovations to spice things up. You, and up to three friends, play as the iconic bubble dragons as you navigate from level to level in order to defeat the evil Baron Von Blubba.
Each level of Bubble Bobble features a number of enemies that you and your friends will need to defeat to move on. Like in the 1986 original, the player can trap enemies inside bubbles which they can then pop. Unlike in the original, the bubbles provide a few extra uses now. The can, and often must, be utilized as platforms to navigate the levels and a new wind mechanic allows you to predict where the bubble will end up after you blow it. These additional mechanics make this sequel feel a bit more puzzle-oriented than previous titles which focused a bit more on platforming.
While the original Bubble Bobble allowed up to two players to traverse the Cave of Monsters, Bubble Bobble 4 Friends allows up to four players to work together. While playing alone can become tedious and repetitive, adding in a few friends creates an atmosphere of chaos that is too much fun to ignore. Bouncing off of other player’s bubbles, sabotaging their efforts, and making it to the next level with only one life to spare are all so much fun when experienced with another player. Certain unlockable power-ups can be used to customize your team as some players will have the ability to blow bubbles further, blow explosive bubbles, and more.
Bubble Bobble 4 includes the “Arcade of Memories”, which actually allows you to play the original Bubble Bobble in all its glory. With 100 levels in this version alone, Bubble Bobble 4 offers hours of gameplay. In fact, even more levels have been added in the recent “Baron is Back” release providing new challenges, level designs, and boss battles to face. It would have been nice to have some extra power-ups to go along with these levels, but overall these levels are fun, if not a bit repetitive.
Visually, Bubble Bobble 4 Friends strikes and interesting balance between modern and retro aesthetics. The characters, including the dragons and the Baron, appear mostly identical to their 1986 counterparts, aside from being three dimensional, of course. Bubble Bobble 4 takes place in a child’s bedroom and, while the original didn’t have much in the way of environmental design, uses various toys, blocks, and decorations to build the various platforms, obstacles, and even enemies. The colors, sounds, and music all drip with 80’s retro style and solidify the wholesome, fun, and laid back atmosphere the original designers were so passionate about.
Bubble Bobble 4 is meant to be played with a group of two or more. While it’s completely possible to play through the entire game by yourself, the majority of the fun comes from helping, sabotaging, and simply messing with your friends. Once you unlock different abilities for each character a whole world of gameplay possibilities emerge. For fans of the series, Bubble Bobble 4 offers the same bubble bursting gameplay that you remember and love from the other games. For new players, Bubble Bobble 4 features new and interesting multiplayer mechanics to help you get started with friends. And for anyone else, it’s the perfect game to break out at parties and get togethers.