Monday, July 24, 2017

Puzzle Bobble (SFC) Review

Received: July 22nd, 2016 / Written: July 12th-24th, 2017
Alternate Titles: Bust-a-Move / Puzzle Bobble: Bust-a-Move [  ]
Year: 1994, 1995 | Developed and Published by: Taito | [  ]

Disclaimer: Might potentially contain spoilers
Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here, passionate about video games, big retrophile, and puzzling is the game... err, that is, the genre of the game I'm reviewing today...... let me start over.

Image from Wikipedia
On August 1986 a little arcade game by Taito named Bubble Bobble (originally distributed by Romstar in the US), created by the late Fukio Mitsuji, burst onto the scene.  This game starring twin brothers turned Bubble Dragons (Bubblun and Bobblun) by Skel Monsta (Baron von Blubba in the West) in their one-hundred stage quest to save their girlfriends was released to huge acclaim and success thanks to its cute charm, addicting gameplay, two-player co-op, as well as being one of the earliest video games ever to have multiple endings depending on how you did on the way to the destination that it added tons of replay value.  Bubble Bobble was so popular that it wound up seeing numerous upon numerous computer, console, and handheld ports and would mark the beginning of a new (and still ongoing) franchise for Taito.
Image from Wikipedia; Happy 30th Anniversary, Rainbow Islands!!!
Initially the continuation of the 1986 classic began with the 1987 coin-op debut of Rainbow Islands: The Story of Bubble Bobble 2 (also created by Mitsuji) but with the protagonist(s) in their original human selves (as seen in the best ending of the predecessor) that also was well-received to the point of garnering exponential amounts of home conversions despite its two-player mode being alternative as opposed to simultaneous (it's also known for having the song "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" from The Wizard of Oz playing in the background throughout until it was changed for later editions to avoid facing copyright infringement).
Image from Wikipedia
Less converted for systems was the follow-up Parasol Stars: The Story of Bubble Bobble 3, which unlike the other games was originally released on the PC Engine on February 1991 made by Taito (which did see a TurboGrafx-16 release in America that October by Working Designs) while the ports were done by Ocean Software, returning to the structure and formula established by the game that started it all.
The memorable characters in Bubble Bobble were also designed by Fukio Mitsuji, who sadly passed away in December 2008.  =(  After a couple of entries where you played as the human characters the Bubble Dragons made a grand return in the Nintendo 8-bit exclusive Bubble Bobble Part 2 for the Famicom/NES and Game Boy (the latter being known in Japan as Bubble Bobble Junior) in 1993 albeit with a diverse storyline; only this time, the Bubble Dragons were here to stay.

The lovable duo (as well as the monsters from the 1986 coin-op) would make a return to the arcades with the June 1994 release of the puzzler spinoff Puzzle Bobble (or Bust-a-Move as it and its sequels were retitled for all American markets as well as some of the ports in Europe not published by Taito) which would subsequently find itself on the Neo Geo six months later.  The game did so good at the time that in the years that followed it would be ported to the 3DO, the Neo Geo CD, the Sega Game Gear, the WonderSwan,
Go, adorable Bubble Dragons, GO!!!  ^~^
and, of course, got converted to Nintendo's 16-bit powerhouse by Taito themselves; with the Super Famicom receiving it in January of 1995 in Japan, the NTSC SNES edition following suit that March in America as Bust-a-Move, followed by the PAL SNES release that June as Puzzle Bobble: Bust-a-Move in Europe, with Japan receiving it again albeit as a Nintendo Power release on December 1997.  Let's talk about it!!  =D
Everyone who's played this game in one form or another knows what the gameplay is like, but for those that aren't familiar with it here's the basic gist of it all: as the green Bubblun (strictly player one) or the blue Bobblun (strictly player two) you control a pointer which you can aim at any which angle above you which you'll use to fire up an infinite array of randomly colored bubbles one at a time (with each subsequent one being previewed before getting a chance to use it)--with either shoulder button you can change the angle at a pixel for press to either left or right directions, but mainly you might want to use the arrow buttons for good measure.

Lightning bubble, activate
The essential goal in Puzzle Bobble is to fire the colored bubble at the exact matching grouped color in order to make them all pop (with the minimum amount being three), revealing enemies from Bubble Bobble that were once encased in them (and if you look closely at the differently-colored bubbles you can make them out exactly; clever play, Taito).  What's cool is that not only can you pop the same-colored group of bubbles upon firing the matching colored bubble, but if there were one or more differently-colored bubbles below the group you fired at as it happened then the former bubbles will pop which will make the latter bubble(s) drop down in the process, sweet!  =D

In the main Arcade Mode (which comprises of a hundred stages) are certain stages where there will be elemental bubbles which will play in your favor if you can shoot at them regardless of the color you landed with: fire bubbles to explode the bubbles that circled around it, lightning bubbles to make the bolts clear the horizontal row of bubbles (all depends on which direction your bubble was shot from), and then there's the water bubbles which will cause a waterfall upon popping that it will turn all that it affected into the same color (may or may not pop automatically depending on what color it becomes).

Matching (and Dropping) Bubble Time
With me so far?  So, the gameplay is very simple and intuitive to play, which is a great quality for the puzzler genre and works so well for this entry.  Sounds easy, right?  Well, it might start out easy in the first several stages but it doesn't take long for the challenge to pick up (give or take certain stages in-between that vary in difficulty).  If you take too long to shoot the bubble you'll be given a five-second warning to hurry up otherwise it'll do it automatically.  After every certain amount of bubbles have been shot the playing field will begin to shake, shoot it one more time after the fact and it'll begin to shake erratically, and when you shoot the bubble after that the ceiling will start to descend and lock itself one notch below where it previously was; that's one of the obstacles you have to beware of for various reasons.

Streaming watery goodness
What you must absolutely avoid is a lone bubble crossing the barrier that protects you by all means necessary otherwise you're going to lose.  If the next bubble that you're shooting doesn't match the color of any of the ones above you then you'll have no choice but to place in a spot that doesn't serve as an inconvenience to the best of your skill (and if it comes to that, chances are one or more of the randomized bubbles will come to your aid); this especially rings true when you take the gradually caving ceiling into account.  The key to success in the long run is aim, and a lot of the time you're going to have to make a careful trajectory aim to the group of bubbles of your choice (it can also ricochet off walls).  When you start the game and when you use up a continue there will be a dotted line that'll immediately show you where the bubble will go (the cutoff point being after the fiftieth stage at which point there'll be no more dotted line guides), but when you clear all the bubbles and proceed to the next stage you have to solely rely on your aim to make it through (may take plenty of practice to get the most complex aim just right).
Aside from the normal Arcade Mode there are two extra game modes: Versus Mode where you compete against the computer enemies or a second player if someone's playing with you and Record Mode where you try to pop as many bubbles as you can until you get overwhelmed by the bubbles and can't fire any matching ones anymore.  Don't worry if you lose a life for there are an unlimited supply of continues to back you up or you can choose to not continue if you don't feel like sticking with it (Arcade Mode is the only mode where you can continue your progress via password should you take a break from it).

Puzzle Bobble is a very colorful-looking game and captures the charm and quality of the original arcade version really well.  =)  I love when you turn the game on you're first treated to crayon-drawn profiles of Bubblun and Bobblun until it cuts to the title screen with the brightly colored background with animated stars (I like how the title and font design is exactly like the one used in Bubble Bobble before it, it's one of many ways that this game ties into the 1986 arcade classic to good effect), and the in-game Bubble Dragon designs have gotten a slight visual upgrade which is great (Taito worked on the 1994 puzzler arcade hit around the same time as the coin-op Bubble Symphony which also had upgraded designs for both Bubblun and Bobblun).

Alright, ALRIGHT, I'm hurrying, don't rush me!!
The way the bubbles are all randomly colored really make this game pop in a visual sense, plus Arcade Mode has got really well-drawn backgrounds and backdrops (with the rectangular playing field being tinted).  Several of the examples that come to mind are the row of trees with the foliage above, the background with all the bubbles going up, the desert-laden area with a sunset, a dark room replete with colorful stained glass windows, a breezy grassy area with a nice cloudy sky, and a beautiful-looking dark sky with a star constellation all around.
After the final stage there are some well-drawn sepia-tone images on parchment paper, and during Versus Mode there are charmingly lighthearted profiles of either Bubble Dragon and the enemies for when they win or lose.  =)

Ah, I'm a sucker for stained glass windows
in video games, they're so good!
Composed by Team Zuntata's Kazuko Umino (the coin-op Cameltry, Solitary Fighter, Mizubaku Daibōken on the PC Engine, The Jetsons: Cogswell's Caper), Puzzle Bobble's soundtrack isn't exactly very big as there are really only a handful of songs, but what is there is very upbeat and comforting to listen to.  The Arcade Mode theme is really relaxing and lighthearted that I personally have no qualms listening to it for long stretches and really it's the only song that plays here until the final stage where its theme is more foreboding and action-packed, the Versus Mode theme has got a friendly and competitive spirit to it, Record Mode's theme is short but sweet, but my favorite song is the one that plays during the credits as it's a newly fun and bouncy variation of Bubble Bobble's main theme which pleasantly surprised me the first time I beat this puzzler as it's a really catchy and memorable theme.  =)  The sound effects are well-chosen such as the bubble popping sounds and I liked the cartoony-sounding tight squeeze sound for when the ceiling space just lowered itself by a notch.

Fish motif
In the options you can select between one of three difficulties; whether it be Easy, Normal (default), and Hard as well as select how many rounds you want to go up to in Versus Mode before proceeding to the next opponent.  While aiming is the key to prolonging your progress, one other thing that would also help is if there is enough room for you to shoot the bubbles because there may be moments where there's little open room to launch them (whether it be to dangerously low ceiling space or a huge abundance of bubbles in your path or both) so you'll have to pay attention when it comes to the more complex trajectory aims (like if there's a gap between two bubbles where the only way to stick the bubble in there is by making sure the aim is not off otherwise it'll just stick in front of one of the bubbles).

Oh no!  =O
When you reach the final hundredth stage in Arcade Mode it actually culminates in a boss fight, but not quite in the way you'd expect as you must hit the bubbly platform enough times in order to make it vanish which will enable him to fall off, however it's not without challenge as every now and then he'll try to make unwanted bubbles appear and obfuscate the target, so pop the matching colored bubbles when you can.  Even if and when practice makes perfect, it'll still be challenging in the long run, so don't give up.  The great thing about Puzzle Bobble is that when it comes to matching the bubbles or placing a bubble in a convenient spot there is more than one solution thanks to the pointer's aim mechanism.

Meanwhile, in the clock tower of Alundra
before being frozen in time by Melzas...
Because this game became a huge hit naturally it meant that there would be sequels along the way (I'll just cover the first few, as there are too many to talk about): on July 1995 Taito released Puzzle Bobble 2 in Japan which initially was released in America as Bust-a-Move Again but when it came to the home conversions for the PlayStation One, Sega Saturn, Windows PC, Game Boy, and Nintendo 64 the localized title would be Bust-a-Move 2 Arcade Edition; on September 1996 came Puzzle Bobble 3 in arcades (which when localized was retitled as Bust-a-Move 3 or Bust-a-Move 3 DX or Bust-a-Move '99 depending on the regional version you played) and got ported to the Sega Saturn, PlayStation One, Game Boy (Europe only), Nintendo 64, and Windows PC (in Europe in 2002) which added new characters to the roster; and finally there's Puzzle Bobble 4 which arrived in arcades in 1998 which when localized and converted for home ports for the PlayStation One, Game Boy Color, Windows PC, and Sega Dreamcast was retitled as Bust-a-Move 4 which had a story mode and a pulley system plus it would be the last game in the series to be similar in presentation to the original Puzzle Bobble as everything that followed went in a drastically different direction.

Nice visual aesthetic
Back when I lived in Italy I remember having first been exposed to this series (albeit as Bust-a-Move) with the third game for the PlayStation One when I tried it once in a game rental/store as a kid, but I would have the most experience when I got Bust-a-Move 2 Arcade Edition later (for the PlayStation One) which I found to be a lot of fun back then (and still do to this day).  =)  Over a decade ago when visiting my relatives in Italy there was this beach that me and my family went to every once in a while to bathe in the sun and go in the water (at least, when you got past the initial coldness of it) where inside one of the buildings there used to be an arcade cabinet that had two games in one; one of them was the original Bust-a-Move which I had the privilege to experience when visiting there before the cabinet was no longer there years later.  Ah, the memories!  <=)

Turn, turn, turn, turn, turn
I was aware of the original Puzzle Bobble/Bust-a-Move being available on Nintendo's 16-bit console, but I'll confess that initially I was a bit hesitant because it would've been a smaller scaled version of what was a big arcade game.  Last year I decided to get past that concern and go for it with the thought that it would be fun regardless, and it is; it wouldn't be until July 2016 that I got the Super Famicart for Puzzle Bobble.  While I would've been okay with playing the localized Bust-a-Move also, in the end I wanted to own the version where both Bubblun and Bobblun were charming the cover as opposed to the version with what has got to be the most unappealing cover for a Nintendo 16-bit puzzler ever (seriously: what the hell is that?).  Why is it that sometimes America got the worst video game covers during the '90s?  -_-

Pop go the red enemies
Puzzle Bobble is an incredibly charming and highly addicting puzzler and in my opinion is (alongside its direct sequel) one of the best games in the genre to have ever been crafted; it's very easy and simple to play yet at the same time is very difficult to master in the long run because the challenge value can be so random and intense at points that it honestly makes the proceedings very exciting.  =)  While I love RPGs and platformers I do consider puzzlers to be my third favorite video game genre as well as my go-to genre when I'm the mood for something simple when taking a break from more complex titles (in and out of comparison).

Time is by your side
Turning Bubble Bobble's concept into a puzzler was a great idea for Taito with the bubble-encased enemies from that coin-op serving as puzzle pieces launched by either Bubble Dragon; it just adds a huge connection.  I like that the backgrounds occasionally change the further you go, there is a cute arcade-like charm to it, and it's very colorful to boot.  It's also fun to find more than one way to connect all the same-colored bubbles if the simple route is not available; careful aiming is key, but there will be moments when you're like "No, that's not where I meant to aim!" because you're either under duress from the barrage of bubbles that threaten to cross the border (whether or not there is a low ceiling space) or because you were you trying to eye the target only to slightly overshoot the mark.  Another fun thing to do is trying to clear the stage in the quickest amount of time possible if opportunity arises.  =)
Image from Wikipedia
Like a lot of people I was very disappointed that Bubble Bobble didn't find its way to the PlayStation Portable compilation Taito Legends Power-Up (how can you omit such a classic?), but it did give us a chance to play what is considered to be its spiritual predecessor in the form of the 1983 game Chack'n Pop where the Monsta and Mighta enemies made their debut who would go on to appear in the Bubble Bobble franchise with the title character Chack'n making appearances in subsequent Taito releases (including the direct sequel to today's game).

Such an in-depth area in terms of shading
Puzzle Bobble only has one major theme playing in each of the three game modes, and I'm sure that the theme that plays in Arcade Mode will be the theme that people will remember the most as it's a comfortingly upbeat and engaging listen but also very short in length so it does loop a lot; the sequels (which would also include this theme on occasion) would have an expanded soundtrack that would offer a sense of variety in that aspect to mix things up.  I can understand why repeated listening of this theme would drive some people insane, but I've personally never had a problem with that piece of music (it harkens back to innocent and simpler times I feel); and honestly I'd rather listen to Arcade Mode's theme over and over again than a single intrusive track from Ape Escape (I know this is irrelevant, but I just wanted to bring it up before I forget since I got to catch up with it this year; for the record, I think Ape Escape is solid enough platforming fare but it's got a terrible soundtrack, I can't believe the higher-ups at Sony thought obnoxious headache-inducing themes that bordered on boisterous would be a good idea).  =<
The beauty of puzzlers in general is that it is a hugely accessible genre regardless of skill level or age; they're not just games made for gamers with lots of experience or made solely for beginners or only for adults or only for kids, these games are made for everyone--that's one of many reasons I like the puzzler genre.  If you're a fan of Bubble Bobble or if you were curious about Puzzle Bobble then I highly recommend it; it's tons of lighthearted fun with lots of challenge value and cute charm plus the most innovatively fun gameplay ever for a puzzler (series).  Nothing can compete in my book, it's that good!  =)

My Personal Score: 10/10
<( ^o^)^TO EACH THEIR OWN^(^o^ )>
P.S. In preparation for Jon Watts' Spider-Man: Homecoming (which I saw on the 8th) I've been marathoning all three Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies and Marc Webb's two The Amazing Spider-Man movies on DVD to keep the comparisons fresh in my mind even though it's an entirely new interpretation (yes, in the span of eight days--give or take a day or two that I took a break--I watched fifteen years' worth of standalone Spider-Man movies... I know, insane).  I liked Homecoming, I thought it was really good fun with a nice John Hughes vibe about it (we actually explore Peter's high school life and dilemmas) plus Tom Holland is the best Peter Parker and Spider-Man to date; Tobey Maguire I thought excelled more as Peter Parker than he did as Spider-Man while Andrew Garfield conversely I felt was superior as Spider-Man than he was as Peter Parker (I liked them both, don't get me wrong, but in either case one half was more convincing than the other), so I'm glad that Holland managed to capture the best of both worlds here.  =)  And Michael Keaton's Adrian Toomes/Vulture I felt was a compellingly effective villain, one of the best MCU villains next to Loki and Ultron.  It ranks third in my top three best Spider-Man movies (alongside Spider-Man 2 and The Amazing Spider-Man).
P.S. 2 On the 16th I saw Matt Reeves' War for the Planet of the Apes in theatres which I thought was a deeply poignant and richly-themed chapter in the rebooted Planet of the Apes series, as usual Andy Serkis was fantastic in the role of  Caesar and Woody Harrelson's Colonel was simultaneously chilling and compelling as a villain.  Great film.
P.S. 3 Took longer than I thought I would with this review, with only the last few paragraphs stumping me as to how I would tackle it; that and had some motivation issues because I didn't want my review to turn out sloppy for I wanted the wording to be coherent and say as much as I can as well as provide context to the best of my ability (I play it by ear--there is no rough draft--I judge how long my review is based on how many screenshots I have and sometimes it's a lot)... that and busy with real life and I was playing and getting screenshots for my next video game review, but that's a surprise.
Thank you for reading my review, please leave me a comment (spam will not be tolerated) and let me know what you think; hope you have a great Summer, take care!  =D

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