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Old 10-29-2011, 12:10 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Retronauts: Building a Better Bubble Bobble

Bubble Bobble isn't just a fantastic game; it's a fascinating study in early game design. After the video game crash of 1984, the few remaining publishers were given a clean slate, and were eager to evolve the industry beyond the twitch action games of the past. While Nintendo chose to grow outward with the scrolling screens of Super Mario Bros., Zelda, and Metroid, rival Taito looked for depth from within in Bubble Bobble.

The well charting your progress at the end of each game is a perfect metaphor for the approach the late Fujio Mitsuji and his team took with this classic. They kept the single screen boundaries and simple objectives from titles released before the crash, but added one hundred wildly different levels and countless power-ups, turning each play into a hunt for buried treasure. Bubble Bobble's tantalizing secrets made the game wildly successful in Japan and even turned its share of heads in the United States, despite a cast of cuddly characters that would ordinarily turn the stomachs of young male arcade-goers.

Above all else, what made Bubble Bobble a work of genius was, well' the bubbles! Earlier games, and even many of Bubble Bobble's contemporaries, reserved their weapons for the sole purpose of blowing baddies to bits. However, the soapy spittle of pint-sized dragons Bub and Bob was surprisingly versatile, not only trapping enemies, but lifting the pair out of pits and offering a stepping stone to platforms just out of reach. Clever use of the bubbles was also the key to huge point bonuses' nudging together subdued foes and popping the resulting cluster was rewarded with a shower of fruit prizes, along with the occasional mammoth treat. Twelve-foot tall twin pop, anyone?

Bubble Bobble's suds rank among the best weapons in the video game world, and have yet to be topped' not that other developers haven't tried! Years after its release, Taito's competitors tried to build a better Bubble Bobble, swapping the bubbles for a hook they could call their own. Some of these companies did an admirable job of reinventing the wheel, while others would have been better off sticking with their beat ‘em ups and shooters. Here are a few examples.

Snow Bros.

The most successful of the three games on this list, Snow Bros. was popular enough to earn two sequels, as well as a middling conversion on the NES and a much better one on the Sega Genesis. (Yet all Toaplan is remembered for is that dopey 'All Your Base' meme from a decade ago. That's justice for you!) Rather than bubbles, the frosty heroes in this series pack their enemies into snowballs, then send them bouncing around the screen with a swift kick. With proper timing, you can bowl over the rest of the imps onscreen with a single snowball, earning you big points and a chance for an extra life! This play mechanic demands more skill than Bubble Bobble, but crushing a sumo wrestler with a boulder of snow gives you a visceral thrill you're not going to get from Taito's game. The 16-bit graphics are a marked improvement as well, although the critters you'll be squashing are, in that Toaplan tradition, pretty freaky. These guys had a pretty warped imagination... just ask anyone who played Knuckle Bash!

Nightmare in the Dark

One of the last official releases for the long-enduring Neo-Geo arcade system, this game puts a spooky spin on Bubble Bobble with a cast of shambling horror movie monsters. Zombies and skeletons and Frankensteins, oh my!

(I know, I know' Frankenstein is the doctor, not his creation. Now's not the time for that discussion. May I continue?)

Nightmare in the Dark is a stunner visually, but when you strip away the fluid animation and the scenery filled with mist and dying trees, what you've got is Snow Bros. with training wheels. The lead character, a lantern-wielding gravedigger, flings fireballs at undead creatures, trapping them in a fiery orb which can then be thrown at nearby monsters. However, unlike Snow Bros., he can carry these great balls of fire anywhere he pleases by touching them, cutting the challenge in half. It's also worth mentioning that in spite of the Halloween decorations, this is a clone of a clone' and if the film Multiplicity taught me anything, it's that there's always something seriously wrong with them.

Tumble Pop

Last on our list is Tumble Pop from Data East. This company had a reputation for store-brand knock-offs, so it's hardly a surprise that they would offer a response to Bubble Bobble. What is unusual is its close resemblance to another Taito game, Parasol Star, released the same year for the PC Engine. Which one's the original and which one's the clone? The world may never know'

Anyway, in this arcade title, you travel across the globe, sucking wayward spirits into a back-mounted vacuum cleaner. Once the bag is full and the ghosts struggle to escape, you switch the vacuum to blow, turning its contents into a deadly projectile. More phantoms mean a more powerful blast, but there's also a greater risk of the ghosts tearing through the bag- and you!

The vacuum doesn't afford the same level of strategy as the attacks in Snow Bros. or Bubble Bobble, but it gets the job done. Data East also gets credit for letting players jump down from platforms, a feature that would have been handy in the other three games. Bubble Bobble gets a pass because of its age, but surely the makers of Snow Bros. and Nightmare in the Dark would have realized how annoying it is to have a monster you can't reach because a wafer-thin land mass is blocking your path!



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Old 10-29-2011, 02:54 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Re: Retronauts: Building a Better Bubble Bobble

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Old 10-30-2011, 08:05 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Old 11-02-2011, 01:00 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Re: Retronauts: Building a Better Bubble Bobble

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Originally Posted by unclechicken View Post
People and companies can try, but will fail to make and market a better Bubble Bobble.

The original will always be the best version.
It is in my opinion, the most under-rated game of all time.
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