Bubble Bobble Neo!

Bubble Bobble Neo! is the most recent addition to the nostalgia wing of the XBLA library. As a huge fan of the 1986 Amiga port I was all aflutter when I saw those cutesy, colourful dragons staring out at me from my dashboard. So, 800 points and 128 megabytes later I found myself in a cave of monsters getting ready to pucker my lizardy-lips and blow my way into the naughties.

For those unfamiliar with the premise, Bubble Bobble is a single screen, 2D platform-puzzler that invites you to take control of one half of reptilian duo Bub and Bob. The aim is to clear a room full of enemies. This is accomplished in much the same way I used to try to attract attention as a child: by jumping around and blowing bubbles. Surrounding an enemy in a bubble incapacitates them; popping their bubble results in death for them and power-ups for you. Free-floating bubbles can also be utilised as springboards to reach otherwise inaccessible areas. The arrangement of platforms becomes more intricate and confounding as the levels progress, and you will burst your way through a variety of different adversaries ranging from angry wind-up toys to disgruntled whales.

I’ll deal with the positives first. At its core this is still very much the game I fell in love with all those years ago. Controls are simplicity itself and the short levels and speedy progression deliver gratification whilst keeping the whole thing flowing. Multiplayer has always been the preferred mode of play for fans, and the two player local co-op is as grin-inducing as it always was. While the Classic mode recreates the original 100 levels of play Neo! offers two extra modes: Arrange provides new levels, while Versus pits the dragon brothers against each other in a sort of scaley civil-war. These new modes are entertaining in their own right and both support up to four players locally. The graphics have been given the obligatory high-res overhaul and the song that never ends is back, proving once and for all that it really doesn’t end. Ever. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Complaints vary from substantial to subjective. For example, Bub, Bob and all enemies have now been rendered in 3D. This is standard procedure for an XBLA revamp, but in Bubble Bobble’s case I actually think it detracts from the visual appeal. The inherent cuteness of these characters was as much a product of the animation as it was the sprites themselves – the way their little feet scampered and their tails flicked up and down excitedly when they moved. Although the game moves slightly faster than I remember, the new Bub and Bob have a much more ponderous animation cycle, meaning they don’t scuttle so much as meander around the screen. The new front end is so plastic and twee that I’m still scraping granules of sugar from my eyes even as I type.  Also, subtle control tweaks mean that veterans will encounter classic levels where the traditional solutions no longer apply, something that is upsetting some of the more devoted acolytes.

Yet these are all trivialities when compared to the absence of online multiplayer. Any multiplayer Xbox Arcade title that omits this functionality immediately loses itself both sales and clever-points. A lack of online co-op is naturally expected if you’re porting a solo campaign, such as the recent Monkey Island redressing, but when you’re dealing with a game that prides itself on its multiplayer experience, failure to include online support is criminal. It by no means ruins what is a great little bundle, but it would have been nice if Taito had taken it just that one step further.







2 responses to “Bubble Bobble Neo!”

  1. Kat avatar

    I bought it cos it’s fun, cute & brings back memories for me plus my daughter will love it but the lack of an online co-op? Insane.

  2. Darach avatar

    One step too short for me :/
    No online multiplayer means no sale.

    It’s still such a great game tho 🙂
    *whispers* especially in multiplayer :/

Leave a Reply