I love my GBA SP, I really do. The ability to play games on the go is always appealing and when the game in question is one that requires little commitment, it’s even sweeter. Bubble Bobble Old & New is one such title. No thinking or masterful reflexes are required. This is old-school puzzle fun that you can dive right into and play in spurts whenever you feel the urge for a quick gaming fix.
Originally slated to be released by Empire Interactive over a year ago, Bubble Bobble disappeared only to resurface this past October via Destination Software. As a budget title that can be had for less than $20, it’s yet another attempt to cash in on the current retro craze that has gripped the industry. Instead of merely slapping a new cover on an otherwise untouched game (cough* Nintendo* cough), the developers tried to add some new goodies to make the package more attractive. Its effectiveness depends on how much of a Bubble Bobble fan you are.
The original coin-op is here in all its glory. As either Bubblen or Bobblen, you take on 100 different levels that must be cleared by encasing foes in bubbles and then popping them for points. You can chain bubble pops in succession for even more points and there are fire and water bubbles that help clear the screen. Eliminate all your foes, grab the fruits and bonus items that appear, and head on to the next stage. Wash, rinse, repeat. Everything that you enjoyed about the classic 80s version has been retained and it benefits greatly from going portable. Two players can play simultaneously and that is where this title really shines. Working together or competing for points is what made all those classic titles of yesteryear so enjoyable and being able to go at it with a friend is why Bubble Bobble is such an enduring franchise.
Knowing that people today want more bang for their buck, DS has included a new mode of play that is “updated” for modern gamers. Before you get all excited, I must tell you that all that’s really been updated are the graphics and music (to an extent). The gameplay remains unchanged and the game is basically the same thing as original mode with a makeover. The character sprites have been updated and the levels themselves have a bit more detail but it’s as though the developers added this mode just to say that they did, since it really adds nothing new to the tried and true gameplay that you all know and love. Worse, multiplayer in this mode requires two game paks whereas the original mode can be played with a single cart. How hard would it have been to have expanded the single cart concept to the updated mode? This game was sure delayed long enough for it to have been added. In a final salute to developer laziness, DS removed the soundtrack from single-cart play, so you can turn down the volume as of now.
To be fair, they did add a few things to make up for this shortcoming. There’s now a save feature that records your progress and high scores (which is what this game is all about). Two save slots allow you to chip away at the game little by little without having to worry about someone deleting your progress (my wife is actually farther ahead than I am). There’s also an item library that displays all the items you’ve acquired during play, though what purpose it serves is still unclear.
In the end, Bubble Bobble Old & New has little to offer in terms of innovation but what it does offer is solid gameplay that’s a blast. The difficulty ramps up quite a bit on later levels but the option to save and come back later evens things out. It’s simple fun that’s mean to be enjoyed with a pal and the low price point makes it a no-brainer. Get yourself a copy and get popping.