Bubble Bobble has been a renowned arcade hit since 1986, and a handful of sequels have continued its bubble-blowing puzzle platforming legacy. As the latest sequel, Bubble Bobble 4 Friends fundamentally uses Bubble Bobble’s mechanics while incorporating a few twists. These twists include four player local co-op functionality, a whimsical playroom aesthetic, and new skills. While its difficulty balancing can be uneven, Bubble Bobble 4 Friends’ new elements result in an entertaining take on Bubble Bobble.
Bubble Bobble 4 Friends’ light-hearted scenario places players into a toy-filled playroom. This time around, Bub is a toy brought to life. He and his bubble dragon friends must overcome zany obstacles and bosses set up by the wizard Bonner. The game lacks dialogue and instead portrays events through pantomiming and magical shenanigans. Furthermore, it feels more whimsical and lighthearted compared to prior games that involved navigating dungeons and rescuing beloved friends.
Anyone who has played Bubble Bobble will instantly grasp this game’s mechanics. Players complete consecutive single-screen stages. Each stage has a designated layout with a fixed number of enemies. To complete each stage, players must defeat all enemies, which typically involves trapping them in bobbles and then popping them. Players can pop bubbles by ramming them with their dragon’s spikes, jumping into them, or falling through them. A returning technique is jumping atop bubbles to gain height, which is necessary for tricky out-of-reach areas.
Where the game diverges from its predecessors is its level structure. While Bubble Bobble games feature marathons as long as a hundred stages, 4 Friends consists of five sequential worlds each consisting of ten new stages. The end of every world features a boss that requires multiple bubbles to defeat, and later bosses’ movement can be a bit haphazard. Players earn a brand new skill by completing each world. This structure leads to bite-sized chunks, which gives players frequent breaks and also factors into the game’s replayability. Players can revisit completed worlds for higher score ratings or obtain missed collectibles. This structure essentially results in a more lax experience in which players score attack relatively short sections.
The game also features a few new mechanics as well. Players can duck and crawl, which is frequently required to access areas in each stage. The game features up to four player local co-op, and each player can equip a skill before entering a world. Each skill has a certain number of uses that can be recharged via food pick-ups. Some skills like blowing bubbles further seem relatively basic, but others like spawning thunder and bomb bubbles can cause some havoc. These skills meaningfully empower players without being too overpowered, and they fit well.
EXTEND bubbles serve as collectibles this time around. Collecting all six of these bubbles in a world boosts the effectiveness of the earned skill. The catch is that players only have a certain amount of time to burst each bubble before it disappears. Missing one requires a successive run to obtain, which can be a bit frustrating in later worlds. Sometimes these bubbles are behind out-of-the-way obstacles and hazards, and it can take some time to actually figure out what to do. Fortunately, the game allows players to obtain letters across multiple runs, which makes hunting for bubbles a tad more fair.
Bubble Bobble 4 Friends’ whimsical playground motif has plenty of charm. Each of the five worlds takes place across a different toy-inspired environment like brick forts and castles. As players progress through each world, the camera moves around and shows a different background angle. The foreground elements, player characters, and enemy design are also vibrant, but the overall detail and animation are a bit simple. The user interface is appropriately colorful, bubbly, and easily readable.
The sound design is also appropriate with upbeat tunes, poignant sounds, and chirpy voices. The game starts with a straightforward well-executed arrangement of the classic Bubble Bobble theme. The following stage tunes are cheerful, and their surreal bounciness practically evokes a dreamy soundscape. Each action has a poignant sound effect, and popping bubbles is just as satisfying as it has ever been.
In general, the game is notably easier than prior Bubble Bobble games, and it takes a while to become challenging. The first two worlds feel like a complete cakewalk as enemies and obstacles provide little adversity. Successive worlds do become tougher, but sometimes the bosses present some uneven difficulty spikes as they have screen-spanning movement and attacks. Furthermore, players tend to get additional lives at a quick rate. While all players draw from the same pool of lives, they can also rescue each other if they are defeated. Should players run out of lives, they can also continue at the same level at the cost of their score. Players are therefore hardly punished for continuing. The “post-game” does feature “hard mode” versions of all of the worlds with trickier enemy placements and new stage layouts, which is a plus.
Bubble Bobble 4 Friends also includes the original Bubble Bobble via a selectable arcade cabinet. Bubble Bobble is timeless and challenging, and this version is an accurate reproduction. It is interesting experiencing its floatier movement compared to 4 Friends’. Unfortunately, the functionality is relatively bare-bones as it lacks any sort of customization such as display modes, and it enlarges pixels in a slightly uneven way. It also lacks any sort of modern amenities such as mid-game saves, which might be a bit of a downer for some players given its length. One nice touch is that this mode uses instruction art from the original game, which is a nice touch. The game also amusingly continues running after players step away to the world map.
Bubble Bobble 4 Friends revisits the series’ familiar mechanics with a few new twists that can be amusing. While the game takes a while to get rolling and the visual presentation is simple, the skills and whimsical flourishes are worthwhile. With its unlockable sound test entries, extra stages, and collectibles, the game provides some replayability. The four-player co-op functionality and the original Bubble Bobble also provide additional value as well. Although the game retreads familiar mechanics, it provides just enough new elements to scratch anyone’s bubble popping itch.
Bubble Bobble 4 Friends Review
Bubble Bobble 4 Friends Review
Bubble Bobble 4 Friends revisits many of Bubble Bobble's ideas with a few twists of its own. While it can feel too easy and uneven at times, the whimsical visuals and new skills can provide an entertaining time nonetheless.