Bubble Bobble is one of the most recognised arcade titles from the late 80's, introducing simple, addictive gameplay, and a fantastic 2 player co-op / competitive design that got players hooked from the get go. The legendary company behind the game, Taito, filled its games with all manner of secrets, and challenges, and Bubble Bobble was no exception.
Most people are familiar with the original, but not a lot of people are aware of the sheer number of games in the Bubble Bobble series. The main characters from Bubble Bobble, would also spin-off into several other arcade classics, still retaining the Bubble Bobble subtitle, although introducing radically different play styles.
In fact, the numbering in this series is actually more complicated than the Wonderboy series at first glance, but below is a quick overview of most of the titles in the series and how they all connect. Of course, it's possible I've missed a few, so if anyone sees any notable omissions feel free to add any additional details to fill in any blanks!
The following are grouped in series categories rather than strictly chronological, just to get a sense of the 3 main chapters to the entire Bubble Bobble saga.
Now, it is beginning of a fantastic story!! Let's make a journey to the cave of monsters! Good luck!
BUBBLE BOBBLE (1986) [ARCADE]
The original, and classic that most people have played. The basic gameplay elements are introduced here, where 2 players can take control of Bub and Bob, trapping enemies in bubbles, grabbing fruit and clearing the screen to progress all the way through 100 stages! The game is littered with secrets and several different endings, and has been ported to many different systems over the years.
Interestingly, a lot of the enemies that are introduced in this game, actually come from an older Taito game (more on that at the end of this section), and one of the enemies is even an "Invader" from Taito's classic Space Invaders!
FINAL BUBBLE BOBBLE (1988) [SEGA MASTER SYSTEM]
On first glance, this appears to simply be a port of the arcade version, but playing through, it is revealed that an additional exclusive 100 stages are included, bringing the total number to 200!
BUBBLE BOBBLE PART 2 (1993) [NES]
Labelled as Part 2 to the Bubble Bobble story (a subtitle that would refer to several different games throughout the series), Bubble Bobble part 2 was released on the NES in 1993. A lot of improvements were made to the basic gameplay, brand new enemies and bosses introduced, and much more detailed backgrounds (for 8-bit standards!). Apparently, the main characters here are Cubby and Rubby (descendants of Bub and Bob) and they can float through the stage somewhat by holding down the fire button. 2 player antics are reduced to playing each stage one after each other, as opposed to simultaneous play however.
BUBBLE BOBBLE JR (1993) [GAMEBOY]
Developed at the same time as Bubble Bobble Part 2 (see above), Bubble Bobble JR for the Gameboy is another title with exclusive content, and even a brand new character to control. This time, Robby (presumably another relative?) The screen scrolls in this one, to accommodate the lower resolution! Hooray!
BUBBLE SYMPHONY (1994) [ARCADE]
Back to the arcade, for the true arcade follow up to the original Bubble Bobble. Colourful graphics which were abundant in early-mid 90s arcade titles really capture the sense of fun. The naming convention gets a bit confusing here, as this is also occasionally referred to as "Bubble Bobble II" in some regions. It stars the 4 children of the original Bub and Bob, and they can now fire multiple bubbles by charging a shot. Multiple paths can be taken through the game, and several boss fights are littered throughout. Lots of other Taito characters make cameos as various assist characters, but the core gameplay remains consistent with the earlier games in the series, just adding an extra layer of depth.
BUBBLE MEMORIES - THE STORY OF BUBBLE BOBBLE 3 (1995) [ARCADE]
Another arcade release, close on the heels of Bubble Symphony. this introduces some massive sprites, and giant bubbles can be created by charging a shot. Interestingly the backgrounds appear to be more realistic, some based on paintings and animal photographs, which gives it a bit of a unique feel. Doesn't change the formula too much, but pure arcade action though!
BUBBLE BOBBLE OLD & NEW (2003) [GAMEBOY ADVANCE]
A port of the original Bubble Bobble was developed for the GameBoy Advance, back in 2003, however this also featured a brand new "NEW BUBBLE BOBBLE" mode with brand new graphics and possibly revised stages (?) all brought up to date for the early 2000s!
BUBBLE BOBBLE EVOLUTION (2006) [PSP]
This PSP "evolution" of Bubble Bobble seems to shake up the formula somewhat, and I'm not sure it results in the best iteration of the franchise. The mid 2000s saw Taito "adapt" a few of their classics for the PSP/DS hardware with mixed results. I haven't actually played this, and not a lot of info/footage of it exists, so if anyone has, feel free to add their thoughts. To me, this represented a dark time in video game history, when it seemed every franchise was "polygonised", and I thought 2D sprite work was dead. thankfully that didn't happen, and we only really got this one version. Interestingly enough, Bub and Bob seem to retain their "human form" in this version, just wearing dragon romper suits!
BUBBLE BOBBLE (DS) REVOLUTION (2006) [NINTENDO DS]
Bubble Bobble revolution (sometimes known as Bubble Bobble DS) contains new stages, enemies and bosses, and spans over the 2 DS screens with brand new graphics. Wikipedia tells me that the North American release of this was glitched, where a boss did not spawn correctly, meaning players couldn't progress (a staple that both of my own games would succumb to, lol!). Sounds like it wasn't well received, but if anyone has played it, drop any thoughts or trivia below!
BUBBLE BOBBLE DOUBLE SHOT (2007) [NINTENDO DS]
Confusingly Bubble Bobble Double Shot, isn't the same as Bubble Bobble DS, but is in fact a brand-new game. Looks like this one allows for 3 players simultaneously, with Bub and Bob's cousin Bubu joining in the fun. It is said a new gameplay element is introduced here where specific color bubbles are needed to capture different color enemies.
BUBBLE BOBBLE PLUS! / NEO! (2009) [WII WARE / XBOX LIVE ARCADE]
With the advent of digital distribution, and a new consumer craving for brand new retro titles, Bubble Bobble Plus! (Neo!) was developed. This version introduced 4 player simultaneous mode, and brand new stages, as well as the classic arcade version included as a bonus. Looks like it got good reviews, and I suspect the nostalgia of the original helped this one gain great exposure.
BUBBLE BOBBLE DOUBLE (2010) [IOS]
This iOS version includes the classic arcade game, with touch controls, but also a brand-new game where you need to tap the screen to capture enemies in a bubble, and destroy them. I haven't played this, so I'm not familiar with the fundamentals, but it looks like it plays remarkably different than any other Bubble Bobble game. Anyone had any experience with this?
BUBBLE BOBBLE FOR KAKOA (2014) [KAKOA]
What is this? I would like to play it, but I don't know what it is. It looks good, and I think it is only available in Korea. Looks to retain the classic Bubble Bobble style, and has several different "seasons" with some extra Taito characters sprinkled in but details are scarce. Anyone familiar with it?
Now, things get interesting. Above are what I would refer to as the "mainline" Bubble Bobble games, the ones that star Bub and Bob in dinosaur form, and basically follow the gameplay styles laid out and defined in the original Bubble Bobble arcade game.
Of course, back in the 80s, players were familiar with the strange trend of companies creating sequels that drastically changed the original elements and spawned brand new play styles (think, Castlevania 2: Simons Quest / Super Mario Bros 2 / The Adventure of Link type sequels). The Bubble Bobble series also adopted that approach. The actual "real" sequel to Bubble Bobble in the arcades was "Rainbow Islands - The Story Of Bubble Bobble 2", which was released a year after the original "Bubble Bobble" in 1987, and this itself spawned a variety of sequels, which we will look at below.
RAINBOW ISLANDS - THE STORY OF BUBBLE BOBBLE 2 (1987) [ARCADE]
A completely new chapter in the Bubble Bobble series, Rainbow Islands was a direct sequel to Bubble Bobble, but changed the gameplay drastically. Gone is the 2-player co-op mode, and the goal of each stage is to make it to the top of a series of islands, before the island sinks into the ocean. You control Bubby (changed back into human form after defeating the boss at the end of Bubble Bobble) and must travel through a series of islands to transform all the other inhabitants back into human form as well.
Each level only scrolls vertically (I actually thought my copy of the game was broken when I first played it, as looking at the screenshots I assumed it to be more like a traditional platformer!) and you can fire out rainbows to defeat enemies, or simply use them as platforms to ascend higher.
There are a total of 7 islands, based on different themes, each with a boss, but if you complete certain conditions, you can unlock an additional 3 islands to get one of the "true endings". There are many references to other Taito games, such as Arakanoid (a whole island is themed on this), Darius (likewise) and loads of subtle references to Bubble Bobble. Upon collecting a secret crystal ball item, it reveals that all the enemies in this game are actually just the original Bubble Bobble enemies in disguise.
This game was ported to the Amiga, and that is where a lot of its popularity comes from, certainly in the UK, where the magazine Amiga Power claimed it was the best game ever due to its immense amount of secrets, for which there are numerous!
A very different game than Bubble Bobble, but a classic nonetheless.
RAINBOW ISLANDS EXTRA (1988) [MEGADRIVE]
This is a remixed port of the arcade version of rainbow Islands. Appears to retain the same level layouts, but enemies and bosses are shifted between stages around creating a much more taxing version.
RAINBOW ISLANDS 8-BIT (1991) [NES / MASTERSYSTEM]
The 8-bit versions are a unique port of Rainbow Islands, which contain brand new level layouts unique to these versions, a completely new Island (based on Japanese folklore, and possibly referencing the Kiki KaiKia/Pocky and Rocky series of games if I am not mistaken?). It also adds in additional story elements and cut scenes between worlds, allowing players to talk to characters briefly, and choose rewards from a choice of treasure chests upon defeating a boss.
Interestingly, there is also a direct port of the original arcade version of Rainbow Islands also for the NES, which I think is only available in a specific region. I guess this may cause some confusion with players looking to try the "unique" 8-bit version, as both games may be labelled the same?
RAINBOW ISLANDS ENHANCED (1996) [SATURN / PLAYSTATION]
Released as part of a Bubble Bobble collection for the Saturn and Playstation, Rainbow Islands Enhanced is just a direct port with updated graphics, making it appear more 16-bit/32-bit in its visuals compared to the 8-bit original. I think the gameplay is exactly the same as the arcade version (except it may be missing the final secret 3 islands?), and is a good version worth playing if you want that added extra visual punch.
RAINBOW ISLANDS PUTTY'S PARTY (2000) [WONDERSWAN]
An obscure sequel / port of rainbow islands, which was probably developed due to the Wonderswan's vertical screen option. It appears that you control Putty (mistranslation of Patty?), possibly one of the girlfriends you rescue in the original Bubble Bobble. Screenshots suggest this follows the same layout as the original arcade Rainbow Islands, but with added cut scenes and story elements, although there might be some other unique features in there too?
RAINBOW ISLANDS GBC (2001) [GAMEBOY COLOR]
This seems to have different level layouts than both the arcade version and the 8-bit version, and also includes a few additional story elements / cut scenes to add an overall plot to the game. Also, interestingly, it seems to include the extra KiKi KaiKai Island, adapted from the 8-bit version but with new layouts, bringing the total number of islands to 11, the most in any version.
(NEW) RAINBOW ISLANDS REVOLUTION (2005) [NINTENDO DS]
When the Nintendo DS was released, with its dual screens, and touch controls, Taito, as well as many other companies, started to experiment with updating their classic games to the system, and giving them a unique lease of life. New Rainbow Islands (or Rainbow Islands Revolution in some territories) attempts this by allowing the player to drag Bubby around in a bubble to traverse the stages, and drawing rainbows with the stylus directly onto the screen to defeat enemies. Back when it was released I was looking forward to it, but I think it fell flat, changing the gameplay fundamentally. I might have enjoyed it in the end, I can't remember, or maybe I got used to it. Has new bosses, I think, but seems to retain most of the stage themes from the original Rainbow Islands, with slightly updated graphics.
(NEW) RAINBOW ISLANDS EVOLUTION (2007) [PSP]
I have never played this, and that is because it scares me. I don't know what is going on it in, and it looks radically different from the other Rainbow Islands games. I have a feeling it is not a good game. Anyone played it who can fill me in with any extra details?
RAINBOW ISLANDS TOWERING ADVENTURE (2009) [WII WARE / XBOXLIVE ARCADE]
I have played this one, and I did warm to it after a while. Personally, I feel the graphics take a tremendous dive by using 3d models as opposed to sprites, and the animation of the main character was awful. But I found that if I squinted my eyes whilst playing, and pretended that character was the original 2D sprite, it actually played quite well. It is unique in that you constantly have to keep moving, as you are being followed by a crazed scientist in a death machine, that pursues you to the top of the stage (substituting the same basic premise as the rising water in the arcade version), however this machine also doubles up as the boss, which you can destroy by dropping rainbows on its head. There is also just one looooong level, as opposed to separate rounds, as it just keeps scrolling higher and higher as you progress through the game. I did grow to become quite fond of this, despite my initial reservations, and I do think, had it simply retained the chubby sprite aesthetics and animation for the main character from the original, I think this would have been a classic in my eyes, as the gameplay is actually quite solid, as a variation on the original. Theres just something horrifying about the main character model and animation that gives me nightmares...but the rest of the graphics are actually okay..so go figure?
So thats all the games in the Rainbow Islands chapter (unless I am missing some), but there is one final chapter in the Bubble Bobble series to look at...that is Parasol Stars...
PARASOL STARS: THE STORY OF BUBBLE BOBBLE III (1991) [PC ENGINE / AMIGA / NES]
Parasol Stars is referred to as the Story of Bubble Bobble III, and after Rainbow Islands, certainly returns to the form of the original Bubble Bobble in a big way. This is mostly an amalgamation of both gameplay styles from Bubble Bobble and Rainbow Islands, but resembling much more the former than the later. Back to 2 player co-op, single screen (although there is occasionally some scrolling), clear the screen of enemies type gameplay. Bubby and Bobby are in their human form, and carry parasols, which they can use to scoop up and flick away both enemies, and bubbles, that inhabit the stages. Many elements from Bubble Bobble are back, as well as call-backs to the endless secrets found in Rainbow Islands. Fans of Bubble Bobble should like this one.
There are a few secret stages hidden throughout the game, and if I am not mistaken, the Amiga version features a hidden exclusive world, created specifically for that version, but I may be misremembering?
PARASOL STARS ARCADE (????)
I remember reading an issue of Mean Machines, here in the UK, back in 1990, and there was a review of Bubble Bobble for the NES. At a panel off to the side, there was a mention of a third arcade release in the series, a brand-new arcade game called Parasol Stars. A simple screenshot was also attached.
Thing is, it turns out an arcade version of Parasol stars was never developed, and no-one knows where the screenshot came from. It doesn't resemble any stage from any of the known versions of the game, and seems to be completely unique. Did an arcade version ever exist ...it seems that it didn't, but that screenshot always puzzled me.
(as an aside, I remember being convinced that I had seen some footage from an arcade version of parasol stars in a montage sequence on the UK TV show Bad Influence. I remember seeing the sprites of Bubby and Bobby appear huge on the screen, and then scale down into the stage (something that the home versions never did) and I was convinced this must have been footage from an arcade version... upon searching for that footage for ages, I eventually found it, and it turns out my memory had just combined a shot from lemmings, with a lemming floating on an umbrella, and the amiga version of Parasol Stars, and my memory had betrayed me into thinking I'd seen an exclusive version!)
CHACK N POP (1983) [ARCADE]
What is this? Did you know that most of the enemies in Bubble Bobble are not exclusive to Bubble Bobble at all, and actually predate that game by 3 years, first appearing in the 1983 Taito arcade game Chack N Pop?
Well, it's true!
The Bubble Bobble series has returned the favour by hiding Chack N Pop items and references throughout their games, but is Chack N Pop an official game in the Bubble Bobble series? I don't know! Nobody does? I often lie awake at night pondering that very question!
phew! That's a lot to cover...but guess what, there's more...a lot more...Bubble Bobble actually spun off into its own unique puzzle game series entitled PUZZLE BOBBLE / BUST-A-MOVE. There are a whole iteration of those games out there, which we are going to have to save for another thread later in the year, because they have branched off into a completely unique series all of their very own...but I'm just making a note of them here, so people don't think I've forgotten about them
Well, thats quite a handful. What are your favourite Bubble Bobble games? Most people love the original, and Rainbow Islands became quite popular in the UK with its multitude of secrets. Anyone played any of the more obscure ones? And anyone and got any thoughts on the spin offs or extra details, or simply any memories of playing multiplayer with friends or relatives in the arcades or at home? Fire away!