I get the bubble, but why the bobble?
Well, this was a real blast from the past. So, Bubble Bobble is one of those interesting franchises, sitting in a vague middle ground between mainstream popularity and total obscurity where you'll have to hunt a bit to find people who remember it. But find them, and oh, they'll remember it. How could you not, with its wild setup of bubble-blowing dinosaurs encasing their foes in shimmering floaty prisons?
...Yeah let's break this one down.
Given that this is such an arcadey franchise, it makes sense to start here rather than, say, story. Bubble Bobble 4 Friends sticks with a core single-screen style format. As adorable little dinosaur Bub, you have but one tool at your disposal: Blowing bubbles. Hit an enemy with a bubble while it's still careening forward, and you'll encase the enemy. Bubbles also rise, and follow the flow of winds in the level. And since bubbles can support your weight, you can do clever things with them.
The other thing you can do, or rather must do, is burst bubbles with enemies in them. Just stick them with your spines, and kaboom! Enemies in bubbles are defeated, and bubbles in close contact will also pop, letting you thread together chains of bubbles. These chains become the secret to high scores, giving Bubble Bobble a signature puzzle-platformer quality hiding in its depths. It's one thing to bubble up a bunch of enemies and pop them as you go. It's another thing entirely to set up a perfect line so that they all pop in one shot.
This is, really, the entire core of the game. You're a one hit wonder, with just your bubbles (and single-use Skill items) to your name. A small handful of lives, a small handful of mistakes, are all you have to get you through an entire World. With a grand total of 100 of those stages, you've got a battle ahead.
There's hardly any of one. Okay, there might be an ending cutscene similar to some of the wild premises of the original Bubble Bobble games, but while there's a bit of a premise setup, you're not exactly exploring Bub's inner demons here.
...I mean you kind of maybe are since you're a toy Bub going through dreams based on a child's bedroom but you know what I mean.
This is absolutely an arcade experience. Come for the raw core gameplay, not the plot arcs.
And speaking of arcade experience...
There's an entire copy of the original arcade Bubble Bobble, and it's unlocked from the start. No fooling, no having to do weird stuff, it's just over there before World 1. As far as I can tell with my meager skill, you've got the entire game with co-op.
Which, given the Switch's nature with the Joycons, is a fantastic fit. This is a game that can be fun inside of five minutes, it uses all of two buttons and a stick, and while the central gameplay is a bit absurd when you say it out loud, it's very straightforward and easily understood.
There are, however, some places where the game suffers a bit, and graphics are one of them. I'm not about to say this should be pushing thousands of polygons or anything, or that Bub should be a gritty realistic lizardman. But rather, an entire World will have a single background, and then the stages will be built out of very plain elements. It's serviceable, but I would have loved to see some more flair and style put into play.
To contrast, the sound is superb. You've got classic arcade style tunes here, which just ooze charm, and have a real way of getting stuck in your brain. It is, real talk, nearly impossible to dislodge the original theme(used for World 1 here) once it's in there.
Really, the one big problem that I think Bubble Bobble 4 Friends has is that, sticking true to the original design doesn't leave you a lot of room to grow and experiment. This feels like a more slick presentation of an 80s arcade game...Because that's what it is. For all of the 3D graphics and such, unless you're busting out the 4-player co-op, there's not that much here to differentiate it from the cabinet you played as a kid or one of the various decently popular home ports you may well have owned.
Of course, you might well not have experienced either of those. And even if you do have plenty of fuzzy memories of playing the original on your NES or Master System, well, the game's not exactly been on a ton of retro collections. Bubble Bobble 4 Friends may well be your best bet to enjoy containing weird little critters inside bubbles as a dinosaur again.
So that gets us to that big question. Should you buy it?
Well, I try not to knock a game for being a dog that won't meow, as it were. And the thing is, as a sleeker new iteration of a classic game, Bubble Bobble 4 Friends does succeed! It even brings that 4-player co-op into the mix, something that is pretty new to the series.
So...I think the answer is yes, if the core interests you. With so few other distractions, that's the simplest answer I can give you.