As you can probably guess, Bubble Bobble Plus (BB+) is a remake of the ludicrously addictive Taito arcade game. Having played the sublime C64 version to death in my youth, I was ecstatic when I found an enhanced version was available for download on the Wii.
For those of you that don’t know, BB+ is a game for up to two players. Player one takes the role of Bub (a small green dinosaur) and player 2 is Bob (a small blue dinosaur). Each level takes place on a single static screen filled with platforms and monsters. Blessed with the ability to blow bubbles, Bub and Bob must catch the various monsters in a bubble, and then burst the bubble to kill the monster. Various power-ups can be collected to give Bub and Bob special powers or just give them extra points.
Bubble Bobble was such a big hit because the gameplay was superbly balanced. Early screens gently introduce you to the controls and get you used to the concept of blowing and popping bubbles. They feature more open screens with easy to reach platforms. Almost imperceptibly, though, levels get progressively trickier, with some truly fiendish ones later on. Levels designs are also highly imaginative and the desire to see what the next screen offers is a real pull in gameplay terms.
BB+ is great fun in one-player game, but it’s as a two player game that it really shines, combining co-operation and competition perfectly. Mostly it’s in your best interests to work together clearing the screens of nasties. However, when bonuses start to appear, things can get really competitive and I guarantee you will hurl abuse at the other player when you do all the work only to see them nick all the power-ups.
The graphics are exactly what you’d expect from a 1980s arcade platformer: bright, colourful and full of character. Bub and Bob are incredibly cute and the bad guys aren’t far behind them. There’s a fantastic chip tune that plays throughout the game and it’s impossible not sing along to it. In fact, if you know the game, I bet you started humming it as soon as you saw this review!
Nor does BB+ skimp on the gameplay. In addition to Standard Mode (the original 100 levels from the arcade game), Arrange Mode allows up to 4 players play 100 completely new screens, doubling the size of the original game. Super Standard and Super Arrange Mode offer more challenging versions of those 200 levels. As if that wasn’t enough, two further modes (Expert 1 and Expert 2) provide 100 new levels, although you have to pay extra to download these.
There’s just one fly in the ointment that prevents this Wii version from occupying quite the same place in my heart as the sublime C64 conversion – but it’s a Biggy. A skill you need to master in order to reach otherwise inaccessible areas is the ability to blow bubbles and then jump on them. This was always a little tricky, but the Wii version makes it harder still. Jumping on your bubbles can be incredibly frustrating: they either burst as soon as you jump on them or you get half way up the screen before POP! – you’re sent plummeting back to earth. It’s particularly true on the notorious Level 72 which requires extensive use of this skill and at times feels like it’s almost impossible to do in this version
I do like BB+ and the ability to play it on a new console (and not have to wait 5 years for it to load from cassette) is great. That said if I had to choose, the C64 version would wins hands down every time.