Bubble Bobble 4 Friends (Switch) Review
Bubble Bobble 4 Friends is the latest game in the long-running Bubble Bobble series. Over the last 30 years, TAITO has made many attempts to modernise the magic of the original 1986 arcade classic, with mixed success. This 2019 iteration sees Bub and 3 friends set off to save a child’s bedroom.
Bubble Bobble 4 Friends opens with Bub and the series’ villain Bonner (previously known as Drunk) appearing as toys next to a sleeping child. They magically awaken and Bonner attacks Bub, kicking him off the bed. The game then shifts to the level select screen, where the problems begin to arise.
The level select screen boasts a total of 5 levels, and the original arcade game (which holds up to this day!). Levels feature 9 stages and a boss fight, meaning the game, in total, only has 50 stages. With Bubble Bobble 4 Friends only taking a few hours to complete, the lack of content is immediately apparent.
Unlike most dinosaurs, Bub can blow bubbles, which can be used as makeshift platforms. Jumping from bubble to bubble was a tricky manoeuvre that felt rewarding to achieve. Bubbles will follow the direction of air currents, which would often create fun platforming challenges by carrying them into hard-to-reach places.
Enemies are defeated by blowing a bubble into them and popping it. Once popped, the enemy will drop a fruit which gives points. After every enemy is defeated, fruits will appear in a path that serves as a limited-time platforming challenge. After every fruit is collected or despawns, Bub gets transported to the next level.
The core of Bubble Bobble 4 Friends is trying to get the highest score possible. Defeating two or more enemies at the same time triggers a chain which causes enemies to drop higher-scoring fruits. If every enemy in the stage is defeated in a single chain, crowns and jewels will drop, which give lots of points. The main issue with the game is that the prize for getting a high score is unrewarding (you unlock a song to listen to in the Memory Album) which completely disincentivises the need to aim for a high score.
The issue is further compounded by the lives system. Bub dies on contact with an enemy, making it incredibly easy to burn through the 5 lives given to the player. When you run out, the game lets you continue from the stage you were up to, but resets your score, essentially locking you out of getting a high score. This forces a restart, which becomes unfeasible when the later levels become 30-minute gauntlets. Because of this, it’s impossible to recommend aiming for a high score, but, if you don’t, the game becomes mind-numbingly shallow. This makes Bubble Bobble 4 Friends frustrating regardless of playstyle, absolutely destroying the experience of the later levels.
At the end of every level, Bub must fight a boss. Unlike normal enemies, bosses require multiple bubbles to be defeated. With each boss being a slight alteration on the same model, they felt largely indistinct, which was disappointing. Most bosses were unremarkable, with the best strategy to defeat them being to spam them with bubbles, die, and then repeat.
Upon defeating a boss, a new skill is unlocked. Skills almost always felt useless, as they either provided an unnecessary skill (like dodging or stopping nearby air currents), or a new method of attacking that insta-kills enemies, which destroys any chance of making a good chain. It’s such a shame that they’re better left untouched, as they could’ve added some exciting tactics to consider.
Each level also hides six E-X-T-E-N-D bubbles to pop. Usually tucked away in tricky-to-reach spots, collecting each letter becomes an exhilarating dash to pop it before it disappears. Collecting a complete set of E-X-T-E-N-D levels up the currently equipped skill, but since skills are essentially useless, collecting the E-X-T-E-N-D bubbles feels pointless too.
After beating the game, hard mode is unlocked. Hard mode features altered level designs with stronger enemies. While this should be a great source of replayability, the previously mentioned issues cause it to become an uninviting experience that feels even more punishing. Despite having unlimited continues, it feels unfair to the point that it’s demoralising.
The game’s presentation is overwhelming, with the constant use of vibrant colours causing everything to melt together. With platforms being nondescript blocks, and the two background layers often blending into one another, navigating the screen felt needlessly confusing. My eyes would often get lost when looking at the screen, which caused many undeserved deaths. Though the soundtrack is nice, its cheery tone felt insulting when matched with the frustrating gameplay and visual design.
With a title like Bubble Bobble 4 Friends, you’d expect multiplayer to be the focus of the game. Though initially a fun experience which involved coordinating movements and strategising, it unfortunately became very annoying as the difficulty increased. Lives are shared amongst players, which often led to them quickly disappearing and having multiple game overs. Other players would also often accidentally pop a bubble that had an enemy inside, destroying the chain that was being set-up and any chance of getting a high score. This forced many restarts, which got worse as the difficulty rose.
Bubble Bobble 4 Friends is so full of unrealised potential. Whether it be the unfairly punishing difficulty, unsatisfying rewards, or confusing visual design, the game felt frustrating to complete. The short campaign feels like it lasts a century, and the multiplayer does little to enhance the experience. Unless you’re a diehard fan, give Bubble Bobble 4 Friends a skip.
+ Good soundtrack
+ Initial levels are really fun
+ Original Bubble Bobble is available to play
- Punishing difficulty
- Conflicting gameplay design
- Confusing visuals
- Annoying multiplayer