Back in 1986 in the back of a smoky arcade in Clacton on Sea, my annoying younger sister and myself stumbled upon an arcade cabinet. The game in question was Bubble Bobble from Taito a simple but charming platforming game straight from Japan. What followed was a love for everything Taito and indeed Bubble Bobble.
Starring the lovable dragons Bub and Bob the premise was simple, clear the single screen levels of monsters and move onto the next. Killing enemies was handled by blowing bubbles around them and then popping them by jumping into them. It wasn’t all that simple though, the last monster left on the screen would get a bit unhappy about seeing his brethren defeated in such a manner. Turning red the last monster standing would suddenly gain super speed making it tricky to catch. Also lingering on a level for too long would initiate the word ‘Hurry!’ plastered over the screen, this was extremely bad. As what can only be described as Death himself infiltrated the screen and proceeded to chase down the heroes until either they were dead or the stage was cleared.
As with all arcade games of the time your only goal was to score well enough to be able to put your initials up in the top ten players for all to see. Points were awarded for killing monsters and picking up fruit and random treasures dropped by your fallen foes. If you wanted to score big though then the bonus levels were where you wanted to be. Occasionally in the game special bubbles would appear with letters inside them. Popping these bubbles would place the letters on the side of the screen until the word Extend was formed, this unlocked the bonus level for the big points. Other bubbles were there more for immediate help which included water bubbles which when burst sent a torrent of water down the different levels taking all out in it’s path and fire bubbles which dropped flames onto the floor which more often than not became a hindrance to your progress.
Over the years the Bubble Bobble formula of single screen platforming has been copied with varying degrees of success. Probably the two of the best that spring to my mind are Snow Bros form Toaplan and Taitos own Parasol Stars. Both of these games are superb and carry with them the pedigree of Bubble Bobble. Bub and Bob went on to star in Bust a Move also known as Puzzle Bubble in some territories, and was an insanely addictive bubble matching game which graced multiple home platforms. If you ever come across an old arcade cabinet of Bubble Bobble be sure to give it a go if only to get the infectious music from the game stuck in your head, which I still have some 23 years later.