The gaming heroes of the 1980s are born in the arcade - they are the protagonists of videogame machines that come to life on flickering TV tubes through the insertion of a coin. Or rather - this is a recognized video game standard - they come to three lives, which are usually lost too fast, so coin after coin ends up in the machine. In order for this to happen and for an arcade game to become popular and successful, it must meet certain requirements: The controls must be intuitive, the game mechanics self-explanatory, and the course of the game motivating. The sound must burn itself into the ear and the hero into the heart of the player. In 1986 Bubble Bobble achieves all this - and a few more things that have been unusual for the arcade to date. The result: The machine and its countless conversions and sequels become legendary, its heroes immortal.
The heroes are Bub and Bob, two incredibly cute mini dinosaurs who are actually the two boys Bubblun and Bobblun, enchanted by the evil beluga whale Baron of Blubba. To regain their human form - and their Baron-abducted girlfriends Patty and Betty - they must traverse a hundred enemy-riddled caves and hunt down a grim, brandy-bottle-throwing end boss. What at first looks like an imaginative, yet quite typical jump'n'run game of the arcade era, soon proves to be a unique, clever and highly motivating skill test. Fukio Mitsuji, who designs the game for the Japanese arcade pros and Space Invaders makers Taito, wants to come up with brand new, equally thrilling and cheerful gameplay. And so he invents the eponymous mechanics: The cute heroes spit bubbles, which wrap the opponents and let them float - a targeted jump, and the bubbles burst, whereby the knocked out victims swirl across the screen and turn into bonus objects, which are swiftly collected for points. Besides, the bubbles floating upwards can also be used as an aid to traverse the screen-sized levels: They can't carry the weight of the dinosaurs, but by jumping on them the player can reach higher areas.
Surprising new level-architectures (which can also turn a huge heart or a Space Invaders reference into a playing field), tempting collectibles from bananas to tartlets to diamonds, a dozen imaginative opponents as well as special bubbles, which release fire, lightning or a flood of water when bursting, already provide a lot of variety and motivation. However, a few innovative tricks make Bubble Bobble a title that is still played more persistently and discussed more intensively than most other exponents of the glamorous arcade era. Fukio Mitsuji, for example, was one of the first arcade machine designers to focus on cooperative play: Instead of fighting each other, two players jump through the levels simultaneously, supporting each other on their way to the final. Of course, Bubble Bobble can also be defeated alone with the green Dino Bub, but blue Bob appears at the beginning of each and every level with a shield that prompts player 2 to insert coins and join in. And after the lonely defeat of the final boss the player experiences an almost nasty surprise: "Congratulations, but that's not the real end", it says, and "Never forget your friend". Only when Bub and Bob reach the final together will both girlfriends be freed and the boys be released from their dinosaur form. There is even a third, even better ending, which can be achieved by completing a "Super Mode", which requires deciphering a secret code after the first play. In terms of depth and complexity, Bubble Bobble far surpasses the jump'n'run competition - and not just the 1980s one.
Nintendo Switch users will soon be able to experience how fresh and clever Bubble Bobble still plays: On November 19 the sequel Bubble Bobble 4 Friends will be released, featuring the original game in perfect arcade quality. But also brand new, even more imaginative bubble action - in the form of a hundred fresh levels in which up to four players can have a blast at the same time!