Inside Pulse 12

Review: Bubble Bobble: Double Shot (Nintendo DS)

Bubble Bobble: Double Shot
Developer: Dreams Co. Ltd/Marvelous
Publisher:Ignition Entertainment
Genre: Puzzle
Release Date: 03/03/08

The Bubble Bobble Franchise is very dear to my heart. The original Bubble Bobble theme song is my favorite in all of gaming and I have all sorts of remixes of it. Hell, the entire Kliq loved Bubble Bobble so much we named one of our old sites, Not a True Ending after it. Bubble Bobble received the highest overall score from our reviewers in the history of the site, and Bubble Bobble Old and New was the last game I gave a 9 or higher to, way back on 10/11/2004.

Of course, Bubble Bobble Revolution received our “Worst Game of the Year” award back in 2006. It was buggy, caused motion sickness and was a kick to the crotch of everything was was great about the series.

Bubble Bobble has given us so many classic games like Puzzle Bobble or Bust A Move (depending on your country of choice), Rainbow Islands, and many more. Alas, for every amazing game in the series, Taito has allowed people to make really bad games featuring Bub and Bob.

So when Bubble Bobble: Double Shot was announced, I knew I’d have to review it. Partly because I knew no BB game could ever be as bad as Revolution, even one made by the same team. The main reason however, was that I’m a huge Bubble Bobble fan boy and I always cross my fingers that the next title will be as amazing as the older classic gems that rank amongst the best video games ever made.

Now the only thing left to do is see whether or not Double Shot is a worthy heir to the name, or a piece of crap that needs to be flushed down the toilet.

Let’s Review

1. Story/Modes

This is an interesting package here. Let’s talk story first.

Bub and Bob have a new cousin named Bubu. They decide to go visit him in the Rainbow Islands, which is an awesome piece of continuity. Of course, Bub and Bob are still cute little dragons, so I guess like all other Taito games, they’ve thrown out the original idea that the boys were humans turned into dragons. That’s fine with me, as I like them better this way, as do 99% of gamers everywhere.

While all three are playing, they find a treasure map. All three decide to go in search of the treasure which takes you through 100 levels of bubble blowing and monster stopping action.

The story is decent for these type of games, but what’s really neat are the modes. You can play the game solo or multiplayer. Multiplayer occurs over the DS wifi connection and you can have 2 or even 3 player co-op action. Although it is quite hard to find enough people for a three player game due to a low print run and a lack of advertising for this title, it is worth it. Much like the original Bubble Bobble the game’s enjoyment is magnified when you are doing co-op mode. It also makes the game a lot easier as there are some levels that are nigh impossible to beat on your own due to the level design, but more on that later.

There are three new modes as well that work as your continue option. You see, when you die, if you want to continue you have to play one of three mini games that uses the DS stylus. One involves picking the right bubble from a screen of bubbles. Another involves a foot race, and the the third involves drawing bubbles as fast as you can. This is a neat little twist that adds a lot of enjoyment to the game and really mixes up the continue option in a fresh new away.

A cute little passable story to entertain the long time fans and introduce Bubu and a lot of really fun new modes that makes this classic title feel new and innovative again. This was a great surprise.

Story/Modes Rating: Good

2. Graphics

The graphics of the game are in line with every other Bubble Bobble game to hit shelves in the past few years. It’s a definite improvement over the original arcade graphics, or the NES version of the game, but the characters are still simplistic in design.

That doesn’t mean the game is ugly. Far from it. The creatures and characters in the Bubble Bobble franchise are some of the most classic and adorable characters ever. Even if the graphics are akin to something we’d see on the PSX or Sega Saturn, they’re still perfect for the game. After all, aside from Puzzle Fighter, do we really need high def cutting edge graphics for a puzzle platformer combo game?

The game has cute characters, nice backgrounds and the game looks like what one would expect for the DS these days, as few carts try and push the graphical power of the system.

It’s not going to win any graphical awards, but Double Shot is definitely passable here.

Graphics Rating: Above Average

3. Sound

It’s the classic Bubble Bobble soundtrack with a bit of remastering. It’s simply the best single track in all of gaming. Modern or casual gamers might be annoyed that there’s only the one song, but then I advise you to tie them to a chair and spray then with a fire hose. This is classic old school gaming music at its finest and to do anything else would be an insult to the series.

The sound effects are the classic noises as well. You can tell that after Bubble Bobble Revolution, Dreams Co. Ltd wanted to return the series to his roots and musically, you couldn’t ask for a better job.

Sound Rating: Unparalleled

4. Control and Gameplay

Gameplay is akin to the classic Bubble Bobble. You jump and blow bubbles, but I’m not really a fan of the button layout. B is jump and Y is shooting bubbles. I’d really prefer A to be the bubble button, as would most gamers, but you can’t adjust the controls at all. Pity, but at least this is a minor quibble.

There are some new gameplay additions to the game. Some are neat and fun. Others not so much. First up is that in single player mode, you’ll be playing as all three characters. The L and R buttons allow you to shift from one dragon to the next, with the default being Bub. There’s a few reasons for this. The first is that each of the elemental powers from the original game are now assigned to a specific dragon rather than being all inclusive. Bub is electrical, Bob is Water, and Bubu is Fire. I have no problem with this and think it is a neat twist on the game, adding more to the puzzle side of the game.

As well there are some enemies with a coloured star twirling around them. Pay attention to the colour of the star, as only those bubbles from that colour dragon can affect them. Again, this is a nice tie in to the switching aspect and I think this brings some new innovation to the cart.

However, there are some enemies with odd coloured stars, like purple. In order to beat these enemies you have to be either Bibu (red) or Bob (blue), shoot a bubble, switch quickly to the other colour and shoot again. Blue + Red = Purple. Get it? In theory this is again a neat idea, but as you’ll see in later levels, the positions of certain enemies is that where you won’t have time to shoot off two bubbles. You’ll shoot one, then be killed because of the tight space and then have to go back with a new life and hit the next bubble.

As well, there are some severe level design issues. You’ll notice an occasional “hard” level where an enemy will be in a tight enough spot that you’ll have to sacrifice a life to bubble them, then go back and pop the bubble with a new life. As the game goes on, you’ll find levels that were clearly designed for co-op only and that a single person will have a nigh impossible time. In fact there are a few levels in the 80’s where you CAN’T get by without an umbrella. Other levels are more of a maze that, by the time your character gets through all the obstacles, the “HURRY UP!” version of the game happens, and there is no way you can be the hidden internal clock to get down there fast enough.

The game looks and feels and even plays like the original Bubble Bobble, which is great, but the levels just aren’t of the same quality, and it appears the developers focused more on nifty design than the actual playability of the levels. Even long time Bubble Bobble masters are sure to be frustrated with the later levels of the game, and not in a “Ninja Gaiden Hard” sort of way. It’ll be a “WTF? Did they even play these levels before releasing it?” way.

Thankfully, the levels do play better in multi-player mode, and as that is the way BB games are meant to be played (if you want the True Ending that is), you should line the game far less stressful that way.

In all, the franchise has gone back to where it needed to play with some fun, fresh new gameplay, but be warned of some serious broken and sometimes unplayable level designs that drastically cute enjoyment right as you’re starting to fall for the game.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Above Average

5. Replayability

Bubble Bobble: Double Shot is a lot of fun, and the new continues options create a fun and interesting change of pace. However, there is one huge factor that can potentially ruin your fun with this game. Okay, two huge flaws if you count some later level designs. THERE IS NO SAVE FEATURE. That’s right: if you’re going to beat this game, you have to do it in a single playthrough as you can’t save anything in this title.

Now normally I would be fine with that. You couldn’t save in the original Bubble Bobble or even in the first home version. This is 2008 though, and even the horrid Bubble Bobble Revolution offered this. As did Bubble Bobble Old and New. If you’re going to make a portable game, ANY portable game, you need to have at least a quick save feature if not a full save, otherwise you are alienating a large portion of your audience. Portable games are meant for quick play on the go. Double Shot does exactly the opposite of what they needed to do here. No save feature is going to piss off most gamers who pick this up and cause a lot of people to disavow it entirely.

Me? I like my challenges. I like feeling triumphant after a long hard gaming session. I want to feel I earned my victories. I don’t get that here. When you have to replay a level a dozen times hoping for that damned umbrella to show up so that you can actually BEAT THE LEVEL, you just want to save the game at that point so you don’t have to relive the horror. I could live with the bad level designs OR the lack of save, but both together makes the game pretty low in replay value for solo mode.

Multi-player is a lot of fun, but again, without the save feature, it is fundamentally useless. You trying getting three people together for a 100 level game on portable systems for an extended period of time. The save feature would have made this all the more appealing for people to pick up their team game and play some more at a later date. Starting all the way over? It just kills the desire to play again.

If you have a lot of free time, I’m sure you can get a great deal of replay out of this, especially if you’re an old school style of gamer. Otherwise, it’s pretty hard to get into the game after you’ve cleared 40 levels, including four awful boss fights only to find when you miss a continue game, that all your hard work is gone, gone, gone.

Thumbs in the middle here.

Replayability Rating: Mediocre

6. Balance

Here’s the big Achilles heel of the game. Poor level design + a lack of a save feature + some poorly designed boss battles that take a bit to figure out what you need to do and which dragon you have to use (total trial and error btw), leads to some severe balance issues.

This holds true with the mini games as well. Two of the three are super easy and guarantee you a continue. Those would be the bubble drawing and bubble finding games. The racing game? Well, that gets tricky. What you need to do is alternate tapping the feet on the touch screen with your stylus to make Bub run. This doesn’t work so good. I find it’s a lot easier to make him run by touching your two index fingers to the pad repeatedly and with a bit of pressure. Even then, the monster gets faster ever time, so if the luck of the draw means five racing games in a row, you’re rather screwed. See the lack of save feature problem, and you’ll be swearing every time this one comes up.

The game is actually playable and fun at times, unlike Bubble Bobble Revolutions, but when the game screws up, it screws up royally. Be warned that the game is widely unbalanced, but not due to AI issues. Instead it is just bad level design and a wacky continue system that alternates between being fun (early stages) and annoying as hell (around the time you hit level 50 and up).

Balance Rating: Bad

7. Originality

Although we’re finally back to classic Bubble Bobble game play, Double Shot has brought some neat new twists to the game. I enjoyed the three dragon gameplay and the importance of bubble colouring at times. I loved some of the new level designs as much as I hated others, and it was nice to see that the franchise could go back to the style of game it was 25 years ago and still have room for innovation that doesn’t impede the classic nature of the game.

I liked the addition of the mini games for the most part, even if I hate the lack of a save feature. In terms of making Bubble Bobble feel new and classic at the same time, they did a good job here.

Originality Rating: Good

8. Addictiveness

The game is quite addictive at first, but once you realize there is no save feature and that some levels can only be passed if you manage to get a special item or if the computer dislodges its monsters from a spot that only fits a single creature ensure you will die if you so much as go near it, the enjoyment drops drastically.

It’s very hard to get into a game that impedes your progress and also forces you to start over due to a lack of playtesting rather than a lack of skill. I was very disappointed to encounter these issues in the middle and late stages of the game, as it had been going so well.

Although the game’s two big flaws will make most people put the game down after a few tires, never to pick it up again, ti’s still a beter game than Bubble Bobble Revolution

Addictiveness Rating: Poor

9. Appeal Factor

If you can’t enjoy a game of Bubble Bobble then you shouldn’t be gaming. I mean that. It is one of the most classic games ever and should be in most gamer’s list of arcade classics.

However, it is hard to enjoy a badly designed game of Bubble Bobble. Thankfully, Double Shot is not badly designed. Rather it is a likeable game with a few badly designed levels and an attempt to go completely retro by making you work for your continues and not include a save feature. Although this will appeal to HARDCORE older games who complain about the lack of challenge in modern games (which is true), it’s going to alienate most younger or newer games, as well as people like myself who love the franchise, but demand long portable games to have a save feature.

This title is going to have a very niche audience, which is a shame, because had they foxed the save feature and those few weird levels, this game could have been highly regarded and enjoyed by all. Pity that. Instead only the most zealous of BB fans will actually state they enjoy this game. Everyone else will bitch (with good reason) about the same issues I have here.

Appeal Factor:Poor

Miscellaneous

Here’s the thing. I like this game in spite of its flaws. Not having a save feature doesn’t kill the game, but it does hurt it. Having some levels that can only be passed by luck? Again, annoying, but it happens so late in the game, it is more frustrating and profanity inducing when combined with the lack of the save,

Everything else about the game is pretty good. Good soundtrack, enjoyable graphics, an obvious respect towards the franchise and a return to the gameplay that made Bubble Bobble awesome. Double Shot also introduced some nifty new gameplay that I enjoyed. I liked the mini games, but grew to be annoyed with them in the later bits of the game, again due to the lack of a save feature.

It’s amazing how much one little thing being left out can affect a review. If this game had included a save feature then Balance, Replayability, Appeal Factor and Addictiveness would have gone up to probably raise the game up a full point on the scale.

As such I can’t call the game “Good” or even “Enjoyable”, but it is an above average game with some sever flaws that prevents most gamers from having fun with this outside of multi-player co-op mode, which indeed kicks booty.

Know the issues I had with this game, and evaluate if you have the patience to deal with them before buying the title.

I will close this by saying, I wish i could have given this game a higher score, and that hopefully this same team will get a chance to make a sequel, fixing their mistakes, as there is some real potential here.

Miscellaneous Rating: Above Average

The Scores
Story/Modes: Good
Graphics: Above Average
Sound: Unparalled
Control and Gameplay: Above Average
Replayability: Mediocre
Balance: Bad
Originality: Good
Addictiveness: Poor
Appeal Factor: Poor
Miscellaneous: Above Average
FINAL SCORE:(Above Average)

Short Attention Span Summary

If you’re a Bubble Bobble fan, you’ll be able to look past the flaws of this game and enjoy what is here. If you’re new to the series try to find the GBA cart Bubble Bobble Old and New. It’s the best version of the game outside the original arcade cabinet, and serves as a good start. Newcomers might also find the lack of save and later level designs frustrating.. It is the best Bubble Bobble remake in years, and for either current portable system, so if you can live without the save feature, you might want to pick this up, especially as it is only $19.99.