Soapy sweets and bad barons.
"Now, it is beginning of a fantastic story!! Let's make a journey to the cave of monsters! Good luck!"
If that chunk of broken English means something to you, then you know what's coming next - you're about to play Bubble Bobble. Again.
Unlike many of the Rodent "Why I Love…" stories, this one doesn't start in an arcade, but in a newsagent. Specifically, the newsagent who carried ACE magazine issue 2 back in 1987, which came complete with a five-level demo of a game called Bubble Bobble.
Off the back of this, I quickly purchased the full game for the humble Spectrum, and not long after, the good folks at the Magnum Leisure Centre decided to get hold of the arcade machine. 17 years, 9 different platforms, and billions of bubbles later, the game is as much a part of my very being as my X and Y chromosomes.
The first thing that strikes you about Bubble Bobble is how much character the characters have. Any gamer will agree that Bub and Bob are so adorable they must be saved at all costs, but the more dedicated (deranged) player will start to develop connections to the enemy characters as well.
The little clockwork Zen-Chans clearly have no real badness in them. They’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time. The fireball-spitting Hidegonsus, however, are evil to the core and must be exterminated. For ‘80s videogame enemies, Pulpuls, meanwhile, exhibit a rare sinusoidal grace. Then there’s the small matter of the dreaded Baron Von Blubba - I can't even begin to explain the metaphors that he arouses in my brain.
Now, I couldn't possibly talk about the graphics and then not mention the sound. After all, Bubble Bobble plays host to that legendary, looping loopy theme tune. If you turn down your TV right now and listen really hard, you can just about make it out - the echoes of a million previous games…
The gang - they may only be made of 1's and 0's, but they have real feelings just like you
and I. Who's that curious looking fellow at the end?
But the real brilliance of the game lies in the hidden depths of the gameplay. Riding bubbles to the top of the screen, herding special bubbles, jumping across self-made bubble bridges, making all the bubbles on the screen turn to fruit… All implemented with a wonderfully tactile control system. You soon pick up a solid feel for what you can and can't do with the bubbles, allowing for the magical bubble ballet required of you in the later levels.
On top of that, there is the amazing power-up system. From the different flavoured sweets that enhance your bubble capabilities to the magic crosses that trigger floods and lightning strikes, there are well over sixty different special items to collect. Some are triggered by events that will occur in every game you play, some are so rare you may never find them - the magic cigar, for instance, only appears once every 777th new level.
Seems simple enough…
No classic game of the ‘80s would be complete without some top secret bugs known only to the most truancy-hardened arcade veterans. Bubble Bobble’s include… making the game record your highest reached level as 102, stopping the music, being killed in a certain way so that the next game begins in a treasure room, and - whisper it - killing Baron Von Blubba (yes, it can be done - but it could cause such a catastrophic tear in the space/time continuum that I couldn't possibly tell you how).
Hey mister, d'you know how to get the octopus?
Lastly, I love Bubble Bobble because it has that magical, trance-inducing ability that so few games ever attain. Armed with the knowledge of the enemy attack patterns (for every single level, worryingly) and how to trigger all the power ups (ditto) the game becomes a hypnotic journey deep into the human subconscious and back out again. Once you achieve this frankly terrifying level of Bubble Bobble enlightenment you will never be the same again, but you will finally be at peace with why it is the greatest videogame ever created.
I could also discuss the alternate "Super" Bubble Bobble mode, the hidden treasure room messages and the friendship-testing two-player mode - but I'm already starting to get those little twitches of withdrawl. It's time to begin another fantastic story, and make that journey to the cave of monsters once again… Good luck.
Bet you really fancy a “quick go” now, don’t ya?