The Game Boy Advance has seen some pretty outstanding updates of old NES classics, including Kirby: Nightmare in Dreamland, Metroid: Zero Mission, and Double Dragon Advance, so when I heard Bubble Bobble was coming out for the system, and in “old and new” form no less, I was ecstatic. You can play the old NES version exactly as you remember it, or a new, visually upgraded version. It sounded fantastic! Then I started looking for it, and discovered problem number one: There isn’t a US version available. And, judging by the look of things, it might never be available. The solution is to import the UK version, which is in English, and, because of the cartridge format, is 100% compatible with any GBA system. That brings up issue number two though: it is EXPENSIVE. Not insanely, totally impossible, “English version Panzer Dragoon Saga” expensive, but you will likely pay more for it than your average GBA game. Considering this is a port of a ten-thousand-year-old NES game, and that it would probably be about fifteen bucks if it were available in the US, a lot of people might shy away from it. One thing to note is that the game comes packaged with a link cable for two-player games. This seems like a good idea on the surface, but since the game is actually more expensive to cover the cost of the cable, it seems like a questionable marketing decision. For example, 99 percent of the time, I play my GBA as I commute to and from work on a train. I’m not playing two-player games any time soon. Why should I be forced to pay for a cable I’ll likely use maybe once or twice in my entire life? If I needed a cable, it would be a great deal, but since I don’t care, it’s a bit of a waste.
That aside, the game itself isn’t exactly what I was expecting. Instead, it’s exactly what I remembered. If you’ve played the old NES version, you probably remember that you play the part of a bubble-blowing dinosaur whose girlfriend has been captured and held captive at the bottom of a 100-level pit. Each level is filled with blocks, walls, platforms, and a significant number of bad guys. Basically, you capture the enemies in bubbles, then pop the bubble to dispatch of them, turning them into pie, candy, bits of fruit, and other assorted food items. As you clear each level of baddies, you descend to the next. You can jump on your bubbles without popping them to gain higher ground, and the further you get into the game, the more varied and interesting the levels and enemies become. If you go at it two-player, you both share the same screen and compete for points as you go. Seeing as how the game comes with a cable and requires just one cartridge to play, Bubble Bobble definitely caters to two-player action. One thing to keep in mind though is that this game is hard. I’m talking really hard. You get three lives, and one touch means you die. It definitely has that old-school difficulty level going on.
You can see right away that this isn’t the most complex game in the world, though. In fact, it almost seems like it should be on a compilation pack somewhere, as it’s not much more advanced than the games you find on those NAMCO Museum titles. In fact, many GBA owners probably have this game and 400 other NES titles already emulated on a flash card (shame on you!). You may be thinking, “Well that’s just the OLD gameplay option. What about the NEW? Doesn’t it offer fantastic new graphics, new game modes, and other options?” Well, the answer, sadly, is no. Going into the “new” gameplay mode is technically updated, but really not by much. The “old” version characters were made when technology severely limited the use of color and animation, and the character designs were made to use what was available to the best of its ability. They translate very well to the tiny GBA screen. The “new” version has more detail, but with the characters shrunk down to fit the screen and still provide ample room to maneuver, all the detail is lost into little colored blobs. The platforms end up being the only parts that look better, as they even kept the backgrounds so flat and boring that they are pretty much equal to the old version. There are some interesting, but pixilated, intro splash screens, but the opening cutscene is only marginally better than the old NES version (I haven’t beaten all 100 levels yet.) The sound, while coming through the speakers clearly, is also only marginally better than the old version. There aren’t even any added game modes or options, other than a gallery of all the goodies you’ve collected so far (in-game size). Not much effort went into improving this “new” version at all, which is sad considering how other NES classics have been updated.
So, should you buy this? That depends. How much do you like Bubble Bobble? If you’re the kind of person who bought one of the Super Mario Advance games and just plays Mario Brothers all day long, you might enjoy this. Considering that games this simple usually end up as add-ons to REAL games or in compilation packs with five or more others, you might wonder why anyone would pay full price and then some.
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