Score: 7.0 – XBox Live Arcade – 800 Microsoft Points ($10.00)
If you’ve been following weekly XBLA announcements on XBox Community Manager Major Nelson’s site you’d know that on a weekly basis he has been plagued by requests for when Bubble Bobble would come to XBox Live Arcade since the game’s announcement. The anticipation was palpable for the re-release of the classic 1986 NES game where two little dinosaurs Bub and Bob jumped through levels catching their enemies in bubbles and popping them all while eating fruit and bubblegum. In addition to updated graphics, Bubble Bobble Neo also came with new play styles, new dinosaurs and four player multiplayer for the first time.
Like many, I first encountered this game during its original NES iteration and the game still manages to hold up in terms of gameplay. The original 100 levels come back and play just as well as they originally did including the powerup bubblegum (which makes the dinos blow bubbles faster) and special bubbles. The enemies AI hasn’t changed either as strategies etched in players’ minds from twenty years ago still work to a T in order to capture enemies in a series of bubbles and trying to pop as many as possible for extra fruit bonuses. Yes, even with the bubblegum, the real points come from eating fruit. These are valuable life lessons here.
While the gameplay hasn’t changed, the graphics certainly have. Though they are not Shadow Complex good, they feel like what one would expect from an XBox Live Arcade Game. Bubble Bobble Neo graphically is on par with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time Re-Shelled but manages to keep the original game’s charm by not converting it to true 3D. Instead, there are just much higher-res graphics and sprites. Along with that, the game has received a revised soundtrack which more high quality versions of the game’s original music. Again, the original’s vibe has been kept intact while smoothing out the rough 8-bit sound effects.
New game modes have been added for the first time allowing four dinos to either cooperatively go through a new set of levels or go head to head in a score battle. Though not named, the magenta and yellow dinos fit in with Bub and Bob in a whole new dynamic as players use each other’s bubbles to traverse through higher areas in levels during co-op or busting other players’ captures in order to steal points during the competitive multiplayer.
The main flaw for Bubble Bobble Neo comes from the price. While it features updated graphics and music and additional game modes, any player from the Nintendo days is still going to feel like they are playing their classic game instead. And like most retro re-releases, the price tag feels like it should have stayed in the $5.00 range as opposed to the $10.00 that people have become accustomed to paying for new, original content.
Overall, Bubble Bobble Neo is a great release for XBLA. The revised graphics do justice to the game’s original vision while the gameplay is just as addictive as it originally was. While the price seems a bit high, it is a worthwhile by for anyone who doesn’t have their classic NES cartridge anymore or has never played the game before. And with the new additions of four player co-op and competitive gameplay, even the most seasoned Bubble Bobble player can find something new to keep them happy in this game as well.