Growing up, it was my neighbors across the street that had video consoles, including the NES. I went over there a lot after homework was done to play Super Mario Bros., Mega Man, and watch my friend suffer through The Legend of Zelda and Wizards and Warriors. When his younger sister got into video games, she received Bubble Bobble. It wasn’t long before that was all we ever played when I went over there.
Bubble Bobble was so cute, so sweet, and so deceptively hard. We played for hours—without those cheat codes, thank you—to get to Level 99, only to never find a way to snag the Crystal Ball when it magically appeared. Why did that darn thing have to be timed?
It didn’t matter. We played anyway, even to die at the big ass bosses every time. We didn’t care. It was just simple fun, no matter how much we sucked at it.
That was 1986. Fast forward to over 30 years later, and we have 16 Bubble Bobble games, not counting the Rainbow Island and Bust-a-Move series. A new title for the Nintendo Switch, Bubble Bobble 4 Friends, will release in November 2019. This series, starring two tiny dragons that defeat enemies by putting them in bubbles before popping them, has somehow developed a massive cult following.
I’m still terrible at the game, and yet I keep buying re-releases of the original title. For me, it’s about the nostalgia of it all, and sadly, I haven’t played any of the other games. There is a dark period in my console gaming history when I had nothing (and played nothing) between the NES and PlayStation 2. However, new games from the series continued to release and sell, so it’s certainly not only a nostalgia factor.
Nostalgia certainly plays a large factor, as really any Nintendo property does, or a series that has been around since the 80s. However, nostalgia can only take you so far. A game series has to maintain a certain quality for interest to remain. Otherwise it falls into the pile of “Remember when this series was great? So good back in the day.”
You ask anyone why they’re still hyped about Bubble Bobble games, and you’ll hear a lot of the same praise. They’re just so sweet. They’re so much fun. They’re mindless fun. Etc., etc., etc. Most of my friends who love the series haven’t beaten them either, but it doesn’t stop the joy from playing.
So what is it about Bubble Bobble, aside from nostalgia?
Sometimes, you don’t want to play an overly complicated story. There’s an itch to play a puzzle-like game, but it needs to be somewhere along the lines of a Mario title when it comes to difficulty to solve. Perhaps something cute. Something with a catchy tune (that you’ll still hum 30 years later). Something that is so adorable and fun, you don’t care how terrible you are at it. No matter how it might frustrate you, you won’t throw a controller, because this is just so darn fun, even though failure is inevitable.
There’s also that notion of well surely this time I’ll beat this level. Maybe this time. Definitely this time. It’s your own personal bee trying to fly out of a closed window moment. Perhaps the real reason is because most of us are just masochists?
Speaking of that, it’s time to fire up the Switch and see how far I don’t get today in the arcade version of the original.