Review: Bubble Bobble Neo

Bubble Bobble has seen profuse commercial success throughout the years. It’s received several different spinoffs as well as addictive puzzlers that work given the franchise’s silliness and outright whimsy. The original game has been given a fresh coat of paint this year with Taito’s impressive revival, Bubble Bobble Neo. Even though it may look different on its exterior, it still retains the lighthearted charm that you’ll remember fondly from your childhood.

The premise couldn’t be any simpler: diminutive dragons Bub and Bob burst monsters’ bubbles (literally) to rack up tasty powerups for points. Enemies will scurry about in each stage until encapsulated in one Bub or Bob’s bubbles. Touching a baddie results in instant death, so it’s prudent to stay a safe distance away when making attempts at capture. Once all of the monsters have been disposed of, another bubble whisks your dragon away to the next level, where the process is repeated. While some enemies are powerless against you, many have their own plan of attack, whisking fireballs at you or simply charging at you after turning red, making them a bit harder to trap in a bubble. To aid you, various items will appear throughout several levels such as bubbles filled with water that whisk you away (and enemies in the process), running shoes, and even bolts of lightning. It’s up to you to pick these up, as well as the fruits littered throughout each game board after you’ve defeated all of the enemies.
There are very few basics to master and the gameplay is as light and airy as the bubbles themselves. Don’t kid yourself, though — the game is by no means a cake walk. Its difficulty hinges upon maddening in later levels, but due to its addictive nature you’ll be too infatuated to take note. In fact, the controls have been altered slightly from earlier releases, resulting in a higher level of frustration as you complete the 100 original levels, plus 100 more exclusive to this version. These new controls feel quite awkward in the hands of veteran Bubble Bobble players. Areas with vertical columns, heart-shaped pens, and nigh-impossible design decisions, cursing the controller will become the norm. It’s a certainty that you will be seeing the “Continue?” screen over and over, either due to the fact that you did not trap all enemies in time, or you simply ran into one and died on the spot.
Luckily, you can now shoot diagonally to reach those tight, confined spaces. This isn’t a free pass, though — you’ll need to be absolutely precise when aiming for enemies, and more often than not you will have a dozen wasted bubbles floating away from you rather than a captured enemy. This is the game’s greatest downfall, and one that could have easily been avoided had developers not chosen to create new stages that feel infinitely more difficult than any of the previous ones. Fortunately, this gives players constantly searching for a greater challenge reason to check into this redux of a classic.
Bub and Bob have taken on a much slicker appearance that’s on par with the rest of the classic arcade updates. That isn’t saying much, as there hasn’t been a tremendous improvement, but monsters and player characters have been given a much smoother and anti-aliased look compared to the pixels of the past. Fruits, foods, and powerups are much brighter, presumably to draw your attention to them. Though cosmetic alterations are very slight, this is a much more polished look for the series and one that works well with HD televisions and those of us with the “old” TV technology. The same whimsical tune has been kept intact as well, though with slight changes here and there to give it a more modern feel. It still rouses nostalgia, and though it repeats itself over and over, the comforting melody should serve as a good friend throughout your time with the game.

Bubble Bobble Neo is an impressive update to the classic platformer, though it could benefit from a more solid control scheme. The omission of online multiplayer is a glaring one in this day and age, but you can always grab a friend to sit beside you and power through levels together. With 100 extra levels, 3D graphics, and the power of nostalgia on its side, this is an Xbox Live Arcade title that’s worth your time and attention, especially if you have never experienced it before. I dare you to get the main theme out of your head after playing.

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