Have You Played… Bubble Bobble?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

It’s sad to see what’s happened to Bubble Bobble in recent years, whether it’s the descent into match-3 blandness, or the absolutely atrocious remakes that farted their way onto Nintendo DS. But the original was a wonder, released in 1986 and since ported to every platform ever.

It was of course a precursor to the more forgotten but absolutely fantastic Rainbow Islands, where heroes Bub and Bob had finally shed their dragon form to be cherub-faced young boys once again. But theirs is a fate to always return to their scaly origins.

I remember so many, many hours sat at the kitchen counter, playing on my dad’s Atari ST before he got back from work (and would take over to play grown up games like Dungeon Master and Civilisation), desperately trying to get farther through the game than before. My best chances of this were when my friend Alastair Caple would come over too, as the two-player mode afforded a lot more opportunities to survive. And one day, ONE DAY, we would get past level 60-something.

Why the difficulty? Because our copy of Bubble Bobble was on a hand-scrawled floppy disc, that might not have been purchased from a shop. You cant’ arrest me officer, I was 9. And my dad’s dead, so good luck getting a confession out of him. But it seemed that somewhere in the piracy of the game, it introduced a bug that meant it always crashed on a particular level in the 60s.

The dream was getting an umbrella at just the right moment, such that we would skip past the bugged level, and move beyond. It never happened. I’ll never know if it would have worked. But damn did we try.

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72 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    I used to play this on the NES, like a filthy console scrub.

    I never understood the mechanics. My brother and I would hop around and bubble the enemies, and sometimes out of nowhere someone would start flowing around at full speed, or manage to stand on a bubble, or whatever.

    Never could figure this game out.

    Fun though.

    • ThePuzzler says:

      There were a bunch of hard to figure out mechanics. From my memory of the Amiga version:
      Sweets (and teapots I think?) gave you faster firing or longer range bubbles.
      The shoe made you move twice as fast.
      You could jump on bubbles if you pressed the jump button before landing on them, then released it and pressed it again before the next time.
      To burst a bubble, you were supposed to hit it with the spikes on your back.
      You could only use your Credits if you pressed the button immediately on dying (in One Player) or before the other player died (in Two Player).

      I also learned that the game becomes insanely fast and horribly difficult past level 80 or so.

    • Darth Gangrel says:

      I used to play this as well on the NES, before I realized that PC ws so much better. Me and a childhood friend used to play it together and I remember at the final boss you had lightning bolts instead of bubbles that you launched at the boss to defeat it. We used to make awful weather related puns during that battle.

  2. Kreeth says:

    We played this a LOT. I want to say on an ST as well, but I’m not 100% sure. This would have been mid-90s I guess? Actually maybe it was a sequel? Oh gods I can’t remember I was 18 or so and had just discovered techno and clubs.

    Anyway, fantastic game, I think. I’m sure I must have enjoyed it, or Bubble Bobble 2, if that existed.

    • Kreeth says:

      I’m so confused.

      • Premium User Badge

        Harlander says:

        Bubble Bobble had two sequels: Rainbow Islands, where you had to escape the constant encroachment of rising water, and Parasol Stars, about which I can remember very little.

        • Janichsan says:

          Actually, there are even more (not counting the various console remakes): there were also an actual Bubble Bobble II (in some areas called Bubble Symphony) and “Bubble Memories – The Story of Bubble Bobble III” in the mid-1990s available in arcades. Both much closer two the original Bubble Bobble than Rainbow Islands and Parasol Stars.

          • Janichsan says:

            Forgot to add: both these sequels (Bubble Symphony and Memories) never got a port to computer or consoles, though.

          • Mezzo says:

            Bubble Symphony was ported to the Sega Saturn, but only got a release in Japan.

          • GeoX says:

            Somewhat confusingly, there was also Bubble Bobble II on the NES–I know Rainbow Islands was also subtitled Bubble Bobble II, but this was a more straightforward sequel. It was well-made, but kinda ruined by the fact that, for some unfathomable reason, they declined to include simultaneous multiplayer.

          • GeoX says:

            Even though no one will see this, I feel the need to clarify that BBII on the NES was unrelated to Bubble Symphony. Very confusing. But ARGH, Memories and Symphony were SO GOOD! WHY NO HOME PORTS, DAMMIT?

  3. RobbieTrout says:

    Played the heck out of this on the Amiga! I got it in a three-pack: Bubble Bobble, Rainbow Islands (which I never really got the hang of), and The New Zealand Story (much harder than it looked).

    • JB says:

      Wow, I used to love NZS, even on my Spectrum. And yes, it was a toughie!

    • Ztox says:

      NZS was awesome! Played that to death on the Amiga, was indeed hard AF though lol

  4. morse says:

    Oh ma gawd have I.
    One of these days this column will tick off every game that contributed to the game fiend I am today. I think it’s at its best when I read it and think OH YEAH, bubble bobble…and immediately I’m back on maynard avenue with my young parents, eating kraft macaroni off of a paper plate with cut up hot dogs and taking turns with the neighbor kids playing bubble bobble on an NES.

  5. cablechip says:

    It’s sad to see what’s happened to Bubble Bobble in recent years, whether it’s the descent into match-3 blandness
    Recent years? Puzzle Bobble was released in 1994.

    • Premium User Badge

      John Walker says:

      I’m VERY old.

      • Premium User Badge

        DelrueOfDetroit says:

        And Puzzle Bobble is a good game.

        • sincarne says:

          Here here. Pretty much defined the genre long before all you needed to do to be a “game developer” was stick “Clash of” on the name of a match-three and crap it onto the Play Store.

  6. TheDreamlord says:

    Bubble Bobble. Rainbow Islands. The New Zealand Story. I feel so very old right now and sincerely melancholic of my youth. BB was awesome.

  7. CartonofMilk says:

    played that a bunch on NES. And finished it too, with my brother.

  8. Bahumat says:

    Literally my favorite game of all time, right here.

    Beat it many times as a child. Once or twice even with 2-players to get the good ending.

    Just an absolutely wonderful game.

  9. Premium User Badge

    timzania says:

    This was a game that my brother and I loved, but partly because we didn’t ever have direct access to it. Bubble Bobble was something that sometimes happened at mom’s friend’s house for always-limited periods. Naturally it became something of a legend.

    Looking back as a grownup it turned out that it was also actually quite good.

  10. Janichsan says:

    Oh, yes, I absolutely have: Bubble Bobble was one of my most favorite games on the C64. I’m still playing it from time to time in an emulator.

  11. Premium User Badge

    quasiotter says:

    Wow. This is my first memory of any videogame… when my Tia Cathy (aunt) called me Danny Don-Don because I loved donuts, and her husband at the time smoked so I associate those two things, and their kid had Bubble Bobble and Solstice and I wanted to visit their house to watch these games being played as I was too wee for that. Oh, that was NES, sorry.

  12. Premium User Badge

    RaveTurned says:

    Reading the article, I can hear the music.

    Which will now be stuck in my head for the rest of the day.

    • Janichsan says:

      Duuh-duuh-duuh…duhduhduh-duh-duh-duhduh-duhduh-duhduhduuh…

    • caff says:

      I’ll just leave this here:

    • Premium User Badge

      particlese says:

      :D
      Yeah, just seeing the title and the image at the top was enough to set it off here, complete with intermittent sound effects.

    • Asurmen says:

      It’s funny. I asked my brother earlier today which game from our old Amiga days had the best music. I made him choose between Turrican 2, Elite 2, It Came From the Desert and Venus the Fly Trap.

      I completely forgot about Bubble Bobble. And Xenon 2.

  13. Risingson says:

    Played it for several years with a friend. The PC version was kind of fantastic. One of the games of my preteen years for sure. Weren’t those Taito ports great?

  14. Ejia says:

    Yes! This and Galaga were my favorite arcade games.

    I of course played Bubble Bobble 2 on the Famicom. It was really scary, when playing it as a child, because the levels were, in order:

    Magic Forest
    Quirky Town
    Mystical Mountains
    HELL

    And if you take too long to complete a level, the music stops alarmingly, and then Death comes to kill you.

  15. Tuor says:

    Hmph! Weaklings! *I* used to play the arcade version of this game. I had to spend MONEY to play it! IIRC, the furthest I ever got was into the 50s. I have heard that beating it via single-player led to a bad end — you needed to beat it with two players to really win the game.

    A great game, though. Tough, yet fun.

    • NailBombed says:

      The power of playing with friends is what Bubble Bobble wanted to teach you. That, and spending ALLLLLLLLL your 20p’s you had on it.

  16. Kefren says:

    I still do. C64 and Amiga versions on emulators. I found Rainbow Islands a bit too hard so preferred New Zealand Story as a one player game, but for two player nothing could beat Bubble Bobble. Ah, purple umbrella 13 level skip. Or if you got fast, longrange bubbles and trainers, and managed to stay alive. Or riding the waves of a water bubble and collecting baddies on the way. Fun.

    • theapeofnaples says:

      You found New Zealand Story less difficult than Rainbow Islands? Wuuuh. I only ever beat NZS (on the Amiga) with the unlimited life cheat, and even then it wasn’t that easy.

      Excellent games though. Nice one Taito etc.

      Yours,

      Young Middle Aged Human

      • ThePuzzler says:

        90% of platform games from that era were insanely hard.

      • Beefenstein says:

        I completed NZS on Amiga but could not handle Rainbow Islands. Everything was just too fast and I couldn’t keep the speed + length powerups (for my rainbows in case you think I’m taking supplements).

      • Kefren says:

        I’m almost certain I completed New Zealand Story. I just have that feeling of completeness about it, and have vague memories of doing it over a few days. Though I completed a number of games that others never did (from Alien Breed on the Amiga, to Ghosts And Goblins on the C64, and Knight Lore on the Spectrum).
        Rainbow Islands I think I only ever got to the third boss once or twice (was that the horror world/vampire, or something? I think I beat a helicopter and a spider).

        • theapeofnaples says:

          You finished Ghosts ‘n Goblins? Good lord. Consider my imaginary hat (not a fedora, guv) well and truly doffed.

          • Kefren says:

            Only once. I regularly got to the floating clouds, and somehow dealt with their glitchiness. And then one morning I loaded it as soon as I woke up and played a game before breakfast. Unbelievably I got to the final level, a bit I’d never seen beyond the icicle spitters. I jumped, missed a gap, and landed as a dragon made of balls flew round. I just kept firing and jumping and somehow killed it. I still can’t get over it myself. I assumed Ghosts N Goblins must have been easier than Green Beret (hardly ever reached level 2) but harder than Antiriad (completed a few times).

  17. Spakkenkhrist says:

    It’s disheartening to read most commenters say they experienced this on a 16 bit machine when I first played it on our Amstrad 464, I remember being really impressed by the water physics when you burst one of those special bubbles.

  18. Premium User Badge

    Aerothorn says:

    John, please enjoy: Bubble Dragon, an amazing cover of the theme.

    link to 7bithero.bandcamp.com

  19. NailBombed says:

    Bubble Bobble has been a constant throughout my life. One of the first arcade games I ever played, and definitely my favourite – to the extent that if I ever entered an arcade, the yardstick by which I measured it to be good or not is if it had these three games – Golden Axe, Ghouls N Ghosts and Bubble Bobble. Also that music will forever be stuck in my head.

  20. dahauns says:

    That blasted Level 63! (When the 10 credits of the C64 version usually ran out…)

    • bonuswavepilot says:

      I logged in to say this very thing. Goddamn that level 63… (For those who don’t recognise it by its diabolical digits, 63 was a level with a platform in the centre of the screen near the top with space-invader style guys running back and forth on it firing downwards. You could only reach the platform my jumping up the side, shooting a bubble, then jumping up past your own bubble as it fell, and jumping off the top of it to do the same thing again to get higher.) Right pain in the arse, so it was.

  21. lepercake says:

    I’ve been calling this bubble bubble since I was six years old. Shame, shame, shame..

  22. Retrofrank says:

    One of the best coop-games of all times.
    Played the hell out of it, on my C64 back in the 80s.
    One of the few games of this brutal times, I finaly beat.
    It´s totaly doable as a good team. After some time, you develop a strategy for every level.

  23. magburner says:

    A gem of a game. A friend and I completed the arcade version on one credit, way back in the day. At first things can seem hectic, but once you learn about the slippers, the different types of sweeets, and the candy canes etc, things become a lot clearer.

    The hardest part of Bubble Bobble is remembering the patterns for every one of the one-hundred levels, but once you do master them, you are on easy street.

    I still play the game from time to time on Mame, and I have the old PlayStation Bubble Bobble/Rainbow Islands double header lying around the house somewhere. This is a classic game that everyone should play.

  24. criskywalker says:

    I remember some nonsense in some Amiga magazines about Rainbow Island being the best game ever.

    I was playing the Arcade version of Bubble Bobble a few days ago and it’s quite fun and has aged quite well.

    I have to play both more as I always struggled with their difficulty, but I’m pretty sure they are some classic gems.

  25. Sin Vega says:

    This was one of the first games I got on the Game Boy, and very soon after I got it (I’m tempted to say on the very same day, but am not certain as this was over four hundred years ago), I entered a completely random number into the level select screen. This number happened to be a cheat code that let you access any level in the game and skip directly there.

    One odd quirk was that the code also swapped around the monsters. They came in two sets, and playing normally, you’d play against the first set up to level 50, and the other set from there to 100. With the cheat it was the other way round.

    This concludes my fascinating anecdote.

  26. Vacuity729 says:

    Used to play this at my friend’s place along with a third friend, taking it in turn to play (on a Speccy, of course). Sadly, very sadly, I’m pretty sure I was always the weakest player of the three of us in this game, but to my friends’ credit, they never said as much.
    Good times…

  27. PostieDoc says:

    Played this on the Speccy and Amiga but Rainbow Islands was by far the better game.
    Can’t remember if I ever played Parasol Stars.

  28. thomas16632 says:

    i think i went past level 60 with a friend on an atari st too. It seems my copy, which did not come from a store either, was better than yours :)

    best multiplayer, no dlc, no microtransaction :)

  29. Excors says:

    I still play this regularly, since it’s the only non-puzzle game my mum enjoys. When one of us visits the other for a holiday we’ll usually play it together once every day. We started a long time ago with the Amiga version, then the DOS version, and now use the old arcade version in MAME.

    Occasionally I try introducing other two-player games to her, and she’ll try them for a few minutes then say “I don’t understand it and it’s boring” and give up – but she’ll happily sit for an hour playing Bubble Bobble, and she’s actually pretty good despite otherwise being a non-gamer. We nearly always get to level 100; admittedly it helps that MAME lets you continually insert virtual coins to get extra lives, but some of the later levels are tricky even with unlimited credits, and there’s still the challenge of trying to get the secret doors by reaching levels 20/30/40 without dying even once. (We often survive up to 20, but rarely 30, and only to 40 with a huge amount of luck.)

    There’s a surprising amount of subtlety in the game’s rules (at least the arcade version, not sure how accurate the various ports are) – it’s not as random as it first seems. You can increase the chances of getting a level-skip umbrella by popping lots of water bubbles (which is actually quite logical). You get more potions by repeatedly falling down holes in the bottom of the screen (not so logical). You get more EXTEND letters by popping multiple enemies simultaneously in the previous level. That all adds some (optional) strategy beyond merely beating the level.

    The player movement also seems fairly sophisticated – you’re not simply jumping between platforms, you’re making your own temporary platforms that move in the air currents, bouncing off some bubbles and falling through others, plus you need to turn while jumping to either push bubbles gently with your face or pop them with your spines, and you sometimes need very precise timing and positioning to make the jumps work. There’s quite a lot going on.

    And the two-player mode is a nice mixture of mostly playing independently on your side of the screen, sometimes hopping over to the other side to help your partner, and occasionally coordinating so one player can jump on the other player’s bubbles to reach hard-to-get enemies. Plus the intense competitive element of trying to grab the giant lollies and cakes before the other player.

    I rarely have the patience to play decades-old games when there are so many good ones being released now, but Bubble Bobble is still a lot of fun.

    • Jekhar says:

      Did you suggest Rodland already? It has an excellent Amiga port as well as the arcade original of course. It has no jumping mechanic, but plenty of cute monsters to defeat on single screen levels.

  30. Jonfon says:

    One of my fav games of all time on the C64. Myself and my sister had “The umbrella ride” shortcuts mapped all the way through, timings and everything. We managed to finish it too.

    Theme tune also my ringtone. Mostly because it used to drive my mum nuts. (And Bub is always my avatar on things, cos why not)

  31. ansionnach says:

    Played it on a friend’s C64. Never played the PC port. Like Taito stablemate Arkanoid it was done by NovaLogic, so it might have been pretty good.

  32. catigator says:

    Yeeeeeeah

    Every fan should try the Sega Master System version, it’s got a bunch more bosses than just the final Super Drunk, and they’re all awesome

    • Spacewalk says:

      More secret rooms (which are required if you want to get past the 100th screen), some new items and some of the screens are in a different order, I think it also had some new screens.

      It’s totally hardcore. It’s also the best home version.

  33. kavika says:

    My sister and I have matching tattoos of Bub and Bob. So yeah, I think we’ve played it. Bouncing bubble mechanic best mechanic

  34. Atrak says:

    Bubble Bobble on the C64 was pretty much my childhood, no regrets.

  35. Ztox says:

    Me and my sister played it to death as kids and only a month or so ago got matching Bub and Bob tattoos :)

  36. Neurotic says:

    Rainbow Islands continues to be the yardstick by which I measure all other platformers.

  37. PiiSmith says:

    Is there an easily accessible version (Browser game?) of Bubble Bobble? I would like to play it with my kids.

    • BadCatWillum says:

      Here’s the Sega version playable in the browser, thanks to archive.org: link to archive.org

      For anyone who really wants to know why they couldn’t get the right magic item on the right level, here are all the secrets: link to tjasink.com . I’m looking at you, JW – burst more water bubbles.

  38. Kingseeker Camargo says:

    Left, Jump, Left, 1P, Left, Fire, Left, 1P – POWER UP!

    Fire, Jump, Fire, Jump, Fire, Jump, Right, 1P – ORIGINAL GAME!

    Not sure whether or not those worked for the console/computer versions of the game, though.

    Good times.