Overview – developed by Taito and published by ININ Games, Bubble Bobble 4 Friends: The Baron is Back is an expanded version of the previously exclusive Nintendo Switch release. The arcade style platform action title features the iconic bubble dragons Bub and Bob, alongside two new friends for this fun adventure. This title is available as both a standalone release for the Playstation 4, with both a complete edition and a free update for the Nintendo Switch. Links to both versions of the game will be available at the bottom of this review.
Disclaimer: before I get into the review, I would like to thank PR Hound who provided the copy of Bubble Bobble 4 Friends used for this review. The provision of this software has not influenced the contents of this piece, all thoughts and opinions expressed within are my own. Please note that this title was originally covered earlier in the year. However, along with the new content update, the initial work has since been lost prompting this revamped coverage.
Now with the introductions out of the way, let’s get into the review, starting with the story.
Story – one night in a child’s room, the bubble dragon Bub is brought to life by magic along with the magician Bonner (known as Drunk in other regions). The magician is jealous of Bub being the favorite toy of the child, attacking the bubble dragon and challenging him to battle. With the help of his friends, the dragon goes on a magical adventure through the child’s room, battling the minions of the jealous magician during the quest.
Gameplay – the objective of Bubble Bobble 4 Friends is to clear each of the 50 stages spread out through five worlds, capturing monsters in bubbles and defeating them by popping the bubbles. The worlds are made up of single screen platforming challenges, featuring platforms and obstacles to overcome. Each set of stages has a unique theme, culminating with a large boss battle on the tenth stage of each world.
The bubbles are the main way that players can attack enemies, when a monster is trapped in a bubble the player can pop the bubbles by using the spikes on their back or stomping on them. When several enemies are trapped, the bubbles can chain together as they pop boosting the score that is earned. As well as trapping enemies, bubbles can be bounced on allowing access to enemies that are far away. Along with standard attack, there are special bubbles that can be used to defeat enemies.
During each world, the player can collect special letters to spell the word extend. These letters are placed in different points in each world, with successful collection of the letters providing special rewards. When each world is completed the player gains a new power-up, with extend giving that ability an upgrade. The special power-up items have a limited number of uses, recovering a different number of actions when each stage of that world is cleared.
When playing this title in single player or multiplayer, there are some differences in the way that the game will function. The differences between the two styles of play are subtle but effective. The total lives available during each world are limited to four when playing alone, with a total of ten in a pool for two or more players. During solo play, when the player is hit by an enemy or makes contact with a hazard, death is certain. However, in multiplayer the injured player is trapped in a bubble and can be saved by an ally, preventing a life from being lost.
The last thing I want to discuss is the additional play modes that players can access. Here are some details on each of the three extra modes that are available, they are as follows;
- Hard Mode – this extra mode is unlocked by completing the story mode, providing an additional fifty stages, more upgrades and an increased level of difficulty. The stages are rearranged to an extent to make them different from the standard stages.
- Arcade of Memories – a special treat for the fans of the original. The original arcade title has been included in its entirety, all one hundred stages, infinite credits when playing in two player mode and the ability to toggle scanlines. This is a perfect conversion of the game that started it all and an excellent addition to the overall package.
- Arcade of the Future – new to the updated release, the Arcade of the Future (also called BB4F: The Baron is Back) is a special mode that is unlocked by completing the standard story mode. This is mode functions as an endurance/survival mode, with players having a limited number of lives to clear one hundred new stages. There are no continues available, making this is the toughest challenge in the game but there is a practice mode for cleared stages.
All four game modes have global rankings available, bringing the spirit of the arcade to a new generation as players can challenge others from all over the world for a position on the leaderboards. The inclusion of worldwide high score systems gives more replay values to Bubble Bobble 4 Friends, rounding out an excellent experience for all.
Now with the gameplay covered, I will be moving onto the other aspects of the game, starting with the controls.
Controls – Bubble Bobble 4 Friends uses a simple control method, all key functions are attached to the face of the controller, with special skills on the shoulder buttons. The movement is smooth, the jumping is precise and the bubbles/skills are effective. There is zero input lag when playing all gameplay modes, providing a comfortable experience when played with any controller set-up, be it the pro controller, Joy-Cons or additional third party peripherals like the Retro Bit Sega Saturn Controller.
Difficulty – the overall challenge is balanced in all game modes, with a gradual increase in difficulty over the course of the game. This allows players to build their skills over time, with new enemies and hazards being introduced as the player progresses. During the main story mode, hard mode and in the Arcade of Memories (co-op only), the player has access to infinite continues.
There is also the option to continue a stage with invincibility, this will last until that stage is cleared and made available when three game overs have occurred in one stage of story/hard mode. The way that the game balances the challenge across all four difficulty settings provides a level of accessibility that means anyone can enjoy this wonderful game.
Presentation – the visual style of Bubble Bobble 4 Friends is very cutesy and charming. The designs for the bubble dragons and enemies look like toys, fitting the setting of a child’s bedroom. Each world has its own unique theme, with each stage having elements in the background that are appropriate for overall aesthetic that the game presents.
There is also a the use of pixel art in some stages, including sprites of Bub and Bob, alongside rainbows and a message of dedication to the creator of Bubble Bobble, Fukio Mitsuji. The soundtrack is a delight to listen to, with rearrangements of the original Bubble Bobble theme as well as original compositions. The combination of bright chiptune styled sounds along with more conventional electronic beats adds to the experience and ties the whole game together.
Final Thoughts – when I first played this game, I felt that it couldn’t be improved upon. However, the introduction of the Arcade of the Future made the package even better, with an additional one hundred stages to challenge alone or with a friend. The addition of online rankings gives players the incentive to return to the game after completion, adding a competitive element to the experience. The only thing I would say is missing is an online multiplayer component to play with others around the world.
I can recommend this title to everyone, as the overall experience has something for all players to enjoy. The inclusion of the original arcade version of Bubble Bobble was a great choice, as a piece of gaming history I feel should be experienced by players both old and new. The content, gameplay and quality of this release is a testament to the hard work that Taito puts into their games. If you have a PlayStation 4 or Nintendo Switch, go out of your way to play this game.
In the end, I give Bubble Bobble 4 Friends a final score of 5/5. This is an excellent return for one of the most iconic franchises in the history of gaming, providing a fun experience that is suitable for players of all ages and skill levels. The content on offer and the depth of challenge can keep players engaged for hours on end. If you want to check this game out for yourself, links to both versions will be available below.
Link to Nintendo Switch version (HERE)
Link to PlayStation 4 version (HERE)