In the beginning, there was just Bubble Bobble. If you dont know this game, maybe this isn't the review for you. Originally an arcade game released in 1986, though most of us probably know the game due to the 1988 NES port. In the game you play as two adorable little dragons, Bub and Bob, who shoot bubbles and are on a quest to save their girlfriends. Or something like that, story isn't exactly a strongpoint in these games.
Bubble Bobble would later be followed up by Rainbow Islands, which has the subtitle "The Story of Bubble Bobble 2". In this game, Bub and Bob are now back to their human forms, and shoot... rainbows to defeat enemies. You know maybe I'm in the minority, but I actually thing a pair of kids running around killing things with rainbows is actually weirder than dinosaurs spitting bubbles.
A third, lesser known game in the series was released later on, Parasol Stars. The subtitle for this game is of course "The Story of Bubble Bobble III", but some European versions actually call it Rainbow Islands 2! So if you haven't guessed by the naming convention thus far, your main weapon this time is a parasol. Parasol Stars brings the series back to gameplay more like the original Bubble Bobble with single screen areas and a focus on killing all enemies, rather than just reaching the top of the area like in Rainbow Islands.
And now is when things get a little big complicated. The series had counted to three, and produced three game all with similar, but overall different gameplay styles. But this is gaming, so when you can't innovate, it's time to rehash anything thats popular and milk it dry!
Enter Bubble Bobble: Part 2 a game released for the NES in 1993. That's midway through the SNES era, so again this game isn't very well known. Also gone are Bub and Bob, this time you're playing as their descendants, Cubby and Robby... who also managed to get turned into green and blue dragons that spit bubbles. Right. So the gameplay this time is right back to the original games, though to be fair the graphics have been improved a great deal. I have never really been able to get into this one, it may be better than the original on a technical level, but it seems to be lacking a certain something the original had.
So the next year, Taito tried again and released... Bubble Bobble II in the arcades. Wait a second? Bubble Bobble II? Yes, this is the third game that has tried to call itself Bubble Bobble 2 in some way. To ease (or perhaps further) confusion the game is also known as Bubble Symphony in some areas, this seems to have since been adopted as the main name for the game.
Bubble Symphony is another attempt at building and improving on the original Bubble Bobble format, and IMO, this is one sequel that nails it. First off, you've got four playable characters. The green guy is average, the blue one is fast, then you have two new female Dragons, a pink one who shoots quickly, an orange one who shoots far. Each also has a different 3 bubble attack that you can use after holding attack for a few seconds, but the slow charging speed makes these less useful that you'd hope.
The storyline this time is that the four children of the originals Bub and Bob have been turned into dragons in an act of revenge. Now wait a sec, their children this time? The NES Bubble Bobble Part 2 used their descendants, implying it was around 100 years later, so this game actually takes place before it. Who knew the timeline for such a simple game would be so confusing?
Besides the multiple characters, the next upgrade appears once you beat the first screen, in the form of three doors. The game now has multiple paths that you can take, increasing replay value a ton. The first stage has three versions that you can play through, and after that, you'll have your choice of two stages to progress to. There is no branching map or anything, so its hard to tell how many areas there really are, and declining a stage means it may show up later, but as a slightly different variation. My favorite stage of all though, would have to be the Darius 2 themed one, which comes complete with a background from stage A of the game, a few fish enemies, and even a boss lifted straight from said game. It's a quite over the top tribute that I would never have expected in a game like this.
As you may have noticed, the Graphics have gotten a huge upgrade compared to previous games. Your dragon characters are now significantly more detailed, but still cute as ever, and are coupled with some pretty good sprite animations. The enemies look equally as good, and while they may not have as much animation, the game makes up for it by having a TON more enemies than previous games. You'll rarely be fighting the same enemies for very long, until the next stage comes along and brings a whole new crew of enemies with it.
The music hasn't fared quite as well though. Sure the main tune is decent, but it plays for nearly the entire game! Is there some rule in Bubble Bobble games where you can't have more than one song? The theme at least is fairly long to reduce on repetition, but the fact remains that its the same song playing all game. On the bright side, at least they didn't just remix the original games theme and call it a day.
The one time the music does change, and a major highlight of the game overall, are the boss fights. They pretty much build on the formula the first game (with its one boss) started - you get a magic bottle that gives your bubbles some sort of elemental attack, and break those near the boss to damage them. You've got attacks from the original game, lightning bolts, water streams, and fires, and a couple of new attacks, rainbows and mini-tornados. Overall the boss fights are a lot of fun and sever and nice breaks at the end of each stage.
For an arcade game, Bubble Symphony also has a surprising number of secrets. Each level has an invisible music note in it, collecting three of the same color gives you a key,and getting all four keys allows you to enter the final stage. Fail to get all the keys and you get the bad ending. That's not all though, there are also ultra-rare (meaning I've never actually seen them) bubbles that allow you to turn back into a human, required for the ultra good ending. So yes, this arcade game actually has three endings! So it definitely would've been possible to find yourself dumping a ton of quarters into this game.
For some reason though, despite this being a game with a ton of replayability, and of course the standard awesome two player mode, it only saw one console release ever, on the Sega Saturn in Japan. Even this was several years later, in 1997. It's surprising and a bit sad that a SNES port never showed up and gave this game a bit more recognition.
Score: 4 bubble blowing dragons!
Bubble Memories was the next arcade game to come out, with the subtitle of, get this, "The Story of Bubble Bobble III" So now we have three Bubble Bobble 2s, and two Bubble Bobble 3s. The story this time is that the very original Bub and Bob got transformed BACK into dragons and have to restore their humans forms again. Who even cares about the story at this point, they've run out of ideas so are just repeating ideas now. Onto the gameplay!
For a sequel, Bubble Memories removes a lot of the features introduced in the last game. Gone are the two girl dragons, and any differences between Bub and Bob. Gone is the non-linear stage progression, this time its just a straight 80 floor ride. Also gone is the huge variety of enemies, this time it's back to the ones from the original games with a few new originals, but it's nowhere near the number from Bubble Symphony.
The graphics this time have actually seem to have gotten worse too. The characters are drawn in a much more cartoonish style with less colors and shading overall. The amount of animation frames seems have to dipped as well. The stage backgrounds are also different this time, gone are the themed levels, this time every floor has its own background. Which is good in theory, but the backgrounds here are just digitized photos of animals. It's very bizarre and seemingly out of place. They definitely went for quantity over quality here.
Ok Rhete, you're probably saying, quit bitching about what was taken out or altered for the worse, did they add anything new? Why yes, they did! The huge change that almost single handedly saves this game are the addition giant bubbles. Instead of charging a 3 way shot like the last game, holding attack for a second lets you unleash a huge bubble capable of catching multiple monsters at once. And the move also charges very quickly, making it less annoying to use. There's something very satisfying about catching an entire floors worth of monsters inside a few huge bubbles and crashing into them all at once.
The other aspect I will have to give a nod to this game for are the sound effects. Its a minor thing, but the bubble sound effects are great, very crisp and poppy, they really do add to the great feeling of popping a whole bunch of enemies at once.
The amount of secrets hidden in this game is just as crazy as ever, with 7 potions required to open the last 10 levels. If you don't get them, you'll stop at 70 and get the bad ending. Upon beating level 80 though, you'll receive a code that unlocks a harder version of the entire game, then you have to beat THAT (with the 7 potions again) to finally get the good ending. Personally I think it's a bit much for an arcade game to require that level of dedication, and to make it worse, no console version was ever made.
So in the end, Bubble Memories falls short of its predecessor. It's still a fun game, and the giant bubbles are great, but it seems to have come out in the wrong order, it feels like a downgrade in too many areas. But its still Bubble Bobble at its core, and thats a hard game to go wrong with.