One of my earliest experiences with videogames is with Bubble Bobble. The original arcade cabinet is a beacon of delight in my childhood memories, and it’s still a blast to this day. Even better, Bub and Bob have a puzzle franchise that spins the bubble-blasting gameplay on its axis, and it’s one of the reasons I love puzzle games to this day.
Now Taito brings back out the bubble-team for a new entry, in Puzzle Bobble Everybubble! (say that five times) with some new tricks, additional modes, and a few smart changes. If you’re familiar with the classic gameplay, then you know what to expect, but that’s a good thing when the foundation is so good to begin with.
For the uninitiated, Puzzle Bobble is a match-three puzzle game where you fire bubbles upwards into a grid filled with differently coloured bubbles. The trick is you get a few dots indicating the trajectory of your bubbles, but the rest is luck and skill. Match three or more to make them pop, drop any bubbles below them, and clear the grid before any stubborn bubble crawls over the red line just like Space Invaders.
It’s a simple concept but a fantastic one, and while Puzzle Bubble doesn’t quite sit alongside the arcade cabinet pantheon with titles such as Pac-Man, it’s successful enough to warrant years of releases both in arcades and on home consoles, and countless titles have also taken inspiration from the original entry.
Now, in comes Puzzle Bubble Everybubble! for Nintendo Switch, sporting a shiny facelift and some fun new features. The main event is the story mode, with several worlds to explore, each of which contains fifteen levels. To start with, these are a breeze, only made slightly tougher by a few returning special bubbles and new elements.
Hit a bomb to watch that space and the surrounding bubbles explode, while one special bubble explodes every bubble of the same colour as the one that strikes it, then another item called planks can only be dropped by popping the bubbles above them, and there are plenty more additions from there on out. The beauty is that this is a really easy concept to grasp, but it’s no less addictive.
The story mode missions have a possible three stars to earn depending on your time and skill, plus, if you wrangle three stars in all fifteen missions of each world, you unlock the harder EX missions. I’d prefer to earn each EX mission through a three-star rating in the regular missions, as it would break up the need to finish all fifteen levels first, but I’m still really happy that the option for a tougher challenge is here.
While you can breeze through the story mode, it’s really fun, though adults might find the actual plot to be a bit throwaway. But, if this is a kid’s first exposure to the franchise, they’re in for a well-presented and generally pleasing time akin to a Saturday morning cartoon. But between the regular missions and EX missions, story mode should take you at least a few hours to get through, but many more to grab three-star on those tough EX missions.
If you really want a test, when you first beat the opening world, you unlock the Baron’s Tower, an endless mode where you play as long as you can hold on from the oncoming onslaught of bubbles, and the game records your score for online leaderboards. If you’re a Puzzle Bobble aficionado, then competing for the top spot is sure to be a blast.
If you want to play with pals, there’s up to four-player co-operative in story mode which is simple to use. It expands the grid for you, and players can work together to pop as many bubbles as possible. It can get quite chaotic, and friends are more likely to make a mess of your board than help, but then that’s half the fun. It’s just a nice addition, and you can even choose which dragon to play as, as well as a variety of accessories. It’s simplistic, but I’m glad it’s here.
Another multiplayer feature is the vs mode, where up to four players play head-to-head to complete their own board and mess with their opponents. A successful string of shots builds your attack power, and then you can meddle with your opponents by adding additional bubbles. It adds a frantic sense of chaos to the game, and missing an all-important bubble never feels worse.
You can also play vs mode online, and from our brief experience, the game runs smoothly and consistently. For both story mode and vs mode, it’s also possible to use the CPU to fill additional slots so you can bring in extra firepower without any pals. While the vs mode is functional and fun for a while, I’d like to see more variety. You can unlock new playable characters, but different ways to share the game with friends would be a huge bonus.
Finally, a strange new addition is Puzzle Bobble vs Space Invaders, a mode that combines the two titles with ever-encroaching bubbles made up of Space Invaders that also shoot down lasers. It’s a novelty, and as a long-time Puzzle Bobble fan, it’s great to see something interesting.
It’s also a heap of fun. Instead of being able to aim your bubbles, you can only shoot straight up like in the original Space Invaders. Bub or Bob must run from side to side, hoping to shoot bubbles and hit three invaders of the same colour. I can’t say I’m dying to go back to it, but it’s a nice way to spend a couple of hours, and it’s fun to see two Taito franchises come together. Don’t expect the depth or variety of Puyo Puyo vs Tetris though.
Puzzle Bobble is an interesting franchise because it’s beholden to the classic gameplay that fans love, but for some reason, can rarely think of ways to expand upon it. I’m a huge puzzle and arcade fan, and titles like Tetris 99 and Pac-Man Championship Edition show the space for ingenuity within the classic framework.
With a clean presentation, multiplayer modes, and a fun new twist involving Space Invaders, Puzzle Bobble Everybubble is a nice addition to the franchise and a great place for younger players to start. But, while it does everything it sets out to do fairly well, a lack of substantial new ideas means this feels like it’s to be remembered as just another Puzzle Bubble entry down the line.
If this has you pining for more puzzle action, be sure to check out our guide to the best Switch puzzle games.
Puzzle Bobble Everybubble! is a great entry for newcomers, plus the story mode and multiplayer expand upon the gameplay in fun, if inconsequential ways. Puzzle Bobble vs Space Invaders is a great new addition, but it also leaves me wanting for an entry in this franchise that truly brings in some new ideas.