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NDS Review - 'Bubble Bobble Revolution'

by Katarani on Oct. 29, 2006 @ 6:25 a.m. PST

On a quest to rescue some missing friends in Bubble Bobble Revolution, the eponymous Bub or Bob return to play through levels displayed across the two screens of the Nintendo DS. These levels also scroll horizontally to provide a wide, panoramic play area.

Genre: Action
Publisher: Codemasters
Developer: Taito Corporation
Release Date: October 3, 2006

Bias has a nasty way of sneaking into a reviewer's writing, be it consciously, in praising an undeserving game, or unconsciously, in the mere choice of words. Never more notable is it than in the video game industry, where games pull bias both ways, in both casual hearsay and professional critique. Sometimes, a title can be such an overwhelming success that any further games in the franchise are seen as prodigal sons. The Final Fantasy series is especially guilty of this; ever since number seven in the series, every last game since has been critically reviewed as if it walked on water, regardless of its flaws and strengths.

On the other side of the coin, however, we have a far more sinister aspect, which compares every game in a series to the first blockbuster hit. It gets panned if it's not just like the original and doesn't have that same dose of nostalgia that has come to be expected, like some sort of desperate addict. As such, any and all innovation is snuffed at the source due to poor sales, leaving the series to simply churn out rehash after rehash.

Somehow, the thought has never once crossed Taito's mind to make a compilation of every last Bubble Bobble arcade game in the series; at last count, there were at least four games, each one progressively better than the last. Instead, they retool the same original game over and over, first in Bubble Bobble: Old and New for the Game Boy Advance, and now Bubble Bobble Revolution, expecting it to sell just as well as it did at its inception.

Sadly, that's not the case, at least not with Bubble Bobble Revolution.

If you've played any of the games before, you know the story. Some wizard kidnapped your girlfriend and turned you into a dinosaur with the solitary power to blow bubbles that turn creatures into bananas and martinis. Now, it is beginning of a fantastic story!! (sic) Let's make a journey to the cave of monsters! Good luck! It's NES-era nonsensical love at its finest.

Revolution takes a slightly different approach. Instead of having to rescue the damsel in distress from a giant-headed, super-cute wizard with a serious drinking problem, the goal is apparently to rescue her from Dracula himself. What this actually means in gameplay turn is that smaller versions of the formerly mentioned wizard (affectionately called “Doranku,” which is a pronunciation of “Drunk” with a heavy Japanese accent) are the very first enemies you face, in hordes. Doranku's only ability, aside from walking around and looking cute, is to throw bottles of hooch at your head, which boomerang back when they hit a wall ... to hit you again. In normal Bubble Bobble, this would make the game simply more difficult, but in Revolution, the problem is complicated by two things.

One – the new game is split up across roughly six screens, with action on both the top and bottom screen, and the entire playing field being roughly three screens wide. This causes a lot of the level to be hidden from the player at any given time.

Two – jumping is substantially different here than in previous iterations in the series. Bubblun and Bobblun, our heroes du jour, jump roughly three stories high and have nearly no horizontal power mid-air, causing many cheap hits.

The double-screen mechanic has some interesting merits, namely in the introduction of a new power-up known as the “ghost bubble.” Popping one puts a mirror image of your character on the other half of the screen, which you can swap with as you wish, allowing you to access otherwise impossible-to-reach areas of the level. It’s an interesting thing to play around with, but aside from levels that absolutely require this ability in order to clear, it’s not all that special in its implementation. Also present are fans that require the player to blow into the microphone included on the DS to propel bubbles upward, but again, these don’t do too much to add to the gameplay experience.

Graphically, Revolution has sort of a ... charm, for lack of a better word, to which other games wouldn't aspire. The new art designs – somewhat chubby, somewhat exaggerated – are so weird that one can't help but love them. Outside of that, however, the visuals in Revolution are rather drab, with the foreground blending into background and the background blending into the numb points of your visual perception. Sounds, for once, are a high point in the presentation. While the sound effects themselves are nothing less than uninspiring, the music is a charming, upbeat reorchestration and remix of the familiar themes of the original, and they actually stand on their own fairly well.

In an earlier paragraph, I mentioned that "apparently" the goal of the game is to go up against Dracula, judging by the fact that the last level is named "Dracula's Castle." However, there is no true goal; the game itself is pointless, for one reason. Someone in the Codemasters office needs to look up the definition of " debugging," as in many copies of the game – my own included – and possibly every last North American release, the boss on stage 30 does not appear. As boss stages don't have a time limit and require the boss to be defeated before moving on, that leaves the player stuck in an empty room for eternity, with no way to progress or to even quit the game through dying or a "give up" option. Being unable to progress past stage 30 means a good two-thirds of the game are entirely inaccessible without a cheat device. I've been told this bug isn't existent on the Japanese and European ports, which leaves me to wonder exactly what happened with this version.

Sadly, it's not the only bug, either. Sometimes enemies will spontaneously die, at times right at the start of the level, leaving it easily clear. Normally, this is a minor detail and actually helps make the game's unfair difficulty tolerable. Sure, there will be times you get totally overwhelmed, but there's also times you pass by a stage on a gimme.

Bubble Bobble Revolution is undeniable proof that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Very little is blatantly wrong with the title; there's nothing notably wrong about the graphics, the sound has a certain level of charm, and the frustrating cheap hits are a constant in many "difficult" games of this day and age. A few recurring, hideously crippling bugs ruin the game so completely and totally, however, that the finished product seems just the opposite – an incomplete, half-hearted attempt to get a few more measly drops of blood from a turnip.

Hey, at least it comes with the original Bubble Bobble, right? In this case, that serves only to demonstrate the inferiority of Revolution. It's disappointing to have a remake that doesn't live up to the original, but it's downright bad business when it feels like the remake is the bonus added to the original in order to sell more copies, as opposed to the other way around.

The North American edition of Revolution currently isn't worth the money, so stay away, at least until Codemasters manages to release a version without the Level 30 bug. If you truly can't wait to play it, import it from another country (the DS is region-free, so you can play imports).

Normally, a title like this would garner a much higher score; due to the inherent bugs, however, it feels like the game is half-finished. Since it seems only halfway complete, the score will also be roughly half of what it would be in normal circumstances.

Assuming Bubble Bobble Revolution is playable from beginning to end, it's nothing special, but has no glaring shortcomings either, garnering roughly a 6.4. With a half-complete game, however, it gets a half-complete ...

Score: 3.2/10

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