Saturday, April 01, 2017

My 10 Most Influential Games: Bubble Bobble (Arcade)

Although I have a pretty good memory, I'm rarely able to recall my first experiences with specific video games.

Thankfully, that's not true of my introduction to Bubble Bobble.

As I'm sure I've mentioned here before, my hometown has a rather nice bowling alley that my friends and I visited regularly while we were growing up. Tucked into its back corner were a slough of arcade cabinets and pinball machines, and we spent as much time playing them as we did bowling.

Among the games that gobbled up our hard-earned allowance money: Gauntlet, Karate Champ, Paperboy, Pole Position, Ring King, Xenophobe--and of course Bubble Bobble.

To be completely honest, I'm not entirely sure what drew my attention to Bubble Bobble's cabinet for the first time. I have a feeling it was the game's glorious, ear-wormy jingle, but it very well may have been its adorable, rainbow-coated visuals.

Something I remember clearly about my initial experiences with this classic quarter-muncher: I absolutely sucked at it. Although I blame some of my ineptitude on not fully understanding Bubble Bobble's rules right off the bat, but mostly I blame it on my life-long discomfort with using a joystick. (Ironic, right? Seriously, though, I've always preferred using a d-pad.)

Still, I kept coming back to it, and over time I got better and better at this Fukio Mitsuji-made (for Taito) title.

So, how did it influence my current taste in video games? It did so in a couple of ways, actually.

One is that it hurled me down the path toward loving games that feature collectible food items. Ms. Pac-Man showed me to its entrance (thanks to the level that offers up a pretzel rather than a piece of fruit, strangely enough), but Bubble Bobble and its bowls of sherbet, corndogs, sushi and martinis pushed me well inside.

Ever since, I've drooled over almost any game that includes such nabables. A few examples: Coryoon, Monster Lair, The New Zealand Story and Parasol Stars. (For more, read my old post, "the 10 fruitiest games (of which I'm aware).")

Bubble Bobble shaped my current taste in video games in another way as well--by opening my eyes to the wonderful world of single-screen platformers. (Here are some of my favorites, in case you're curious.)

Was Bubble Bobble the first single-screen platformer to see the light of day? Not by a long shot. A game called The Fairyland Story--also published by Taito, interestingly enough--beat Bub and Bob to the arcades by at least a year, and I wouldn't be surprised if a handful of other titles could claim the same.

Regardless, Bubble Bobble introduced me to the genre that's now one of my favorites. And not only that, but in the ensuing decades, it's served as a point of comparison for every other single-screen platformer that's come my way.

Naturally, none of those wannabes have quite stacked up to this 1986 release. I think that's because the game they so desperately try to ape is supremely focused and straightforward.

A case in point: unlike most of the games that have tried to snatch its genre-king crown over the years, Bubble Bobble keeps its control scheme simple. You can jump, you can blow bubbles, you can hop on bubbles--and that's basically it. (OK, so some levels let you pop bubbles that send lightning bolts at enemies or cover platforms with swaths of fire, but they're in the minority. The bulk of the game's levels force you to focus on the trio of aforementioned actions.)

Also, Bubble Bobble's stages never take up more than a single screen (hence the name of the gaming genre that contains it). And then, of course, there are its timeless graphics and its grin-inducing background tune.

At the end of the day, though, the aspect that keeps me coming back to Bubble Bobble, and that causes me to label it "influential," is its unfailingly enjoyable gameplay. Even when one of its stages is kicking my butt (an all too regular occurrence, I'm afraid), it never stops being fun.

I can't say that about too many games, can you?

See also: previous '10 Most Influential Games' posts about The 7th Guest and Balloon Kid.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Introducing: Welcome to WonderSwan World

I'm not sure anyone asked for this, but here it is anyway: a new blog series in the vein of my "A Decade of DS," "Year of the GameBoy" and "10 Most Influential Games" projects.

(Both the "10 Most Influential Games" and "Year of the GameBoy" efforts will continue in the coming weeks and months, by the way. In fact, I'll publish my next entry in the former series in just a couple of days.)

So, what will I write about in future "Welcome to WonderSwan World" posts? Bandai's Japan-only WonderSwan portable gaming system, of course--as well as its library of black-and-white as well as color titles.

I certainly have enough to cover in these write-ups. I've been buying WonderSwan games for a number of years now--hell, I'd already acquired 10 by the time I published this post in mid-2015.

That number jumped to 16 (I think) after I obtained a translucent black WonderSwan Color system and a handful of complete-in-box cartridges via eBay later that same year. (You can read all about that experience, and see photos of the auction's contents, in "the 'Tumbleweed Portable Club' (of lonely WonderSwan owners) has another member.")

At any rate, my "Welcome to WonderSwan World" posts will differ a bit from my "A Decade of DS" and "Year of the GameBoy" ones. The plan at the moment is for them to focus on a single game at a time, first and foremost. Also, they'll offer up relevant historical details on the titles in question as well as gameplay explanations or descriptions.

I'm not thinking of these write-ups as reviews, by the way, although you'll definitely walk away from them knowing whether or not I'd recommend others buy and play the games at their center.

With all that out of the way, I hope at least some of you enjoy this new series--even if this is the first you're hearing of this wonderfully (and oddly) named handheld.