It all started with a Neo Geo Arcade cabinet
I eagerly raised my virtual hand when we needed a volunteer to do the Puzzle Bobble Everybubble review. Bub, Bob, and I have a long history, and I was curious to see what Taito would bring to the table with this reboot of the franchise.
It must have been 1998 or 1999 when I bought a Neo Geo arcade cabinet from a former snackbar owner. Getting that machine was somewhat of an impulse purchase. It had a 2-slot MVS PCB board and included four MVS cartridges. However, it also came with a strong stench that carried the odor of years-old frying oil, mixed with a heavy hint of cigarette smoke. Despite regularly cleaning it, the stench lingered in my bedroom for about a year. But boy, did I have fun with it! I played games like King of Fighters ’94, Metal Slug, Super Strikers, and Puzzle Bobble in the convenience of my own bed room!
Although I had and accumulated other classics over the years, I must admit that Puzzle Bobble was the game I played the most on that machine. Unfortunately, once I moved out of my parents’ home, I had to put my stinky arcade cabinet in storage. However, Puzzle Bobble remained in my heart and mind. I continued playing many of the follow-ups that were released throughout the years, including the Bust-a-Move games on the PS1. After the first PlayStation era, versions of the game came out on almost all game consoles. However, it has been a while since a completely new game has been released.
Puzzle Bobble remake
Finally, the wait is over, and we have a brand new addition to the series: Puzzle Bobble Everybubble! Developed by Taito themselves and brought over to the West by the publisher that has proven to have a keen eye for reviving old, forgotten franchises, ININ Games. They have successfully revived numerous IPs such as Pocky and Rocky, Cotton, Cannon Dancer, and Wonder Boy. EveryBubble! fits nicely into that legacy.
Puzzle Bobble Everybubble! stays true to its roots with regards to its gameplay mechanics. It is an arcade puzzle game with the main goal of clearing the screen of all the bubbles. To achieve this, you can shoot bubbles of certain colors onto the screen. When at least three bubbles of the same color connect, they will pop. Creating chains will give you a score bonus and, of course, clear the screen more quickly. To add to the challenge, the top of the playfield, with all the attached bubbles, will descend as time progresses, putting pressure on the player.
Within Everybubble!, there are two main modes: the Story Mode and the Multiplayer Mode. Additionally, it features a bonus game that combines Puzzle Bobble with Space Invaders. As it is a bonus game, we can be brief about it: It is somewhat mediocre when played alone, but becomes a blast in 4-player cooperative mode.
The Story Mode essentially consists of the original single-player mode, complemented by a bit of story narrative featuring Bub, Bob, the girl dragons from Rainbow Island, and other characters from the franchise in charming text bubble sequences. The Story Mode is neatly divided into eight lands, each containing 15 stages, resulting in a whopping total of 120 stages. By completing levels within specific time thresholds, players can earn up to three stars. Winning three stars on every stage within a land unlocks the much more challenging EX stages for that particular land, effectively doubling the overall stage count.
Each land in the game contributes to the learning curve, and within the available stages, two or three can be quite challenging, requiring precision, time pressure, and puzzle-solving skills that take some time to grasp. The game showcases creativity by offering a wide range of individually unique stages. Throughout the stages, you will encounter various special items that add to the variety. These items are essential for clearing stages quickly, although there are instances where conventional methods can also be effective. The game provides flexibility in how you approach a puzzles to a certain extent.
Getting up the leaderboards
In the middle of the story mode’s map, there is a special area called the “Baron’s Tower,” which offers a continuous survival mode with an online leaderboard. I spent hours playing this mode, aiming to achieve a respectable position on the leaderboard. Although it can become somewhat repetitive after a while, once you find your flow and start popping large chains while utilizing items, it almost becomes a transcendent experience. I eventually reached a respectable position, and now I occasionally check in to see if I need to make a run to defend my position.
The Versus Mode can be played locally or online, with options for 1-on-1 or 2-on-2 matches. The versus mode retains the classic gameplay style, focusing less on puzzles and more on survival-oriented bubble popping. The goal is, of course, to pop bubbles, and creating chain pops results in additional “damage” bubbles for your opponent. This mode has always been a lot of fun, and the nerve-wracking gameplay still holds up. The few online games I played all ended in exciting close calls.
Getting the band together
Completely new in the franchise is the ability to add up to four players in (couch) co-op mode. The amount of players provided yet another set of unique levels to tackle per added player. This makes the amount of stages somewhere in the region of 600 stages. I’m just amazed with the density of the content that the game offers.
Visually, the game fits perfectly on the Switch and within the lineup of ININ Games. The vibrant 2D graphics with popping colors are adorable and charming. The music is a mixed bag, featuring soothing jazz orchestra tracks alongside some repetitive chamber orchestra classical music, which personally, I’m not a fan of. On the rare occasion I got stuck on one of the more challenging stages, the repetitive chamber orchestra music was the most frustrating aspect for me.
Taito has managed to pack the tried and true gameplay with hundreds of unique stages and well-executed gameplay modes. The Story Mode effectively balances the difficulty level. Just when you think the last few stages went smoothly or were easy, the next stage can present a significant challenge without ever feeling impossible to clear. However, there was one particular stage that seemed impossible, and I even ended up reaching out to the publisher as I thought it was a bug. It took me about an 1, 5 hours to figure out the brain-boggling stage before I finally cleared it. So the game does test your skills (and IQ) from time to time.
This Puzzle Bubble EveryBubble review is written based a playtime on Nintendo Switch. It is only available for Nintendo Switch for €/$ 39.99. Strictly Limited Games has a limited Edition physical release available for preorder.
I've spent roughly 12.5 hours playing Puzzle Bobble EveryBubble! and I can honestly say that I had the most fun with this iteration out of all of them. It is a undeniably better game than its predecessors. The story mode offers a crazy amount of content to play. The online multiplayer, co-op features and The Baron's Tower provide addictive gameplay with their own unique hooks. Anyone craving some arcade puzzle action would definitely enjoy the game. Only downside is it hefty price tag. I think it would do fare much better as a €/$24.99 game, in my opinion.