Bubble Bobble 4 Friends review: Family-friendly hit is an ideal Christmas game

Returning to games of days gone by is a risky business.

For every SNES Classic, there's a PlayStation Classic reminding us that we have to be exceptionally careful about what games we return to in a nostalgic haze.

Bubble Bobble 4 Friends is a little bit of both. If you played and loved the original (like I did), this is like returning to an old friend and being hugged tightly.

If you only briefly played the original or have no idea what I'm talking about, well, this one's pretty expensive for what it offers. That's not to say it doesn't have plenty of charm though.

Opening up with a cute but simple CGI intro that's reminiscent of when you load up a different retro compilation, you're greeted by a child's bedroom full of Bubble Bobble plush toys and a Bubble Bobble arcade machine.

A la Toy Story, the toys come to life and that's roughly how you end up embarking on a new adventure with the child's beloved Bub and Bob cuddly toys.

That adventure is simplistic yet delightful. Much like the original, which is also included here.

See, Bubble Bobble was a single screen arcade game back in the 1980s.

The original had you and one friend (if you wanted) leaping around the screen, blowing bubbles at monsters so that you could trap them, before bouncing on a bubble and popping it, therefore vanquishing the creature.

There was fruit to collect too for extra points, as well as bubbles that spelled out the word Extend. Finish spelling out the word and you'd gain a life.

And oh my, did you need that extra life.

After all, this was an arcade game – it was tough. It wanted your coins. One hit would kill you but if you played alongside someone, they had an opportunity to revive you.

If they were able to grab your floating unconscious body in time that is. Converted to the Commodore 64 amongst many other newer platforms, it never lost its harsh edge but it was never cheap about how it did things.

This time round, the main mode consists of five worlds with 10 stages in each. Once you complete those (along with the accompanying boss battles), it's onto Hard mode which throws in more enemies and tweaks just enough to make it feel like you have 100 levels to tackle.

Thing is though, this new game isn't actually very hard.

OK, it's not easy either with certain puzzle elements shining through such as how air flow can affect the direction of your bubbles. However, compared to the original, it's fairly smooth sailing.

Even the boss battles are a straight forward matter of blowing bubbles at them until they get trapped, then jump on it.

Bubble Bobble 4 Friends goes some way to adding some depth by throwing in a new rating system. Here, every time you complete a world, you're given a rating between 1 and 3 stars depending on how well you perform.

Essentially, don't die and collect lots of fruit, and you'll do well. It's a nice extra but it's more for the sake of pride than anything.

Where things get more interesting is the addition of a skills system. Each time you finish a world, you can unlock one of five new skills.

These can include the ability to dash through enemies, blow bubbles further across the screen, or even shoot bombs or electrified bubbles at the enemy.

They're great. They add a nice extra dimension to things and certainly help in encouraging you to go for a new high score.

Don't get too comfy though as you only ever get to use them a limited number of times per run.

New skills give you reason to replay Bubble Bobble 4 Friends which is essential really, as this isn't a long game by any means. It'll only take you a few hours to blow through the new game mode although you will enjoy nearly every second of it.

That's why you'll end up trying to perform perfect runs of the game, eking everything out of the experience because it's not like this is a budget release.

This is priced only a bit less than any other Switch game and I'm not entirely sure it has the wealth of content for £36.

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Granted, playing with 2 to 4 players is a little bit lovely. The kind of experience that makes you think this would be an ideal Christmas game.

Each level can only take a minute or less to complete. Imagine diving in throughout Christmas Day or basically whenever you've all got five minutes spare.

Don't want to watch yet another Christmas ad? Perfect chance for a couple of levels of Bubble Bobble 4 Friends.

The controls are mostly a matter of one button to jump and one button to blow a bubble so it's perfect pick up and play fodder. Don't expect any duels though. There are no competitive modes here, nor online leaderboards. A missed opportunity for sure.

That's the funny thing about Bubble Bobble 4 Friends. You'll enjoy so much of it and yet you'll long for more.

Working together with friends or family means that it won't take you long to blitz through the game, leaving you feeling like there was better value for money elsewhere.

Yet you'll also have fond memories for a while to come.

It's an enigma. A wonderfully cute and charming enigma.

Verdict : Bubble Bobble 4 Friends – 4/5

Bubble Bobble 4 Friends is a great addition to the Bubble Bobble franchise, but it's expensive for what it provides. A solid afternoon of gaming will get you to the end credits, but you'll return to do things a little better than before.

An online mode or a trickier set of levels might have put it in good stead but who can begrudge it too much when it's so lightheartedly charming?

The Good
• Addictively simple
• Ideal for sofa gaming together
• Great conversion of the original game bundled in

The Bad
• No online mode
• No competitive mode
• Bit expensive for what it offers

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