Few spin-off series have been as successful as Taito’s Puzzle Bobble. The 1994 arcade game successfully used characters from the Bubble Bobble series of platformers in a brand-new puzzle game. It would go on to spawn dozens of sequels and ports (not to mention clones), most recently with Puzzle Bobble 3D for PlayStation and Oculus/Meta Quest. While most installments feature multiplayer of some sort, it has always been competitive in nature. Puzzle Bobble Everybubble! from Taito and ININ is the first entry with local co-op, and it’s 4-player, no less.
Everybubble! offers three primary modes: Story, VS (which supports 1 vs 1 online and 2 vs 2 local competitive multiplayer), and “Puzzle Bobble VS Space Invaders.”
The story mode here offers a much more extensive narrative than previous installments. Things kick off when Drunk, the recurring series villain, paying a visit to the Miniroons, a species of small dragons that lives on Rainbow Island. The Miniroons make a collective wish to gain the ability to blow bubbles, a wish that Drunk grants. Unfortunately, the little guys can’t stop blowing bubbles, so soon the island is overrun with them. The heroic Bubble Bobble dragons, Bub, Bob, Peb, and Pab step forward to save the island by popping the excess bubbles. Along the way, they’ll encounter lots of friendly and not-so-friendly characters from past Puzzle Bobbles. The story, told through mildly animated pictures and accompanying text, is nearly cute enough to cause cavities.
The story map is broken up into ten distinct worlds plus the Skel Tower, a survival mode. The ten worlds all have 15 regular levels each. Completing a level awards a rating of 1-3 stars based on completion time. Earning three stars on every level within a world will unlock 10 extra tough EX stages for that world, complete with additional story content. That’s 150 regular levels to progress through, plus 100 EX stages for expert players. Be warned that 3-starring all the regular stages to unlock the EX stages won’t be easy because every world has at least a few strictly-timed levels. If you do manage to unlock said EX stages, they can be insanely hard.
The core gameplay closely resembles that of previous Puzzle Bobbles. Each level consists of a field containing a unique pattern of colored bubbles and, sometimes, special bubbles and/or obstacles. Players, positioned at the bottom of the screen, must aim and then fire their own bubbles into the field. Matching three or more bubbles of the same color will cause them to disappear.
Special bubbles come in an expanded variety this time out, with effects like explosions, painting nearby bubbles, eliminating bubbles in a line, and many more. There are probably too many different kinds of special bubbles, with the "Change Bubbles" that cycle colors once per second proving especially annoying. Interestingly, special bubbles can sometimes be collected and then used at will within the same level, adding a new type of strategy to some levels. Obstacles include bubble cores (returning from Puzzle Bobble 3D), crates, and rocks. Each of these must be destroyed or worked around in a unique way.
Everybubble! is the first Puzzle Bobble to support up to 4 local players in its campaign. In fact, you can even substitute AI players for any missing players. The AI players aren’t particularly good at solving levels that require specific techniques to clear, but they do a decent job on most levels. Still, playing with friends makes it much easier to coordinate and clear tough levels or achieve better times on past levels. You can add or remove human and AI players between stages, so adjusting the team size to fit the challenge is a smart idea.
Each player chooses both a playable character (from the four protagonists) and a buddy. Buddies don’t do anything other than hold any special bubbles that players might have in reserve, but their cutesy company is still welcome. The game offers a few selectable headpieces for the playable characters, and you can unlock new buddies and VS opponents by clearing worlds in Story mode, but the unlockables are few and far between. Bandai Namco’s Taiko no Tatsujin: Rhythm Festival, comparatively, offers hundreds of different accessories to unlock right from the beginning. Taito should follow that approach and add more fun items to unlock, and at a more regular pace.
Everybubble’s second co-op game mode is “Puzzle Bobble VS Space Invaders.” In it, 1-4 players can team up to battle Taito’s famous arcade antagonists. Players move horizontally along the ground and can only fire upward, just as in the real Space Invaders games. The invaders, however, are actually found within colored bubbles. The field of bubble-born invaders continually moves around the screen, slowly descending and firing shots that can kill the players. Eliminating the enemies works just like matching bubbles in the main game. After clearing all the invaders in a level, a new wave begins. “Puzzle Bobble VS Space Invaders” is really just a small bonus mode as opposed to a larger crossover game like Arkanoid vs. Space Invaders. Still, it’s good for some quick arcade-style blasting.
The Puzzle Bobble gameplay formula has been cloned numerous times since Taito invented it, but it’s still fun after all these years. The rapid-fire pace of shooting bubbles, the wide variety of layouts and challenges, and the lovable characters always make for a delightful time. Everybubble! steps things up in a big way with its lengthy story mode and robust co-op support. I’d love to see Puzzle Bobble Everybubble! make its way to other platforms in addition to Switch, but even if that never happens, this one will surely hold the distinction of being the biggest and best game in the series for quite a while.
A Switch download code was provided by the publisher for this review.
The Co-Op Experience: Both the story mode and the "Puzzle Bobble VS Space Invaders" bonus mode allow up to 4 players to work together to clear the screen of bubbles. If less than four human players are present, AI players can fill in missing slots. In "Puzzle Bobble VS Space Invaders," lives are shared between the team.
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