Toil and trouble
Puzzle Bobble has been around roughly forever and has received far more sequels than its progenitor, Bubble Bobble, probably ever will. Far more than I can keep track of. I’ve generally been staying in my safe bubble (heh) of the first two titles.
Generally, the Puzzle Bobble formula is simple enough that there isn’t a whole lot of room for variation. New bubbles, power-ups, selectable characters; you can’t shake things up too much. With that in mind, Puzzle Bobble Everybubble is the best one I’ve played. And that’s simply because it’s the first I’ve played with co-op.
It’s not the first game in the series to have co-op (Bust-a-Move Bash on Wii allowed for 8-player cooperative), but it is the one that is most thoughtful about it, and that goes a long way.
Puzzle Bobble Everybubble (Switch)
Publisher: ININ Games
Release: May 23, 2023
If you’re unfamiliar with Puzzle Bobble, you might know it better as Bust-a-Move, its localized title under Acclaim. I have no idea why it was called that. It doesn’t have anything to do with dancing. However, if you’re unfamiliar with Bust-a-Move, then that’s weird. Puzzle Bobble is a match-3 puzzle game that has you bouncing bubbles onto a field of colored bubbles, trying to eliminate them all.
Puzzle Bobble is technically a spin-off of Bubble Bobble, the all-time great arcade title about bubble-spitting lizards. It has very little in common, aside from starring the same characters, and I’m just learning that there’s deeper lore that’s at play here. Worse, Puzzle Bobble Everybubble seems to think you’re already up to date on it. I thought I was. I am clearly mistaken.
While Puzzle Bobble Everybubble takes place on the Rainbow Islands, it’s implied that Bub and Bob (and indeed, Peb and Pab) are just normally bubble-spitting dinosaurs. If you played Bubble Bobble, you’re probably aware that a wizard turned Bub and Bob from normal children into lizards, but Puzzle Bobble Everybubble suggests they’re just normal dragons.
This is madness. Do these people even care about continuity? Or is this even more horrible than I thought? Am I the one who is mistaken? Unthinkable.
The story of Puzzle Bobble Everybubble involves the Miniroons, who look exactly like Bub but smaller. They made a deal with the Grumple Grommit to give them the ability to spit bubbles, but you shouldn’t make a deal with someone who is called Super Drunk in Japanese. They can’t control their discharge, and soon the Rainbow Islands are flooded with bubbles.
I don’t know why I summarized the story because it really doesn’t matter.
There are generally two modes to Puzzle Bobble and they’re both represented in Puzzle Bobble Everybubble. The first is a puzzle mode where you try to clear a field as quickly as possible. This sometimes means you need to burst every bubble on the screen, while other times, the game just wants you to free all the Chack’ns trapped in bubbles.
The other mode is a more competitive take on this. More bubbles continually appear at the top of the screen, pushing the ones beneath to the bottom of the screen. The goal is to survive as long as possible. It’s roughly the same as it’s always been, barring a few power-ups thrown in. There’s a solo take on this in Blubba’s Tower, but it’s better played competitively.
The big draw for Puzzle Bobble Everybubble, however, is the co-op. The story is a series of puzzle-style boards that constantly throw in more and more wrinkles in the form of obstacles and power-ups. Every level scales for 1-4 players. It feels like attacking these sorts of puzzles with multiple people shouldn’t work, but it really, really does.
It can be difficult for a misanthrope like myself to put together a group for any multiplayer game. Despite this, I pulled it off for Puzzle Bobble Everybubble. I got my mother to join in, along with my husband, and we spent a good chunk of the day playing.
To demonstrate how well the multiplayer puzzles work, skillsets were hardly even. I play video games for a living, so my thumbs are far beefier than anyone else in my scrub family. Generally, this meant that while I was digging through my side of the field, my husband and mother were lending each other a hand to keep things in check. Usually, they wouldn’t be too far behind me, and even if they were, I’d then start popping bubbles from my corner of the playfield.
You are graded out of three stars based on the time you complete the levels in. A lot of the time, we could land three stars in our first handful of attempts, but even if we couldn’t, we could strategize based on our individual experiences and successes. It was a really great experience, even if we did eventually have to give up on certain star endeavors in favor of just proceeding with the game.
If you don’t have friends or just don’t like other humans, that’s understandable. You can have CPU-controlled bubblers stand in for real people, I just am not sure why you’d want to. They work. They probably make as many mistakes as an actual human. However, you can’t strategize with them or give them a Charlie horse when they screw up. So, I just don’t see the point.
There’s also a mode called Puzzle Bobble Vs. Space Invaders, which is a mash-up of the two games. It’s fine but serves more as a curio than a worthwhile mode.
If you were hoping to play online, you’re only half in luck. You can play VS mode locally or online with two or four players, and there are leaderboards for Blubba’s Tower. However, if you want to play co-op story mode, you’re either out of luck or I’m just not looking in the right spots. Once again, I wouldn’t want to play with anyone out of punching range, but it would have at least been an option to have.
I also want to note that the aesthetics are… potentially divisive. They’re so damned saccharine that it’s almost grating, with the bubble-lizards all exclaiming in Japanese. The actual graphics are serviceable but extraordinarily unremarkable. It bothers me more than it should that the dinosaurs just throw bubbles with their hands rather than firing them out of weird bubble launchers.
Still, minor gripes aside, this is a rather solid Puzzle Bobble entry. The co-op story mode is a great time if you have friends. Considering the series has long leaned on its competitive aspect when it comes to multiplayer, this makes Puzzle Bobble Everybubble a great purchase for anyone who doesn’t use video games to assert dominance over their friends. Largely, Puzzle Bobble Everybubble is just more Puzzle Bobble, but it’s an extremely solid entry in the series with an addition that will make it almost indispensable to some fans of bubble popping.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]