Bubble Bobble 4 Friends: The Baron is Back may be a bit of a mouthful, but it’s also a game full of exciting, bubbly dino action. If you are familiar with the previously released Switch game Bubble Bobble 4 Friends, you pretty much know what to expect here – but with more of it. That game was fun, but this expanded iteration provides even more content and another game mode.
Now, I have a bit of history with this series that gives me something of a soft spot for it right out of the gates. I remember the arcade cabinet from the 80’s and it was one of my very first NES games after getting the console for Christmas from my uncle (Editor’s Note (PY): I’m not as old to know there was an arcade but I’ve got seriously found memories of the NES version growing up). There’s some good memories baked into this series, which I have poked at now and again over the years.
For those unfamiliar with Bub and Bob’s antics, well… don’t expect any great prose here. Bonner is the bad guy and he needs to be dealt with. It doesn’t really get more involved than that. However, the value in this series has always been in its simple yet ridiculously addictive formula. Each stage is a single screen that doesn’t scroll anywhere, and it kind of meshes platforming, action and some light strategic / puzzle solving elements together for its core gameplay.
You clear a stage by blowing bubbles at your enemies to trap them within. Your bubbles also serve as makeshift platforms that can help you reach areas otherwise not accessible. Where Bubble Bobble 4 Friends managed to shake up for formula a bit is in the introduction of skills, which are attained through beating the bosses. In the original version of the game, you had fifty levels, but Bubble Bobble 4 Friends: The Baron is Back gives us 100 now to work through, effectively doubling the content. It feels like a much more appropriate length, as admittedly I just like the party was over too quickly with the first iteration, but this time the length just seemed about right. It didn’t end too soon, and Bubble Bobble 4 Friends: The Baron is Back didn’t overstay its welcome.
The earlier games in the series focused on Bub and Bob, giving it a glorious co-op mode that made for some frenzied, often hilarious action. Bubble Bobble 4 Friends upped the stakes by providing 4 player co-op, and it makes things even zanier now. There are admittedly times when all that chaos can make things a bit hard to keep track of, but I’d be lying if I said we weren’t laughing a lot more often than we were getting annoyed. My three kids and I had a great time with it. You can certainly play the game in single-player, and Bubble Bobble 4 Friends: The Baron is Back is still a good deal of fun, but it loses the element of unpredictability that makes the co-op such a hoot. That being said, it feels like a bit of a missed opportunity is that this is all couch co-op. Great for me – I have a family of five. Less than ideal for people who maybe don’t have in-house partners to rely on, especially in this day and age where socially gathering is less common.
Aside from the fifty new levels, there is a new mode that reflects the title called The Baron is Back. This essentially adds another fifty levels of gameplay as you are tasked with ascending a tower. The level design is notably different, with tighter spaces that made the experience far more challenging for me than the core mode. I did not struggle much with the core one hundred levels, but The Baron is Back kicked my tail more than a few times and definitely made me reconsider how I was approaching the gameplay.
In terms of presentation, the Bubble Bobble series has always been pretty undemanding of the hardware, but with a cute, colorful style that makes it very family friendly. There’s not much to the character models, but they look fine in their animations and the vibrant stages tend to be very appealing. The music has a peppiness to it that matches the visuals and overall tempo of the game rather nicely as well. It’s clear that the developers had a good time with the stage designs, some of which are just creative, colorful backgrounds while others are very specifically themed.