Retrogaming: How Bubble Bobble got me back in the game

In which I write, not shockingly, about Bubble Bobble, and its unlikely connection to Bloodborne. No, really.
I’ve long identified myself as a gamer, because for decades I’ve played video games.
It sounds obvious and stupid when put like that, but it’s true.
I won’t quite say that you could name a game and I’ve played it, because there would be countless titles that nobody’s played and it all to quickly becomes a dull bragging rights kind of contest.
Still, I could probably draw up a memory of the games that were around at the same time that I was playing if I didn’t have some kind of direct memory per se. From early obsessions such as Elevator Action and Exciting Hour — and it only now occurs to me that they both start with the same letter, although I’m certain that’s coincidental — to home computer fare such as Head Over Heels or Match Day II through the console era and via more than a few PC games as well.

If you remember this game, congratulations. You’re probably as old as I am. It doesn’t feel like an achievement.

EA’s FIFA could learn things from this game. I’m not certain what, but they could learn things.
Of late, though, I’ve been feeling a little burned out on games.

No, not Burnout. Burned out. I, too, miss Burnout. EA, you know where to find me.

Putting a particular reason why I was feeling burned out was tough to place, however. In the games writing space, a very minor clash with the Gamergate idiots robbed me of a little energy and enthusiasm for the online gaming space. It turns out I’m not female so they stopped fairly quickly, but I’ve said my piece about those morons before.
Professionally there’s not a huge quantity of space in Australia for paid games writing work, and in any case 2015 was a bit of a shocker for me on many personal fronts, which further sapped my energy and enthusiasm for games, as well as requiring me to temporarily store away a lot of the games and systems I might have wanted to play.
So I found myself in late 2015 playing games, but playing them in more of a mechanical rote sense than out of any kind of realistic enthusiasm for the form.
I’ll have more than a few friends waggling fingers at me, but to give you a contextual example, I’ve got a copy of Bloodborne that’s been sitting on my shelf of games to play for some months now, completely unplayed.
I know it topped multiple Game-Of-The-Year type lists last year, and I know several games journalists personally who salivated over it, and continue to do so.

It's not much like Bubble Bobble. Although you could pretty easily burst bubbles with those weapons, I think.
It’s not much like Bubble Bobble. Although you could pretty easily burst bubbles with those weapons, I think.

I couldn’t entirely bring myself to get engaged with it, so I didn’t. It’s still there, slowly gathering small molecules of dust on the case. Probably great, but I couldn’t get myself hyped up to play it at all.
I did start to think that maybe, after decades of playing, I was actually fully burnt out on games. Perhaps the day had finally come, with my interest waning prior to my reflexes finally giving up the ghost.
My kids play games. My wife plays games. We’re a gamer family, and I have an extensive collection, but I never wanted to say “Hey, I’m that guy who has a large collection, come look at my sealed-in-box-copies-but-oh-I-never play them” at any time. I’ve always been interested in the playing… until recently.
So I more or less stopped for a while, keeping on reading some stuff around games but feeling rather distant to it all.
Then, over Christmas, I picked up a copy of Bubble Bobble, a game I’ve long described as my favourite game of any particular year if asked.
Hey, I figure if I can play it in a given year, it counts towards game of the year.
If I couldn’t play Bubble Bobble in a given year, there had better be an exceptionally good reason why. Nuclear holocaust, or something of the sort. I’d better have to fight off giant mutant rats in real life to survive to stop me playing Taito’s best game.
As a result of my Bubble Bobble fixation, I own it across numerous systems, but in this case it was a sale on the iOS version, Bubble Bobble Double that I picked up. I’d avoided Bubble Bobble Double because I hadn’t heard good things about its touch screen implementation, but at a cheap price I figured I should at least be able to get some fun out of it.
If you're anything like me, just the sight of this opening scene will earworm you with the theme tune for the rest of the day.
If you’re anything like me, just the sight of this opening scene will earworm you with the theme tune for the rest of the day.

I’m not wholly convinced that “fun” is in fact possible for the tap-enabled “New Style” game, which is both weird and almost entirely non-addictive. I’d go so far as to use words such as “terrible”, “uninspired” and “crap” to describe it.
The saving grace for Bubble Bobble Double is that it is also contains an emulated version of the classic arcade game with touch controls, and that (not surprisingly) is much, much better.
Which isn’t quite to say that it’s the best version of Bobble Bobble I own. It’s perhaps a little better than the Gameboy version, which is horribly limited by dint of the screen technology of the time, but nowhere near as good as a proper arcade version, or indeed the sublime Sega Master System version.
The touch controls are OK, but they’re far from great, and this is a problem for a fast paced arcade title. More than once I’ve died because I’ve tapped in slightly the wrong spot, a problem I’d never have with a game with actual physical controls.
Still, I’ve found myself getting drawn into Bubble Bobble on iOS simply because it’s there.
So if I’ve got a few spare minutes to kill, I’ll spend them happily bursting monster-filled bubbles and collecting the tooth-rotting confections hidden within. Bub and Bob’s diet is terrible, and it has been for decades, and I love it.
Of late, I’ve played a quick game when my alarm goes off in the morning. Maybe a go while I wait for my morning or afternoon train to show up.
And slowly, but surely, I’ve started to like games in the broader context again.
What I’ve found, though, is that while feeling burned out with games was something that hit me very hard indeed, it only took the right game — something I could stop, appreciate and enjoy — to get me back in the more general flow of games.
I’ve started playing (or re-playing) other games in the meantime, including finishing a few retro classics and trying to properly play a few games that fit into my “I’ve started this, but not really properly put the time in” games, including an entry in the Monster Hunter series. No promises, Monster Hunter. I’ve been down that “yeah, I’ll play this properly” road before.
I might even get around to playing Bloodborne sometime soon.
If I’m not too busy playing Bubble Bobble, that is.

Author: Alex

Alex Kidman is a multi-award winning Australian technology writer, former editor at Gizmodo, CNET, GameSpot, ZDNet, PC Mag, APC, Finder and as a contributor to the ABC, SMH, AFR, Courier Mail, GadgetGuy, PC & Tech Authority, Atomic and many more. He's been writing professionally since 1998, and his passions include technology, social issues, education, retro gaming and professional wrestling.

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