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Bury the Shovelware: Bubble Bobble Revolution

Kaes Delgrego

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Though certainly not as revered as Mario or Zelda, the Bubble Bobble franchise falls into the category of 1980s arcade games that were made legendary when ported to the NES. Games such as Ninja Gaiden and Bionic Commando were successful in the arcades, but the home ports were often tweaked for the technically inferior systems, but usually to great success. In particular, Bubble Bobble was a pioneer for two-player cooperative gameplay. While many games offered two player modes and most sports titles offered simultaneous play, Bubble Bobble was one of the first titles to have players working together towards a common goal. Despite how outdated one may find the original title to be, its legacy as a pioneer deserves kudos.

So, like many other publishers, the team of Rising Star Games, Atari, Codemasters -- all of which are shovelwaring repeat offenders -- decided to tap the well of nostalgia and remake the original. Furthermore, developer Marvelous Interactive is the publisher behind the ill-created Space Invaders Revolution. Things are looking bad for poor Bubble Bobble Revolution.

The Critics Said ...

"The new game is frustrating, repetitive, and not as memorable as the first. " That was a comment from one of the highest scoring reviews this game received, courtesy of GameZone. Yikes. The critics were fairly brutal to this game, due mostly to a game-ending bug in the original version that caused the game to become unplayable at the end of the 30th level. Thus, many reviews for this title tend to stray from discussing the actual gameplay and instead focus on the neglect of the developer and publisher.

Interestingly enough, with over two thirds of the game being inaccessible due to an utterly inexcusable bug, the game's metascore is still over 20% better than Deal or No Deal. Having played both games, I can definitely see why.

Rap Sheet

  • The controls are a bit blegh. Granted, the original never had spot-on perfect controls. But here, it seems to take the weirdness of the original game and amplify its imperfections: inconsistency between falling speeds, imprecision in popping bubbles, etc. One could argue that it's trying to perfectly recreate the original, but the remake is more than a simple graphical re-skinning, so I think they could have taken the liberty of tweaking the controls a bit.
  • There's no quit option when pausing. That's right, if you press start during play, you simply get a screen that says "PAUSE." Again, perhaps they were really going for the old-school thing, but I'm under the impression that it was just a victim of poor design/planning.
  • This box art is ... weird. I understand that many retro gamers are disappointed after seeing reincarnations of their cherished childhood friends (but not always). Bob (the blue dinosaur) looks like he's high, blood-thirsty, or both. And what a frightening thought that would be!
  • And then there's that whole "experience-crippling bug" thing. It's been fixed in later versions, but I was fortunate enough to come across a bugged version. It must be my lucky day.

Silver Lining

The remix of the classic tune is pretty nice. And as with any remake or enhanced port, the game rightfully includes an emulated copy of the original. It's the arcade version, which is pretty similar to the NES port. It controls a bit differently, but it still works. Additionally, both modes support two-player co-op. This is expected on the remake, but is definitely an appreciated benefit for the original.

Our Deduction

Having said pretty much all there is to say about this game in previous sections, I would like to use this space to discuss the game's bug. The bug, which apparently is only present in the North American version of the title, was present in all versions of the game released in this region (to the best of my knowledge). Though specifics about the cause of the bug are not publicly available, one might assume that the majority of blame belongs to Codemasters since this was the only publisher to handle the bugged version. Additionally, they were the company that offered to swap bugged copies and also included a free game in an attempt to seal the deal. Again, this is just speculation, but it's perfectly reasonable.

We could have pages and pages of discussion regarding how careless this is, but I'd instead like to discuss my particular experience with the bug. I stopped by a certain major retail store to pick up this game. I was curious if they had a policy of not carrying the bugged version, whether it be used or new. I considered asking the clerk, but judging by the look on his face, he didn't care much about answering anything. And truthfully, I was hoping to get a bugged copy just to experience it for myself. Sure enough, there's no boss battle at the end of the 30th level, which causes the game to hang.

While it would be unreasonable to demand that every used copy of the game that comes into the store be played to the 30th level in order to determine if it's a bugged copy or not, I assume that there is a better way (a distinction in the label, or the code printed at the bottom of the label). This leads me to a slightly off-topic question: what are the responsibilities of retail stores in regards to bugged shovelware? They can offer a refund for a defective game, but if it's publicly known that a game is buggy, should they be carrying it in the first place? Should they refuse to accept it, or work together with the publisher to make sure that no bugged copies are made available? Where does the majority of this responsibility belong fall? These are interesting questions indeed. If I were to give general advice, however, I'd recommend that you stay away from this game at all costs.

In gaming, the term shovelware refers to any game in which time and effort were eschewed in favor of turning a quick profit. Bury the Shovelware takes a closer look at these titles, typically those that inhabit the lower end of metascores. It attempts to: 1) find out where and how the developer went wrong 2) identify common traits present in most shovelware 3) measure how long the game can be suffered.

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