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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Thursday Night at the Arcade: Bubble Bobble

Have you ever had a memory triggered by watching a television show, or viewing a movie?  A memory that may seem insignificant or even silly, but still remains in your brain years after the fact?

One memory of my life gone by was inspired by the video game Bubble Bobble.  At first, I thought that it was such an insignificant memory, but it turned out to have more of an impact than I realized.

Before I go on further, let me talk about the game a little bit.

Initially released by Taito in Japan in 1986, Bubble Bobble was ported to American gaming systems in the late 1980's.  The game was a puzzle based game where you went from level to level to defeat monsters and collect items to get to the next room.  In short, it had the same idea as Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and Rampage.

What set the game apart from the others was the gameplay, and the plot.

Whereas games like Pac-Man didn't really have a plot (unless you count mindless chomping of yellow dots as a plot), Bubble Bobble had a purpose.  You played as either one of two little dinosaurs.  Bub (the green one), and Bob (the blue one).  Their girlfriends were abducted by some monsters, and you have to break into the monster's hideaway to save them.

Above, you'll see a screenshot of the arcade version of the game, and I figure that the best way to describe the mechanics of the game is to point out what each of them stand for.

As I said, the object of the game is to move from room to room to save your girlfriend from the monsters within.  The best way to do this is with your bubble power.  These dinosaurs can blow gigantic green and blue bubbles that can trap the monsters inside.  When Bub or Bob pop the bubbles, the monsters die, and are sometimes replaced with power-ups or food treats.

The monsters in the game are of different varieties and varying degrees of difficulty.  They can be robots, ghosts, whales, and other miscellaneous creatures.  It's a good idea to try and get them trapped in bubbles and popped as soon as possible, because one of two things could happen. 

One...the monsters will eventually kill you.  That's not something you want.  Furthermore, if you trap a monster in a bubble and the monster somehow gets out of the bubble itself, the monster will turn red, get really angry and move more aggressively through the room...eventually killing you.

I should also mention that each level has a time limit and if you go over it, all the monsters will become angry, and more monsters will pop up, trying to get you the dreaded 'Game Over' screen.

Not all is lost though.  There are a few things in the above screenshot that can help you in your journey.

When you kill the monsters, they leave behind lots of yummy treats for the dinosaurs to eat.  I'm not entirely sure that back in the days of the dinosaurs that they ate popsicles, french fries, and cartons of milk, but in Bubble Bobble, those foods were considered the 'breakfast of champions'.  Eating these also gave you a boost in the high scores department.

Occasionally, popping bubbles with monsters inside of them netted you power-ups which could improve your chances of success.  The yellow bubblegum you'll see at the right hand side of the screenshot allows Bub or Bob to blow bubbles twice as fast.  Depending on the power-ups though, you can do so much more.  You can breathe fire, you can turn monsters into expensive diamonds, and you can even skip whole levels.

Another thing to collect are the rainbow letter bubbles, which float around if you kill two or more enemies at the same time.  If you collect all six bubbles, spelling the word 'EXTEND', you can skip the current level you happen to be on, as well as a bonus life.  Collecting the bubbles can definitely be an asset.  There were also special bubbles that randomly appeared that could drown monsters or electrocute monsters if popped.

So, there were just as many positives to consider in the world of Bubble Bobble.  Would you care to see some of these in action?  I bet you do!

Now that you know what Bubble Bobble is, and how it's played, I suppose you want me to tell you about why this game sparks a childhood memory from years ago.

Well, I am getting to that.

You'll have to take a trip back in time to 1989.  It was the year that the Berlin Wall came down.  The year Madonna had a Pepsi commercial pulled.  The year that Dan Quayle spelled the word 'potato' incorrectly.

Me?  I was just an eight year old kid.

During that year, one of my haunting grounds happened to be the little cornerstore just around the block from my house at the time.  It was a little variety store called 'Darling's', and inside the store was everything that a kid my age loved.  You had a candy counter right inside the store.  A magazine rack with the latest in comic books and magazines.  You even had a little corner in the store that was filled with Nintendo games that you could rent for a little over two dollars a day.

The piece de resistance of the whole store was the whole back wall.  Along the back wall were three or four arcade games that kept changing every two months or so.  All sorts of games, ranging from Mr. Do, to Super Mario Brothers, to Michael Jackson's Moonwalker even!  So many memories, and so many quarters wasted.  Good times.

I'll never forget the week that the 1989-1990 school year started.  During that time, Darling's changed their arcade games around, and one of the new games was the arcade version of Bubble Bobble. 

Although the game only stayed at Darling's for six months at the most, those six months were filled with me practically begging my mom for some quarters so I could run over to Darling's and play Bubble Bobble.  It was my all-time favourite arcade game, and I would always go there after I did my homework (if I had any), and play until I ran out of quarters.  I loved that game so much, and I looked for every excuse to play it.

One day around Halloween of 1989, I headed to Darling's, and I had a fistful of quarters in my hand, and I managed to get onto the Bubble Bobble game, and happily started to play away.

It was then that a group of kids from the nearby high school crowded into the store.  Some of them were in the red and black football jerseys, so I kind of figured that they were just getting out of football practice at the time.  Anyway, the group of them almost immediately made a beeline towards the Bubble Bobble arcade game, and immediately demanded that I step aside because they wanted to play, and they wanted to play it NOW!

Now, you would have thought that I would have backed down, and stepped aside and let them play while I had to settle for the not nearly as fun Burger Time arcade game. 

Surprisingly enough, I stood my ground.  I mean, here were these sixteen, seventeen year old guys crowded around this eight year old kid...easily twice my height and weight.  Yet, I stood up to them.

Part of it could have been that they were the same age as my sister at the time, who attended the same school, and I knew that if they tried anything, I could tell my sister, and she would quite literally kick their asses all the way from Darling's to Denver, Colorado.

Part of it as well could have been that the store clerks kept a really close eye on the arcade area, and I knew that if they tried anything, they would have thrown the mob out.  It was really that simple.

And, besides, Bubble Bobble was my favourite game, and it was there for a limited time, and I got there first.  They would just have to wait.

Or, maybe I could do something even better.

Seeing as how Bubble Bobble was a two player game, instead of stepping aside, I decided to issue a challenge to the ringleader of the group.  Head-to-head combat.  One against one.  We'd play until one of us got a Game Over.  The winner would continue to play Bubble Bobble.  The loser got stuck with Burger Time.

My challenger was a twelfth grader, aged seventeen, who readily agreed to compete against me.  He even so much as gave his companions a high-five, and said that he would make it his mission to crush me.  He was one cocky bastard, he was.

I took control of the green dino.  My opponent was in blue.  It was a valiant effort by both of us, and both of us lasted a long time.  The screenshot up above was the level that we both made it to before one of us got the dreaded Game Over message.  Level thirteen ended up being an unlucky number for one of us.

And it was NOT me!

That's right.  Cocky twelfth grader ate it on the heart shaped course.  Broke his little heart too being beaten by an eight-year-old.  I, on the other hand, felt great about it.

So, as promised, the gang had no choice but to step aside, and let me play Bubble Bobble until I ran out of quarters (which actually wasn't all that long, as I only brought $1.50 worth).  I didn't care though.  I knew that I had played the game so long that I could hold my own against any challenger.  I was so confident in my Bubble Bobble abilities that it worked out rather nicely.

I suppose that's the lesson that Bubble Bobble taught me.  If you keep at things long enough, you start to develop confidence.  And a confident person is a happy person.  However, you don't want to become over-confident to the point where you begin to turn into a jerk about it.  Otherwise, you end up spending your quarters making gigantic electronic burgers, much like my opponent did.

Whatever the case, that one autumn day in 1989 was one that I'll never forget.  Whenever I'm lucky enough to play Bubble Bobble again, I'll never forget that day, because that day had a...

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