Bubble Bobble Memories

So the other day Taylor found the sheet music for the Bubble Bobble theme. Great excitement commenced in their household, including everyone doing bad dances to the music.

It’s a tune that summons many memories for me. Though only Mum remembers the original arcade game, we had a selection of old arcade games on our playstation. The games were copied and usually the title screens were in Japanese, which made it almost impossible to find the actual game mode, but we quickly learned to navigate the screens by memory.

Bubble Bobble was a favourite. Mostly because Mum got so excited about it, but the very simple gameplay and the challenge of getting through the increasingly difficult levels kept us coming back to it.

I have since played versions on the xbox where you have unlimited lives, but on ours you had 15 coins, each of which revived a dead player with three lives. That might sound like a lot, but across 100 possible levels, some of which we were prone to dying on multiple times, it really wasn’t many. The highest level we ever achieved was 72.

The levels, for those who’ve never played Bubble Bobble before (go do it now, you can find it free on the internet!) are 2-D platforms with little enemies running round on them. You jump to the platforms and blow bubbles to trap your enemies, popping the bubbles to kill them. They would then turn into fruit (I’m not joking) for you to collect. Each fruit was worth points. Sometimes other stuff would come up like fire breath, speed shoes, and the elusive umbrellas, which would allow you to skip past a random number of levels.

It was all fairly simple, until you got to certain levels, which required a degree of timing, or the ability to bounce on a bubble as it floated round the screen, to reach platforms you couldn’t reach just by jumping. One level in particular required you to blow a bubble in a tiny space, jump on it, blow another bubble without popping the first one, then jump on that – just to get out of the starting position.

Which perhaps wouldn’t have been a problem, only there was a time limit. Exceed that, and a sinister tone would play, followed by the appearance of this little dude:

I’ve only just learned that his name is Baron Von Blubba. In my childhood he was just ‘ghost whale’ but since the advent of Twitter, we’ve taken to calling him the Fail Whale.

I was trying to explain to the Boyfriend’s sister, who has never played Bubble Bobble, why that sound and the appearance of the Fail Whale was so synonymous with terror in my childhood. Honestly, the Fail Whale only moves in one direction at a time and pauses every time he changes direction, unless you are trapped somewhere, he’s actually pretty easy to avoid as you finish the level. Except he’s not, because that sound plays and the music speeds up and suddenly you go into full panic mode.

It’s worth clicking through that Youtube video to read the video description. It pretty much perfectly describes the emotions experience by Bubble Bobble players when the Fail Whale appears.

So of course, while playing the theme music yesterday, face painted with glee, I decided to figure out the little sound that announced the Fail Whale arrival. It took a few goes, but we got it in the end. Then the challenge was to play the theme music as fast as possible.

I wouldn’t like to know how many hours of my life have been poured into Bubble Bobble. It would be an obscene number.

But, it’s also something I share with my family, with Carole and mostly with my mother, and for all the priceless memories I’ve gained over the years – cheers when an umbrella is reached on a difficult level, getting to level 72 only to be shot down by insanely fast moving space invaders before we’d even had a chance to look at the layout, spending about four hours with Carole playing it right through to the end – it’s been totally worth the time.

It might be a 2D arcade game, nothing on the graphics and complexity of the modern console games, but I actually think it’s probably my favourite game of all time.


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