Originally this article was posted as a standard Let's Gaming Love article/review, complete with a score (SPOILER: it got 1 out of 5). Since then, however, my lackwit writer has changed his mind about the nature of this particular game- since it can't be decisively determined if this was indeed the prototype sent to magazines as review code (there is plenty of evidence to suggest it- the screenshots, the cheat listed in subsequent issues of OPM, issues with sound quality noted in the OPM review- but a lot of it is a bit flimsy when scrutinised) he decided, in a moment of clarity, that it isn't fair to judge it as if it was supposed to be released. As such, the score has been removed and the article has been relocated to Let's Gaming Tat instead. Until we get substantial evidence that this particular prototype was sent to magazines with the intent to be reviewed as completed code, it'll stay like this.
Of course the real reason we've done this is so if any East Point Software employees find this page they'll be less offended and might let us interview them. THIS PLAN WILL NOT WORK.
In Issue 20 (the June 1997 issue) of the UK's Official Playstation Magazine (if nothing else, their demo discs were amazing) there was a review of a game called Bubble Bobble II. It was given a very positive review, in fact, scoring an 8 out of 10, with only minor nitpicks about the sound and the odd dig about the graphics. Now, each issue of OPM had a review archive at the back, with a teeny-tiny box containing a review summary, a screenshot, a score, and a cheat for each game, and naturally, Bubble Bobble II was there for many, many years, only being removed after the PS2 came out and space was becoming an issue. A truncated version of the review even showed up in Future Publishing's Essential Guide to Video Games. Now, this all seems reasonable, doesn't it?
Thing is, the game was cancelled at the absolute last minute, catching everyone- including OPM- with their pants down.
Naturally, this was a bit odd, and extremely infuriating to Taito fans across the globe, assuming they knew- it was cancelled so quickly, most people don't even know it exists, and it seems the port was only planned for a European release. Bubble Bobble II, had it been released, would've been the sole Western home release of the game it was based on (the sublime Bubble Symphony) until the space age 2006, when the game was included in the Xbox and PC versions of the absolutely essential Taito Legends 2 collection. That's right, it took nearly 10 years for a proper home port to show up on our shores. Oh, sure, you could be one of those guys and import the Saturn conversion (which I own, incidentally, and it's pretty great) but where's the fun in that? It also would've been the only PS1 Taito game to be distributed in the west by Virgin Interactive- this is odd, seeing as Acclaim were the guys to go to for hot Taito action back then (and, later on, JVC). In any case, the game was cancelled, OPM made an ass of themselves every month by keeping the game in their review archive, and so we come to the end of the story.
But wait! There's more!
You see, a dump of the prototype of this game somehow ended up downloaded on my old computer. I don't know where I downloaded it from, I don't know how I could've possibly downloaded it back when I think I downloaded it, and to this day it bugs the hell out of me. It was just... There. Unfortunately, it stayed there for a very long time, as I didn't have the means to burn it onto a CD nor even play the damn thing on my Playstation. A few years down the road, a chipped Playstation somehow ended up in my possession- again, I don't know how, it just happened. Then, a few more years down the road, I remembered I had this game- I've been through at least three different computers since I originally downloaded it, so how I kept remembering to transfer it over is yet another mystery- and, finally, I burned it to a CD and had the chance to play the one version of Bubble Symphony that the man didn't think I was fit to play.
And it's bloody awful.
At this point, the story becomes considerably less clear. Where did this prototype originate from, and is this the review code version of the game? What little I know is that there are at least two different versions of this game that were sent to the video game rags of the time (see Extended Play for the earlier version). The screenshots and cheat code shown in both the original review, the reprinted review, and the review archive version match up with this prototype. It wouldn't be too wrong to assume that this version is the one sent to Official Playstation Magazine as the review code. I've heard plenty of horror stories of UK mags being sent shoddy, blatantly unfinished game code to review, while being assured by publishers that all the problems in the game were 'going to be fixed before release', so this wouldn't be an isolated incident if that's the case.
It would be awfully convenient if it was true, because it would explain why the game was cancelled- an earlier preview of the game had the game's release date set for November 1996, so over half a year had passed between that and the OPM review. From there you can assume that the game was way off-schedule, and with no hope of fixing everything before release, the release was quietly canned. All that said, there's also plenty of reasons why this version might not be the one eventually reviewed. The screenshots, for instance, could've been repeated from previous previews of the game, and the cheat code could've been printed in error (repeatedly). There's no way, short of searching through the game's code for some kind of time stamp or finding the original writers of OPM and pestering them about it, of knowing which version of the game I have.
As such, we've removed the score. This is not a review, this is just an overview, if you will.
With all that out of the way, what does the port do wrong?
This version of Bubble Bobble II is supposedly a conversion of Bubble Symphony, which was a 1994 update of the classic Bubble Bobble, with rucks of new features- four characters with different abilities, hidden musical notes on each stage which you'll need to get to the final world, multiple routes throughout the game, and, of course, lots of different endings, as well as loads of other features that I don't have time to talk about here. The basics are as follows: blow bubbles to trap enemies in them, pop them, beat every enemy on a stage to move on, fight a boss every few levels, lather, rinse, repeat. Now, the developers of this particular port- the poor sods known as East Point Software/Promethean Designs- must've just been given the graphics from the arcade game and left to their own devices- no source code, no assistance from Taito themselves or anything. I'm assuming this because they got everything else wrong Just looking at the audio-visual side of things, you can see that this is shockingly 'off' considering the hardware involved. Several enemies have jerky/incorrect animation and have really noticeable stretches between frames, some graphics are too dark and others too light, the entire soundtrack has been redone in MIDI and it sounds terrible compared to the original, the music will often speed up for no reason...
Now, if it was just aesthetic issues, I might let that slide, but it gets worse- the game now plays like ass. Gone are the super-responsive controls from the arcade, as walking now feels very slippy (this is especially bad when walking between platforms) and the Bubble button is fickle and won't work in certain situations (mostly when turning around), the collision detection is atrocious, as you'll often be killed when you're not even near an enemy and jumping on top of bubbles is much more difficult, most of the Special Bubbles work slightly differently and worse than their arcade counterparts... It just goes on and on like this. Criminally, the secret elements that make Bubble Symphony what it is have been dicked around with too- while you can still find secret rooms if you reach certain stages without dying (good luck with that, given the horrid collision detection), most of the special items no longer do anything, you don't get any points from bursting bubbles in a corner (an essential strategy for getting your score right so fruit will fall from spare bubbles), and I don't know if there's a way to unlock the Super Mode at all (there's a text-dump on the disc that suggests there is, but the code at the end of the game is the same as the arcade, i.e. it doesn't help for this PS port at all) meaning that you can't get the real ending.
There's also some hilarious bugs you can trigger pretty easily, probably a sign it wasn't finished. In a one-player game, for instance, any bubbles that get touch the 'Press Start' dragon in the bottom-right corner of the screen will be popped as if it was actually there (which makes bubble jumping in that corner impossible). A good one happens if a level ends as you lose your last life- it's easiest to do this in two-player mode. When the continue prompt comes up, press Start and pick out a different gender character (i.e. if you're Bubblun, change to Cororon) but don't press anything- wait for the next level to start. You'll start as the character you selected, but you won't be able to blow bubbles- kill yourself and you'll adopt the palette of the character you were playing as earlier with the stats of the one you continued as. There's also the issue of the ROD bubbles, an obscure secret that clearly wasn't finished in this port- waiting on certain stages causes one of three letter bubbles (R, O or D) to appear, and getting the whole set turns your character back into a human. If you get them all in this version, then the two boy characters get changed as normal, but the girls experience some severe glitches- Kululun changes into a mis-coloured boy and glitches the background out in certain stages, and Cororon turns completely invisible making the game impossible to play. Even worse, the human characters blow their bubbles very slowly which makes the game even harder than it is to begin with. I could go on all day about these glitches- I've even pictured some of them for you.
Probably the only reason to look into this port (if you can even say that, it's not like you'll find a real copy) is the inclusion of some development-aiding cheats left in. Holding Select while playing slows the action to crawl (so you can point out, frame-by-frame, how the animation is incorrect to your friends), pressing all four shoulder buttons at once skips to the next stage (this works on boss stages too, and causes the boss to glitch up) and at the very end of the game, whacking the shoulder buttons will lead you to a little dev tool that lets you look at most of the in-game graphics and take a gander at the 'bonus counters' before you get thrown back into the game and to whichever ending you unlocked. If this was review code, then East Point Software had no hope in hell of getting it fixed before shipping the damn thing.
Obviously, I spotted all of these terrible, horrible problems with the game because, thanks to the miracle of emualtion, I was at one point in my life playing Bubble Symphony like it was my job. I don't know the game inside out just yet (I don't think I've ever reached those treasure rooms legitimately) but when you play a game so much, you can spot a hair out of place in any other versions pretty easily. What I'm getting at here is that if this was review code, perhaps the game got such a positive review from OPM because all these massive issues the game has simply weren't noticed- it's a port of a sequel to everyone's favourite 80s arcade game, why would they nitpick like me? In the hands of someone less obsessive about Bubble Bobble, this might be a serviceable version of the game in small doses (especially if they're not doing all the weird tricks I was pulling while playing this game- in particular the ROD bubbles fuck the game right up)... To be fair, in the same month the staff had to review heavier titles like Vandal Hearts and Carnage Heart and preview the likes of V-Rally and G-Police, so I'd say they were bigger priorities for them than a port of an old 2D arcade game. It's Bubble Bobble, everyone likes it, let's call it a day, eh?
Of course, there's also the possibility that the game was fixed in time for the review.
I doubt that.
The sad thing is, even though this port (or what's finished of it, anyway) is a bit of a stinker, the system was more than capable of a faithful port of Bubble Symphony. It wasn't a Neo-Geo game reliant on hundreds of animation frames, nor was it a Capcom Vs. fighter that needed four characters to be loaded at any one time- it's a Taito F3 game, the same hardware that housed the Puzzle Bobble sequels, and it was an early title for the hardware at that. A conversion should've been pretty easy to do, given the capabilities of the system. Whatever it was that troubled this game's development, it was something powerful enough to completely kill one of the brightest, happiest video games ever created.
Now you know why it was cancelled.
At this point, a mean-spirited reviewer would almost certainly take the time to utterly ravage East Point Software; they'd tear them a new one, rip them apart and make them eat their underwear for sullying their beloved Bubble Symphony like this. Probably. I'm sure you're expecting the same of me, especially since this site is called Gaming Hell, but no. I just feel sorry for the poor bastards. According to their hilariously old website the company was started to port other people's games to different consoles, but they eventually started making their own games. In fact, they did so right after Bubble Bobble II got cancelled- maybe this was the straw that broke the camel's back?- and went on to make several racing games and, most tellingly, were the people behind the infamous Picassio, a game that would be delayed again and again and again until dying a horrible death. I mean, that's depressing enough as it is, but then you realise they had the unenviable task of porting Worms to the Game Boy and rather than hatred, you find only pity for these poor sods.
As a eulogy of sorts, let's conclude with the staff roll. These are the people who tried so hard, yet fell so far:
And now, it's that time, folks!
At this point, on my old website, we actually had the prototype available to download. Of course, now that I'm actually on a webhost that doesn't completely suck, we've got to keep things slightly more legal, so it's now been removed. If you're looking for it, though, I can help you in one regard- the prototype was apparently ripped by a dude called JhonyWalker, and it sometimes has 'Spanish' and 'CloneCD' in the filename. Once you find it, use whatever means necessary (Daemon Tools, Alcohol 120% and Nero are your best bet) to burn the game onto a standard CD-R. Obviously, if you want to run this thing on the real hardware, you'll need to have your PS1 modified so it can play copied games (naughty naughty!) but if not, the game runs fine on most PS1 emulators, although the latest version of eSPXe doesn't seem to like the music or sound effects, as they won't play. Aside from the horrifying glitches outlined above, the game is fairly stable, but certainly not fit to be commercially released by any stretch of the imagination. For fun and profit, see if your favourite tricks from the arcade game still work here!
As a super-lame bonus, I've supplied my own cover-art for the game, which is on this very site- click here for the cover, and here for the As I'm sure you're aware after looking at the terrible MS Paint art on the Odds and Ends page, I'm not much of an artist. Unfortunately for the rest of the world, I just won't stop trying. So, when I finally got around to burning the game onto a CD, I decided to make my own CD cover for it, which you can print off- it'll fit into a standard-size CD case. There's a few spelling mistakes on there, a completely self-serving 'cameo' by one of my older cartoon creations, and the rather baffling subtitle of 'EXTREME TERRIBLE BUBBLE SYMPHONY EDITION', so I'm sure you'll find it amusing somehow.
And now, for a selection of scans pertinent to the PS1 version of Bubble Bobble II.
First and foremost, the original review of the game from Official Playstation Magazine Issue 20.
This was kindly supplied to us by the totally radical homgram from the RetroCollect forums, who heard of our plight at the REPLAY 2012 convention. He delivered the goods swiftly, and he has my gratitude. The review itself is pretty standard- I liked the fact that for Gameplay it just says it's Bubble Bobble which might suggest why they glossed over the weird issues the game has- but the main thing to note is their selection of screenshots- they all match up with the prototype on this page. There's not many of them, but they all have the number of credits remaining at the bottom of the screen, sticking out like a sore thumb. This doesn't prove anything by itself, unfortunately- these screenshots could've been simply supplied by Virgin and reused (the definitive proof would be, if OPM previewed the game, whether they used these same screenshots prior to this review)- but it is important to point out because a preview from a different magazine we'll see in a ssecond does use different screenshots.
Next up is the reprinted review of the game in The Essential Guide to Videogames, published by Carlton Books in 2001 (the ISBN is 1-842220379-8 for those who really, really want to find it) which I found by total accident at a car boot sale. The book itself is a compendium of game reviews from many different Future Publishing mags, including Official Playstation Magazine and the impeccable N64 Magazine (sadly, they only included a tiny version of their hilarious Superman 64 review) and it's a fascinating study in the gaming rag landscape of the late 90s/early 00s. Anyway, Bubble Bobble II was, bafflingly, included in the Playstation section. Although a few parts are shortened and an entire paragraph detailing the enemies and bosses is gone, this is pretty much the same review (although they use the 'Cons' box, not present in the original review, to moan about the graphics) and it also reuses a screenshot from it. The fact that, four years later they still haven't got rid of this game from their archive is somewhat telling...
Oh, and here's the OPM 'review archive' review of the game from a later issue.
Next, we have a two-page preview of the game in Issue 2 (November 1996) of Mean Machines Playstation (for those looking for it, the cover story was Mortal Kombat Trilogy) and, unsurprisingly, it's a much earlier version of the game. The credit counter is missing, lives are represented by strange circles rather than the eggs from the final, the Course Select and World Clear text is missing, and the doors leading to the TV Machine and Sun 'A' Zone worlds are switched around, but that's pretty much it. What's more interesting is that the writers seem adamant that the game was to have a four-player mode- they specifically mention it in the write-up, they even say it's compatible with the Multitap accessory, but I'm going to assume that they thought that, because there were four characters to choose from, the game would also support four players. Sadly not, unless there's another prototype with four-player support in existence... Ha ha ha, yeah, that's some wishful thinking right there.
Finally, in that same issue of Mean Machines Playstation (what a stroke of luck, eh?) we have an 'advert' for the game. I say that in inverted commas because it doesn't give the game's name. Generally, that sort of thing isn't encouraged in the world of advertising, unless you're John Romero and you're threatening to make everyone your bitch. More interestingly, though, it has a quote from Official Playstation Magazine: 'It does burst Acclaim's bubble somewhat...' That's pretty ballsy of you, Virgin Interactive! The final noteworthy thing here is that artwork of Bubblun- maybe that was the style the game's cover was going to be in? The world can only wonder.
And that, friends, is the convoluted and tragic tale of
Super Bubble Bobble II.
May it rest in peace.
Well, that was a surprisingly dark ending. Back to the index!