EDITOR'S NOTE:
Oh no, he's talking about Bubble Symphony. Oh no.
You don't understand- once he starts talking about this game, he can't be stopped.
Get a strong drink or something.
On a slightly more serious note, the screenshots used for this review aren't actually from the latest version of MAME- they're from several versions behind (0.133u3, to be exact) because at the time of writing, MAME doesn't quite emulate the game correctly, in the version of MAME we have anyway- parts of platforms will be raised one pixel too high, making the platforms unlevel. We checked a spirit level and everything, and you can see for yourself here. This isn't present in 0.133u3- a version of MAME we keep around for emergencies such as this- which is why the screenshots for this article come from a version of MAME that's almost five years old. It's not because we're lazy, promise.

Alright, consider yourselves fairly warned- I might be a wee bit biased on this one.

Now, the last time I covered a Bubble Bobble game on this site, I got a bit het-up and sweary about it. It's because I love, readers- it's just a drag to see Bubble Bobble get screwed up so badly because it took so long for an actual sequel to come out, so to see subsequent iterations royally mess it up is... It's sad, you know? And let me tell you, I love Bubble Bobble. The very first thing I did when I got on the internet was join a Bubble Bobble message board and made my first internet friends over Bubble Symphony (and The New Zealand Story, obv). Back to the matter at hand, for a little context, there's a interview with Fukio 'MTJ' Mitsuji (1960-2008), creator of Bubble Bobble, Syvalion and several other games, on the Taito Legends/Taito Memories collections- those without those collections can see it on YouTube. In it, he talks about the creation of Rainbow Islands, and how while most sequels used the same game mechanics and same characters, he wanted to make something totally new for the next game in the Bubble Bobble story as he didn't want to fall into a rut. Judging from some of the later sequels which he had nothing to do with- and by that I mean stuff like Bubble Bobble Evolution and Bubble Bobble Plus!- he was wise.



As a result, the closest Bubble Bobble got to a sequel in terms of gameplay at the time- and it was less of a sequel, more of an expansion pack- was the Master System port of the first one. Retitled Final Bubble Bobble in Japan, it ditched Super Mode and instead goes straight into the next 100 levels after you defeat Super Drunk (with most being from Super Mode but others being brand-new) but it also adds several new features like other boss battles against giant enemies and hidden items in treasure rooms required to beat the game (like the candle that lights up rooms beyond a certain point). Not strictly a sequel, like I said, so it doesn't really count, but it's expanding on ideas from the original, if nothing else. It's actually a pretty good port too, with more colour than Taito's own NES port, so it's worth a play. Later, there was Bubble Bobble Part 2 for the NES and Game Boy which added new mechanics such as mini-games and a charge-shot, but this game was handled by outside companies (I.T.L for the NES version, Natsume for the Game Boy port) so it definitely really count either. Around 1993, however, it seemed Taito were ready to bring Bub and Bob back to the arcade, and began working on a proper sequel (and you can see their work-in-progress in the Extended Play section) which made it to arcades in 1994.

If you ask me, it's the best sequel they could've made.



The chronology of the Bubble Bobble series is very confusing, but Bubble Symphony is all about the next generation. After his humiliating defeat at the end of the first game, Super Drunk- now Hyper Drunk, I think- finally decides to get his revenge by cursing the children of Bubby and Bobby, turning them into bubble dragons (again!) and banishing them to the world of a children's book. Now, Bubblun (green), Bobblun (blue), Cororon (yellow) and Kululun (pink) must find a way to turn back into human, knock Hyper Drunk into a cocked hat, and escape!

Most of the basics are in-tact- use your bubble-blowing powers to trap enemies in bubbles, then pop them with your feet, horns or fins to defeat them, bunch bubbled enemies together for more points, beat all enemies to move to the next stage- and overall the game feels as Bubble Bobble should, but there's a lot of new things and alterations here and there to update the game. Critically, unlike some alterations to the formula, they work, feel natural, and don't change the game to its detriment, but aren't barely perceptible either. For instance, the four player characters differ in starting stats (Bobblen's the fastest, for example) and charge shots (hold the Bubble button down then release after charging for a three-bubble shot) but it's more a personal preference than one having a massive advantage to the other, and stats are balanced out by picking up candies (that said, my character of choice is Cororon, with her t-shaped charge shot). Some other smaller changes include being able to hold the lever up and down to speed up/slow down your descent from falls/jumps, the removal of the level-skipping umbrellas but addition of several new items including ones that summon characters from other Taito games, and new special bubbles in the form of Rainbow, Wind and Music weapons. As it's on Taito's F3 hardware, the game also has proper backgrounds, more vibrant colours, and one of the most infectious arcade game soundtracks ever made (highlights being the main theme and the credits song, Talking of Memories of a Far-Off Land).



The two most significant additions that change the feel of the game, though, are the branching path system (every few stages you fight a boss, then pick between two worlds) and the expanded rogue's gallery (from eight enemies and one boss to fifty-four enemies and ten bosses). On their own, these changes seem obvious and work well- more enemies means more variety, and the branching paths encourage multiple playthroughs- but together, they make the game get harder much quicker. Back in 1986, Taito had 100 levels to gradually introduce new enemies every now and then, easing you into the challenge each new opponent presented, but as there's less levels in one run here due to the branching paths, you get one, maybe two rounds of just Zen-Chan and then it unleashes the hordes on you. Some returning monsters are easier- Zen-Chan moves a lot slower, for instance- but many of the new enemies appear only in specific worlds and you have to learn their patterns quickly or die (most notably in Sun A Zone, which has many enemies that never appear anywhere else and they are very mobile). There's also a lot more enemies with projectiles, like the kabuki monsters with lethal two-way fans. The boss monsters are also pretty tough, and you'll die a lot before you learn their patterns (which are there, honest- practice enough and you can totally beat Hyper Drunk without dying!) although any that use the Water bubbles are very tricky regardless of practice. Looking at it from purely a monster/boss perspective it feels like Bubble Bobble for Super Players, but the enemies just about toe the line between challenging and frustrating, so you don't get annoyed with it- it feels like you can just do better. So, basically, the good kind of difficult.

Furthermore, the branching paths lead to another change- a massive increase in variety, and a slight difference in the level designs. Each 'world' in the game has its own distinct theme, with some early stages being themed around other Taito games (specifically PuLiRuLa, Kiki Kaikai and Darius), and with a few enemies specifically appearing in themed worlds, each one feels more distinct than the theme-less stages of the original (and Bubble Memories, for that matter), which is especially helpful if you're playing on your own in keeping your interest. The stages themselves feel just a touch more cramped than in the original game- there's quite a few more complex stages here, including a few reminiscent of the hellish Round 99 of the original game, but this adds to the challenge and makes you think before approaching each stage. At only two points does the game go a little too far with this, if you ask me- two stages in the final world, Tightrope Walking and Acrobat Jump, both stages that mercilessly test your mastery of the Bubble Jump and can be very frustrating if you've yet to master it. On the whole, though, the stage designs are solid, challenging and while some are similar to stages from the original game, feel fresh enough that the game feels like a proper sequel rather than a rehash.



The final element worth discussing is the 'secret' element- that mainstay of classic Taito games, where cryptic hints would lead you to the true ending! Now, something I often see said about Rainbow Islands- and to be honest, I agree- is that the requirements to get the true ending of the game- collecting a full set of little diamonds on each island- is super-annoying. This is doubly so if you're going for the secret rooms at the end of each island by collecting the little diamonds in order. In a way, it turns the game into a chore. Bubble Symphony's secret elements are integrated considerably better in that regard. To reach the final set of levels, you need to have collected the four keys, one in each world (with an extra one in the fifth if you really want it) which is collected by finding hot-spots on each stage that hide a musical note- grab three notes and the key is yours. Unlike Bubble Memories, which had one 'secret' item every ten stages required for the final set of stages (and if you missed just one along the way, tough), Symphony gives you a lot more leeway, as you have anything from six to eight stages to just get three notes. The game also nudges you into collecting the notes rather than keep it too cryptic- the number you have flashes up before each stage, but it's never spelled out to you that they're for the keys. Finally, this works great in co-op mode, as you can work together to find the notes... But only one player gets the score bonus from grabbing the key!

The other super-secret element, the R-O-D bubbles that turn you back into a human, (found by waiting for a Hurry Up! warning on certain stages) isn't done quite as well- the secret treasure rooms, which in the original game gave you tips on how to get the true ending, only allude to returning to your original form and that you head to the final world regardless of your route, not how to get these secret items to spawn. Fortunately, like the keys you get a few chances to get them (with only one of the possible routes not allowing you to get all three) but it's just a shame you're either going to find them by chance or just consulting a guide. On the plus side, when you do find them, it's a great moment- you finally get to play as the kids in their human forms outside of Rainbow Islands and Parasol Stars, and their new animations are so cute! They even use little pipes to blow bubbles. It's adorable.



Overall, Bubble Symphony is probably the best update you could do to Bubble Bobble- it ups the challenge, it makes playing solo far more enjoyable, and it adds enough new elements and secrets to seem like an earnest effort rather than a do-over, but those new elements integrate really well into the formula, and don't feel shoved in. It helps that visually it's a bright, happy, colourful game that you just want to hug for being so sugary-sweet. I think the best illustration of Bubble Symphony being the best possible Bubble Bobble sequel is to compare it to the next sequel, Bubble Memories. I could write a whole thing about Memories- I probably should at some point- but rather than a step forward like Symphony, Memories feels like a huge step back. The multiple routes are gone, as are the different player stats, but what it really doesn't get right is what it adds in. The giant bubbles are a neat idea, but the corresponding giant enemies feel awkwardly implemented (it's almost impossible to group them together), the swimming feels really tacked-on and pointless, and the secret elements have far less leeway (they're far easier to miss). It's a testament to how good Bubble Symphony is that I can play it from start to finish on a whim and then almost dive back in again almost straight away, whereas with Bubble Memories, I have to groan my way through it a bit. Not that Memories is completely without merit (I love the artstyle, and some bits work OK)...

But for me, Symphony is the one that gets everything right, and I could very easily play it forever.

For being one of my favourite Taito games, Bubble Symphony is awarded...

In a sentence, Bubble Symphony is...
The best Bubble Bobble sequel.



And now, it's that time, folks!
EXTENDED PLAY!





First up, regional differences! Not many, but there's a few.

For a start, the game has two different titles- it was released in all territories as Bubble Symphony.

(The Japanese version has the game's name in katakana below the logo- common in Taito games at the time- not in other versions).

There's an extra World version that's renamed Bubble Bobble II, though- this is the parent version in MAME.

Obviously, the Japanese version has all its text, including the intro, tutorial screens and stage names, in Japanese, but this version has another big difference- the high score table. In all other versions, you get the standard three letters for your initials, but the Japanese version allows up to eight. This leads to a rather odd easter egg, where putting in eight of the same letter- all As, all Bs, etc.- changes your name to a random Taito game title! Obviously, with only eight characters to play with, some games are a bit more legible than others- Chase H.Q. fits, but The New Zealand Story has to settle with THENEWZE. The sole guide to Bubble Symphony on GameFAQs lists almost all of these but had trouble identifying what some of the titles were referring to. So I've gone and done that, but since there's 64 (!) possible names (that I've found, anyway), they're listed on this separate page instead. Enjoy?



Next, ports. Unlike the next arcade Bubble Bobble game, Bubble Memories, Bubble Symphony actually got a home port.

Ah, no! Not that cancelled PS1 port, God, no! A good port!



In 1997, Bubble Symphony made its way to the Sega Saturn, and like a few of the high-quality 2D arcade game ports for the system, was only released in Japan. This port was handled by Ving, who also worked on several Taito conversions for both the Saturn (Elevator Action Returns, Metal Black) and the FM Towns (Bubble Bobble, The New Zealand Story). They're known for high-quality conversions, and this port is definitely no exception. It's basically the arcade game on a disc, with minimal loadtimes, the proper arcade soundtrack (as you may remember from that other Bubble Bobble II port- this does mean when the music changes, the music stops for a very brief moment to load, though) and 99 credits to beat the game with. About the only very noticeable difference is that the lives counter has been moved up and to the right.

The one omission is it doesn't save high scores, but the major perk of this particular port is the Secret Option screen, unlocked by pressing Left, Right, Left, Right, A, B, C, B on the title screen. This lets you toggle Super Mode, change the way music is output (I think?) and, more importantly, select the region between Japan (default), US and World. This also means this is the only commercially-released home version that lets you play under the Bubble Bobble II moniker, with the one missing detail being the announcer still says Bubble Symphony on the title screen. Additionally, regardless of which region you set the game to, you can enter eight letters on the high-score table. A final note is that, unlike the port of Bubble Bobble bundled with Rainbow Islands on the Saturn, you can enter the cheats from the arcade version, but with A being Bubble, B being Jump, and C being Start for those codes. It's perhaps less noteworthy nowadays because of the versions I'm about to discuss, but if you want the game stand-alone, it's there for you.



The game's also shown up in Taito's arcade game collections, although there's a bit of a long story here. It was included in the Xbox and PC versions of Taito Legends 2, but not the PS2 version. The reason it wasn't included in the PS2 version was that Taito worked on that one, and couldn't get Bubble Symphony, Rayforce or Pop n' Pop working on the PS2 at that time, but Empire couldn't get G-Darius or Raystorm working on the Xbox, so they split the games up and added Cadash to the Xbox one and Syvalion and Balloon Bomber to the PS2 one to balance things out. Phew! It's based on the American version, so that means it's called Bubble Symphony instead of Bubble Bobble II, and basically does the job- however the Xbox version has no controller config. A year or so later, Taito finally got the game running on the PS2, as it was included in Taito Memories II Gekan (that's the one with the purple cover) with canned music tracks instead of emulating the sound directly (that's how they got around the F3 emulation problems, it seems- we don't have this version yet so it's not pictured, alas).

Finally... Not a port as such, but the cancelled N-Gage game Taito Memories was supposed to include a new version of Bubble Bobble, with sprites from the original game but platforms and backgrounds taken/based on those of Bubble Symphony- you can see the game in action on YouTube. Even more puzzling, IGN's page for the game has what appears to be a new variant of Qix with graphics lifted from Bubble Symphony. Who knows what was going on there...



With the ports and regional differences out the way, let's look at an interesting arcade version of the game.



Around August in 2013, muddymusic, a member of the Jamma+ forums, found a prototype of Bubble Bobble II (that's what it calls itself in the Test Menu, at any rate) in a stack of PCBs at user Dsyde's unit at the Unigame meetup. Dumped and now preserved in MAME, this is a version of the game from about a year before the final release- that's right, 1993- and boy is it a different beast from the released version. As noted on this MAME update from Haze, at this point in development the game feels much closer to the original Bubble Bobble than what Bubbly Symphony would become, but more interestingly, Haze describes it as a proof-of-concept rather than an actual finished product. I think that's fair- it may be the case that Taito were internally testing the waters for a sequel to Bubble Bobble made by themselves rather than outside the company. This is just speculation from me, though, and we know how good I am at that. In any case, this version has a lot of differences, and so I've done my best to catalogue all the ones not related to changed graphics (there's a lot of those) below:

Prototype Final
The attract mode is missing the Taito logo, the title screen, the two story intros, the high-score table and the game's logo during demo sequences. It starts with Bubblun's profile, goes onto the tutorial, shows the remaining profiles interspersed with gameplay demos, then restarts from Bubblun The attract mode is fare longer, starting with the Taito logo and moving on to the title sequence. It adds the game's logo during demo sequences, the high-score table and the two story introductions
After starting a game, the intro screen reads "The New Adventure of "Bubble Bobble" - The Return of Super Drunk" After starting a game, the intro screen reads "The New Adventure of "Bubble Bobble" - The Next Generation"
Upon losing your last life, you are given 10 seconds to continue, with no extra item as an incentive Upon losing your last life, you are given 20 seconds to continue, and continuing gives you an item that cycles quickly between all three sweets and the red shoes- grab it to get one of them
Continuing does not alter your score Continuing adds a single point to your score until you reach 9, where it stops being added
Score values for grabbed items pulsate slightly as they rise up the screen Score values just rise up the screen and do not pulse
After grabbing a magic potion while fighting a boss, your bubble-blowing speed will stay as it is After grabbing a magic potion while fighting a boss, your bubble-blowing speed will increase as if you've grabbed a yellow/green sweet
One of the special items in the game is the Yellow Shoe, which increases your speed to almost uncontrollable levels The Yellow Shoe is no longer present, the fastest you can move is when you grab the Red Shoe item
When you are killed, your character will fall down the screen and pass through any platforms until they disappear When you are killed, your character will fall down the screen but stop if they land on a platform before they disappear
The game's music is entirely taken from the original Bubble Bobble, including the main theme, the character select screen (adapted from the main theme), the Chack'n Heart/Bonus music (from the same situations in the original) and upon boot-up, the game plays the Game Over jingle. No special music plays during the boss fights. Although the game has new music normally, entering the code Bubble, Jump, Bubble, Jump, Bubble, Jump, Right, P1 Start (the Original Mode code from the first game) on the title screen will remove all backgrounds and make the original Bubble Bobble theme play! It's a different version from the one in the prototype, though.
The charge-shot has not been implemented yet- holding down the Bubble button does nothing -
The game is considerably slower at this point, including your movement and the movement of enemies -
Altering your fall speed by holding Up or Down has not been implemented yet -
The available Special Bubbles are Fire, Water, Lightning and Rainbow. Wind and Music haven't been implemented yet. -
In addition to not appearing in the intro, the high score table is not implemented at all- even if you break the high score, you are never asked for your name. -
At this point there are only twelve monsters in the game. Seven come from the original Bubble Bobble (Zen-chan, Maita, Monsta, PulPul. Hidegons, Banebou and Invader) and five are new (Dorabo, Knightron, Uni Bo, Magician and Dranko, who is referred to by one stage name as Drunko- her male counterpart's not in the game yet!) -
After clearing three worlds, the game ends with this screen and takes you back to the attract mode. -
The hidden musical notes (now just notes instead of in boxes) are implemented but work differently- you have to collect every hidden musical note in a world, and the chest at the end of the world contains the key and more musical note items. All the keys in the game are red, however they don't unlock anything at this point -

Furthermore, we put together a chart of all the stage names and where they on this page

Obviously, this is a much earlier version of the game and doesn't represent the final product in any way, but there's one element in particular that strikes me as a very good change- the musical notes. As it is in the prototype, it's far less lenient, and reminds me a lot of the 'collect all the little diamonds in order' stipulations in Rainbow Islands, i.e. there's far less room for error. In this case, there is zero room for error as you won't get those keys if you miss a single one.



As we're on the subject, there's also this part of a Taito flyer- one that also refers to Darius Gaiden as Darius III, and is viewable on The Arcade Flyer Archive- which is pretty interesting. For a start, this may be one of the last times that Super Drunk was referred to by his Grumple Grommit name that I believe originated from the NES version of Bubble Bobble. Since then he's adopted a wide variety of names including Dreg, Dunk and Evil Troll, the poor guy. Anyway, the other thing is the screen on the left shows the TV Machine world backdrop but with a Mechabobblun boss- this never happens in the final game as you fight the Space Invader boss in this world.



As an aside, here's a rough guide to the potential endings...

Bad Endings 1-5 - Beat Normal or Super Mode without collecting all the Keys or the ROD Bubbles
Your characters approach the door to the final world, but cannot unlock it, meaning they do not advance to the final world. You then get an ending depending on which world you end up in:
Waterfall - Bubblun and Bobblun are nearly lured away by a Dranko.
Sky Palace - The kids are chased by the summonable pink bubble dragon.
Forest Land - The kids are trapped in a world of doors.
Japanesque - The kids wake up, thinking the events of the game were a dream, but they weren't.
Treasure Desert - The kids find a huge pile of treasure.

Bad Endings 6-10 - Beat Normal or Super Mode without collecting all the Keys but collecting the ROD Bubbles to turn human again
These are mostly the same as the first five endings, but some of the text/art is a little different and all the player characters are human instead:
Waterfall - Bubblun and Bobblun are nearly lured away by a Dranko.
Sky Palace - The kids are chased by the summonable pink bubble dragon.
Forest Land - The kids are trapped in a world of doors.
Japanesque - The kids wake up, thinking the events of the game were a dream, but they weren't.
Treasure Desert - The kids find a huge pile of treasure.

Normal Ending 1 - Beat Normal or Super Mode collecting all the Keys but not the ROD Bubbles
After defeating Hyper Drunk in the final world, the four characters become the kings and queens of the world inside the children's book... But they still haven't turned human or found their way home, so you're told to find the true ending. (Beating the game like this in Super Mode is the same but the text is shorter and different).

Normal Ending 2 - Beat Normal Mode collecting all the Keys but not collecting the ROD Bubbles
After defeating Hyper Drunk in the final world, the four characters become the kings and queens of the world inside the children's book... But though they're human, they still haven't found their way home. You are then given the Super Mode code to enter on the title screen.

True Ending - Beat Super Mode collecting all the Keys and the ROD Bubbles to turn human again
The pictures shown are the same as Normal Endings 1 and 2, but the text congratulates you for figuring it all out. You're then shown an image of Bubby, Bobby, Coron and Kulun in a field celebrating, suggesting they did make it home. Finally, the game gives you the Human Mode code to enter on the title screen.





So... Can we get super-nerdy for a sec here?

The game never specifies which of the kids are Bubby's, and which are Bobby's. The boys are obvious, the girls less so.

I've always held the belief Bubby and Coron are Bubby's, and Bobby and Kulun are Bobby's. Prove me wrong!

As great as Bubble Symphony is, it's not quite my favourite Taito game. I wonder what it is...?