Welcome to the first blog post of a new era, essentially “Shinju Forest+” - special posts covering super-cool Japanese LCD game-things thanks to the aid of some very kind and supportive donors. As I’m sure is already obvious, for this first post I’m going to look at Epoch’s attempt to recreate Taito’s arcade classic Bubble Bobble in portable form.
The unit itself is a thoroughly dinky 7x4cm with a little set of buttons-as-a-d-pad on the left, A and B buttons on the right, and power/sound buttons just above. It’s small and light enough to dangle off your keys so long as you’re not precious about scratching it (I must admit, I am), and there’s a keyring loop on the upper left that will allow you to do this if you wish. Sound and music come out of the little speaker on the rear – placed in the middle so it’s unlikely to be muffled by fingers – and can be cycled between three volume levels as well as turned off completely. Using buttons instead of a true pad, especially at this size, isn’t ideal but it isn’t a major issue either and the game feels quick and responsive after a short amount of time to adjust. There’s also a rather handy pause function should you find yourself called away to do something a little more productive, and when you die your high score is saved and visible on the start screen, even if you turn it off.
A bit of research unearthed a lovely bit of news - Bubble Bobble is just one of seven similar retro adaptations Epoch created! All the games are built in a very similar manner with only small variations in screen size, the number of buttons – and obviously, screen contents.
The complete series is as follows:
LR-01 – Space Invaders Part II (Nov 27th 2005)
LR-02 – Makaimura (Nov 27th 2005)
LR-03 – Bubble Bobble (Nov 27th 2005)
LR-04 – Hang On (2006)
LR-05 – Puyo Puyo (2006)
LR-06 – Crazy Climber (2007)
LR-07 – Elevator Action (2007)
Around 2009 a company known as “Hashy TOPIN” then went on to re-release repackaged versions of Epoch’s games (Space Invaders, Puyo Puyo) as well as add some all-new licensed titles in a similar vein (Pengo, Fantasy Zone) for their “Pocket Boy” range.
Bubble Bobble’s screen is constructed from 1x1 “cells” that allow for platforms/walls on all sides as well as a bubble, enemy, and Bub (facing both ways) inside. Each of these cells are about half a centimetre square, and the screen has 5x6 cells in total with a border around the top and the right for your score, power gauge, items, lives, and a few other bits and pieces. This naturally makes the art very small, but good design means they’re also very distinct and easy to read – I’ve never had any issue seeing which way Bub’s facing, even from a quick glance. The same goes for the enemy “sprite” – it’s clearly a different shape from anything else in the game, and makes for an easy to read playfield. The screen can scroll in all four directions (depending on the level), with small arrows on the edges letting you know in which directions the playfield extends from your current position.
The game itself doesn’t try to replicate any specific stages from the bubble-popping series but it does do a decent job of squishing as much of the actual gameplay as possible into LCD form with special items, powered-up bubbles, water bubbles (these pop and unleash a current of water just as they should), and even boss battles every eighth stage! There’s mercifully no bubble-hopping in this version of the game but it does have bubble-floating to help you get around the parts that jumping can’t reach – just charge up a bubble shot until Bub’s inside, and then move around with the d-pad. There’s a grand total of 120 stages to tackle if you’ve got the skill, and if you’re feeling impatient or plain old short on time there’s the option to start from any of the first twenty-three levels if you just want to get stuck right in.
Overall Epoch’s portable Bubble Bobble comes across as a confident and thoughtful conversion of a legendary coin-op that knows exactly which bits to keep and what needs to be changed to make for a successful handheld title, and is arguably better than most of the more recent attempts to revive the franchise on “proper” gaming formats. This unassuming LCD keychain is actually a fun and fair platformer that’s more than worth a look should you happen across one on your travels.
If you’ve enjoyed this post and you’d like to help me buy more wonderful LCD games to write about, you can do so over here - http://www.gofundme.com/zs4xvs