Retro Game Of The Week: Bubble Bobble (Sega Master System)

Bubble Bobble Master System

This week’s game… well, it’s only the best 8-bit version of the BEST GAME OF ALL TIME. Naturally, it’s Bubble Bobble for the Sega Master System.

In Retro Game Of The Week I pull a game from my collection and write about why it’s important or interesting. Or in some cases, badly dated and rubbish. But in this case, THE BEST GAME OF ALL TIME.

When I made Ultima IV for the Sega Master System my retro game of the week, I noted that the very different port of Lord British’ epic RPG to Sega’s 8-bit powerhouse was the equal best game on the system, stating that the reveal of the other equal best title would have to wait for another day.

Bubble Bobble Master System

The other title was and is a game I truly, deeply love. 

I strongly suspect that folks who know me well were fully aware of which game I was talking about straight away, but just in case there was any doubt, it’s this one: Bubble Bobble for the Sega Master System, or Final Bubble Bobble if you had the Japanese version.

Bubble Bobble Master System

The Japanese version of Bubble Bobble came out a few years earlier than the Western release, as was the style at the time. True story: My jaw dropped when I randomly saw it in K-Mart in, I think, 1991. It was, of course, an instant buy.

I will mince no words here: I regard Bubble Bobble as the best video game of all time, hands down; a perfect mix of visuals, sound and just enough gameplay hooks to stop it becoming stale over time.

So it should be no surprise that I hold the Master System version in high regard… but then, it’s not as though this is a shrinking violet of a game that never saw release anywhere else.

Bubble Bobble Master System

Technically I should be outraged, because Bub has just KILLED ALL THE WHALES.

Bubble Bobble was ported to everything; from where I’m sitting writing this I could reach out and grab versions for the NES, GameBoy, PlayStation, Saturn, Xbox, Switch, several standalone machines that can play Bubble Bobble… and I’m missing about 100 versions or so there!

Like, for example, the South Korean phone version, though I will almost certainly never “own” a copy of that one. Pity, the advertising is quite something:

What makes Bubble Bobble for the Sega Master system so very good is that while it isn’t quite “arcade perfect” — because the SMS hardware could never quite manage that — it’s so very close and so very much better than the other 8-bit versions — and again, it’s not even close.

It’s my go-to game whenever I get annoyed with the Internet’s oft-repeated assertion that the NES was the king of the hill in the 8-bit console space; while that was true in the US and Japan without doubt, it wasn’t the case here (or more famously in Brazil), and the NES version of Bubble Bobble is really a pale flickery imitation of what the Master System manages with Taito’s epic arcade title.

Bubble Bobble Master System

Why does the sparkly thing freeze all the whales? Best not to ask, just to bask in the 10,000 points you’ll get for collecting each of them.

Just in case you’ve never played it before (wow, you’re in for a treat), Bubble Bobble is something-of-a-sequel (in that it uses a lot of the same enemy character designs) to Chack N’ Pop, which has already had a retro run here.

You play as Bubble Dragons Bub (and/or Bob in two player), tasked with saving their girlfriends from the evil meanies who have stolen them away in the cave of monsters.

Bubble Bobble Master System

You want plot? Here you go, that’s all of it, GOOD LUCK! (Pedantic point: This is the way the arcade game and the Master System version shows it. The NES version? Black background. Pitiful, really…)

Your primary weapon here is bubbles that you can blow to trap enemies.

Bubble Bobble Master System

Not a complex game in control terms — two buttons is all you need. But there’s a lot of hidden depth.

Trapped enemies can be burst by jumping on them or running their bubbles into some walls in groups or against the spikes on your back. Blow, burst, repeat, but of course there’s quite a bit more than that.

Bubble Bobble Master System

What’s behind the secret door? It’s a blue door, so it won’t be Shakin’ Stevens…

Bubble Bobble is chock full of secrets, from the very obvious — burst all the enemies in a bubble group together to get a whole lot more points — to the more obscure, like the way that the score counter affects which items appear, the way to get secret rooms to appear, and the fact that most players even if they do finish the game’s 100 basic levels will get the “bad” ending… without ever actually realising why.

Bubble Bobble Master System

Secret unexplained glowing orb. I’d best grab it. What’s the worst that could happen?

As a game it’s an utter joy to play in nearly every iteration, but the Master System has a special place in my heart because it really is the best version of Bubble Bobble for its generation, even with a little sprite flicker in play.

Bubble Bobble Master System

Collect a flask, and all the enemies disappear, and you suddenly have 30 seconds to collect all the flowers (or other collectibles). Why does the game do this? SHUT UP AND JUMP, THERE’S NO TIME FOR INTROSPECTION!

The secrets are there, you don’t have to line up your 20c pieces on the arcade cabinet to be next (kids, ask your parents, or… sigh… your grandparents now, I suppose) and I even find myself reverting to the arcade habits of blowing bubbles against the walls at the end of every level out of pure reflex. Why? 10 points per bubble, that’s why, even though I have unlimited continues to play the game.

Bubble Bobble Master System

Unlimited continues and a high score table that doesn’t survive the power going off… and still I chase high scores on this game. It’s just that good.

To give you an idea of how highly I regard this game, the reason it’s this week’s retro game of the week is that earlier in the week, my brother (yeah, that one, we’re not the same person) came around for lunch, and after lunch, we decided to play a game.

You might have gathered by now that I’m not exactly short on choices here, but we gravitated (as we so often do) to a two player game of Bubble Bobble on the Sega Master System, spending time playing, laughing and stealing each other’s power-ups, though he’s curiously averse to picking up the excellent shoe that makes you run faster.

How else am I meant to steal all the high scoring fruit?

Bubble Bobble Master System

Did we spend several hours playing Bubble Bobble?
Did we (badly) sing Rihanna’s “Umbrella” every time the umbrella powerup appeared?
Also Yes.
Ella… Ella… Ella…


How to play Bubble Bobble (Sega Master System) now

Bubble Bobble Master System Cart

That’s one of two cart-only copies I own of Bubble Bobble — the other was previously owned by an ex-GameSpot Australia editor and has weird painted junk on it.

Way back in the day I had a full boxed copy that was sold when I sold my Master System collection (some regrets!), and I’ve never quite got around to getting a “proper” full boxed copy.

That’s… for a reason, because Bubble Bobble for the Sega Master system is one of the more desirable titles for the system, partly because it’s BLOODY EXCELLENT (you might have gathered that by now), but also because it only saw limited release in European and Japanese territories.

Not that the Master System was much more than a blip in the USA, sales-wise, but still, it means it’s less common. Combine that it with it being excellent and its age, and you’ve got a recipe for a slightly more expensive retro title.

Copies on eBay go for upwards of $80, often more towards the $140-$180 mark depending on the quality of the copy in question. It’s an excellent game, and I love it so very much, but the more sensible sides of my brain stop me from shelling out $180 just so I can have a plastic box and a manual.

At least, they do… for now.

However, as noted, Bubble Bobble is available for EVERYTHING, so I’m going to share the love and provide a few extra (affiliate, something’s got to keep the lights on around here) links here for ways you can legitimately play Bubble Bobble today:

Bubble Bobble 4 Friends (Switch): The new game is kinda rubbish, honestly (I reviewed it here) but this has the full arcade game in it as well, so get it for that.

Taito Egret II Mini: Lovely machine, albeit kinda pricey, but you do get Bubble Bobble… oh, and other games are there too. But… BUBBLE BOBBLE!

Bubble Bobble Pocket Player: I don’t actually own this one — if anyone’s feeling generous and wants to buy me one, I’ll review it. I mean, I’d have to play Bubble Bobble, so clearly I’d be suffering for the art…

MyArcade Bubble Bobble: This one I do have, and it’s cute and fun for smaller blasts — though it is running the jankier Famicom/NES version of the game.

Taito Super Pocket: A pretty good way to play Bubble Bobble (yes, I’ve got one, I believe I did mention I had more than a few ways to play this), with other games as well and Evercade support too.

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