It’s the precursor to the best game of all time! And it’s also… really quite hard. It can only be Chack’n Pop.
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.
Anyone who knows me knows which game I regard as the best of all time. There can be good games. There can be great games, even. But there can only be one “best” game.
That measure is, of course, entirely subjective, but also quite clearly it’s Bubble Bobble.
Of course it is. Obvious in retrospect, right?
(If you’re scratching your head and going “Bubble Bobble?” in a curious tone, then go find a copy, play it and come back later when you’re properly educated. I’ll wait).
If you’re here waiting with me, they’ll be a while. Here’s a quick video to… well, to confuse you, but it’s on topic. Anyone got enough functional Korean to let me know what’s going on?
This will be all that I dream from now on.
Bubble Bobble has long been my all-time favourite game, and it’s one that’s had more than a few sequels, spin-offs and reimagining along the way. Some of them, frankly, haven’t quite lived up to the exceptional quality of that original game.
Why yes, I am looking at you, Bubble Bobble 4 Friends.
Bubble Bobble emerged in arcades in 1986, just about perfect. But if you’d been in Japanese arcades in 1984, you might have found some of the enemies in Bubble Bobble… slightly familiar, shall we say. No, I’m not just talking about the rather obvious and tricky to dodge Space Invaders in later levels, but instead the other enemies, like the Monstas that float around like the whales they so clearly are.
Death comes to us all. To Chack’n, it comes fast, hard and frequently.
Because, as it turns out, some of Bubble Bobble’s enemies had prior lives in an earlier Taito hit, Chack’n Pop.
Chack’n is the hero of Chack’n Pop, and while for a long time it was figured to just be a spiritual predecessor to Bubble Bobble, this year’s Puzzle Bobble Everybubble makes it rather more explicit that they’re absolutely part of the Bubble Bobble universe.
One of the reasons that I adore Bubble Bobble is that it’s a game that gets its difficulty curve right from the get-go. Novice players will be able to grasp its concepts and get through a few levels without too much difficulty, at which point it’s got its hooks into you and you just want to have one more go… nearly endlessly, I find.
Chack’n Pop… yeah, it thinks differently to that, because it’s rock-solid-hard from the get-go.
If you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s entirely conceivable that you’ll lose your first life within the first few seconds, simply because you pressed a button, a bomb came out, and it blew you up. Anyone who wants to claim they can come into Chack’n Pop with no prior knowledge and clear even the first stage first time out is a stone cold liar, basically.
It’s a classic design of its era, really, because arcade games didn’t care all that much in the early days about coddling the player. They’d rather just have your coins if that’s all the same to you. Chack’n’s task (and believe me, it’s hard work typing Chack’n so often when autocorrect ALWAYS presumes I want to write Chicken) is a yellow chap with extensible legs who can walk on the single screen level floors and ceilings to a specific height, but no higher.
Chack’n is basically a cute terrorist spider.
You can throw bombs to the left or right and have to free hearts that will destroy blocks that let you get to the top of the level, where a Mighta (another Bubble Bobble enemy debuting here) pushes an egg along. Get there before the Mighta finishes pushing the egg off a ledge, and you win the level and some points. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Why does Chack’n have to do this? Stuffed if I know, there might be a plot to this game but the copy I have was a loose Japanese cart. Realistically it matters naught, because there’s little enough time to worry about the why, and instead concentrate on not getting killed.
Big bonus points for killing nobody.
Well… nobody except Chack’n.
The game is quite keen on killing Chack’n.
Killed a whole lot, because this is a challenging game for sure. I’m decent at Bubble Bobble — you’d hope so after so many years — but I’m generally tapped out by about level 3 of Chack’n Pop.
So is it worth playing if you’re not a bit of a Bubble Bobble tragic like I am?
Yeah, I think it is, but you do have to respect the limitations of tech at the time in terms of gameplay, as well as its rock-hard nature. I could very much see more than a few bouncing off it fast just due to the difficulty curve, and I wouldn’t 100% blame them. Chack’n Pop is an interesting view into what would come — but Bubble Bobble is so much better.
How to play Chack’n Pop (Famicom) today
Like so many of Taito’s titles, there’s been quite a few compilations and rereleases of Chack’n Pop over the years, as well as arcade-perfect conversions that you can get pretty easily on the PS4 and Switch.
There’s even a version on the Taito Egret II Mini, though I don’t own one of those… yet. I mean, that thing plays Bubble Bobble, so I’m basically obliged to, right? But I digress.
My copy came from a branch of Surugaya in, if memory serves, Osaka for around 600 yen.
Update: Oh, how fickle my decaying memory can be! I actually wrote about this very cart for Kotaku Australia a couple of years back, when I’d only just acquired it, and I paid 200 yen for it, not 600 yen. Also in random discoveries; I’m also listed on Chack’n Pop’s Wikipedia Page (and no, I did not vanity edit myself in there) for that Kotaku article.
My copy is cart only, not fancy, but it gets the job done, as long as you define the job as “killing me rather quickly most of the time”.
The good news if you were keen is that it’s still very much that kind of cheap cartridge. Not including postage, I could pretty easily scare up copies of Chack’n Pop going for around $10 AUD on eBay.
If you’re the completist type who wants it boxed, that’ll set you back a few more notes; most sellers appear to be asking around $100AUD for a full boxed copy, though I couldn’t see a lot of evidence for them selling at those rates.
If you’re after a boxed, graded and slabbed copy…. bwahahahahahahahhahah. Go away.