Last time we saw the Bubble Bobble series here, we had my personal favourite follow-up to the original, Bubble Symphony.

As a super-quick reminder, Bubble Symphony works so well as a sequel because it takes the original Bubble Bobble, puts in new ideas that make sense for the series (powered-up bubbles and different character attributes, multiple routes, more boss battles) and has a huge set of levels available that up the ante from the original game, offering a lot of challenge and secrets that aren't impossible to find but are hidden enough to keep you guessing.

Two years later, Taito followed the game up with Bubble Memories, and a lot of it feels like a step backwards.

Released in early 1996 (despite what the title screen says, the Service Mode confirms it was February 1996), Bubble Memories - The Story of Bubble Bobble III is actually a prequel to the entire series despite its subtitle (the chronology of the Bubble Bobble series is a bit confusing, to the point where this is the second game called The Story of Bubble Bobble III). Bubby and Bobby are turned into bubble dragons for the first time by the Super Dark Great Dragon (no, seriously), who veteran players may remember as the true final boss in Rainbow Islands. To turn back to human form, the boys have to climb the Rainbow Tower (and in Super Mode, the Darkness Tower), grab all seven parts of the Rainbow Potion, and give the Super Dark Great Dragon a proper kicking while they're at it. If we strip it down to the bare basics, this is pretty much Bubble Bobble as you remember it- use your bubble-blowing powers to bubble up the enemy monsters and pop them with your horns, feet or whatever to beat them. Beat all enemies, move on to the next round, and make it all the way to Round 80 where the Super Dark Great Dragon awaits!

Now, seeing as this was a follow-up to Bubble Symphony, you'd imagine it'd use the additions made there as a framework to make something even greater, to make the best Bubble Bobble ever! However, one of the first things you'll notice with Memories is that a lot of Symphony's additions have been completely chucked out. It's almost as if it was made in isolation from the previous game, with none of the lessons learned there carrying over. You only play as Bubblun (1P) or Bobblun (2P) who are identical and can no longer alter their falling speed with Up/Down, there's no multiple paths anymore, and the only super-secret elements are the Rainbow Potion ingredients, which are hidden like the music notes of Symphony but only every 5 rounds (and the game reminds you they're there at all- we'll get back to them). The enemy roster has also been greatly reduced, albeit with a combination of enemies from the previous games and a handful of new ones, and they're introduced more slowly. Some bits do carry over, although it's very little- the boss battles are back, as are the Wind, Rainbow and Music bubbles (with Wind and Music undergoing dramatic changes) and the continue bonus of Candy or Shoes, but that's your lot.

As a result, Memories feels like a big step backwards, resulting in a game that almost feels like an expansion pack to the original Bubble Bobble rather than a sequel. The level designs in particular aren't on the same level as Symphony to me either- the new designs are far plainer, nothing as fresh or interesting as the previous game shows up here (unless you count the repeated levels from previous games that show up), with the biggest offenders being a couple of 'open' levels that have no platforms at all. The lack of multiple routes in particular makes the game feel a bit too samey- Symphony not only gave you multiple paths, but the worlds in those paths felt distinct and different from one another, sometimes having totally new enemy sets. Memories, in contrast, doesn't even have the structured and progressively-tougher enemy introductions like the original, haphazardly throwing in new enemies when it feels like it. On the one hand, this can be seen as a clearing of the decks, bringing Bubble Bobble back to its core ideas without the 'clutter' of Symphony's additions... But those additions fit the template so perfectly that I can't help but see this as a step backwards.

Additionally, the Rainbow Potions are an aggravating addition, as there's no leeway. In Symphony, you had multiple chances per world to get the key, and multiple R-O-D letters throughout the game. In Memories, you have one shot to get each Rainbow Potion ingredient, and if you miss it- say if you complete an EXTEND letter set, can't find it in time, or (on the first level they appear) accidentally use the very-easy-to-hit Water bubbles and kill all the enemies before you can grab the Potion- then your run is null and void, back to the start. Without all the ingredients, the final 10 rounds are locked off! Needless to say, this is far more aggravating and needlessly punishing. I'd sooner play the game with the Original Mode cheat code, which gives you the ingredients whether you find the icon or not! It's a shame, as the musical note hunt of the previous game was a nice spin on things.

So that's what's gone, but there are some new additions. First, there's the giant bubbles- holding the Bubble button down makes a small halo appear behind your dragon's head, and letting go barfs out a giant bubble that can hold multiple enemies, multiple bubbles (and enemies already bubbled!) or one (1) giant enemy. At first, the addition of giant bubbles felt a bit insubstantial, and this is how I felt about them for quite some time. However, their implementation is actually a bit smarter than it seems on first brush, because they alter the scoring system. You may think offering two times the points for enemies trapped in giant bubbles negates the need to trap them individually and let them bunch together, removing one of the complexities of the Bubble Bobble series... But if you bubble enemies in normal bubbles first, then get them all in a giant bubble and pop them, it's worth three times the score. So, it lets you have it both ways- you can get them in one bubble easily for less points, or try and bubble them individually first for more work but more reward. Additionally, giant bubbles can be blown through walls, which opens up a lot of possibilities for the player. In the end, they're a pretty neat addition to the formula- they fit quite well, make things a little easier and increases the pace of the game, and honestly were a factor when scoring the game, as we shall see.

With them comes the bigger problem though, the giant enemies- they don't show up that often, but when they do they're a massive pain in the ass. You have to catch them one-by-one in giant bubbles, but they tend to be clumped together, and the way giant bubbles work with them it's near-impossible to bubble them without popping them immediately (it can be done, but it's so hard to pull off it's really not worth it) so you have to do it up-close. If there's more than one of them on on round, you'll have a really rough time of it. Had they added the giant bubbles without these giant enemies, it'd be fine, but these guys just slow the game down and are far more frustrating to deal with than they should be. The other new addition, by the way- water-filled areas that your bubble dragons can swim in by mashing the Jump button- adds so little to the game and its level designs that they're almost not worth mentioning beyond this single sentence. Perhaps more worthy of a mention is the change to Super Mode, which is still here but now gives you a new set of 80 rounds to conquer (albeit with repeated stages from previous games).

With all that said, if you take another angle on things, there's some parts the game does right. For a start, with the giant bubbles making it easier to bubble enemies even with walls in the way, and the heavily toned-down boss battles (with the exception of Super Dark Great Dragon and Super Dark Great Skel Monsta, who are both serious bullshit), the game is considerably easier to survive in- I can get about twice as far on a single credit in Memories with no practice in comparison to way less than that in Symphony. Much as I love Symphony, it's by far the tougher game of the two, so there's definite value in an updated Bubble Bobble that's less harsh to the players, albeit with sacrifices in other areas as I've said. There's also the graphics, as while the crap-photos-of-animals background style is utterly baffling and actively terrible, this is offset by the great art style of the character sprites. Admittedly, intro animations are no longer in (so no cuteness like Dranko's little staff dance) but the core designs of the characters, especially Bubblun/Bobblun and the core Bubble Bobble enemy set, are the best they've ever been (aside from Drunk, his design was better in Puzzle Bobble 2). The bosses also look great, and get progressively larger and more impressive until Super Dark Great Dragon covers almost the entire screen (and these battles actually have a non-photograph background! Whee!).

So, Bubble Memories is a game I find very difficult to pin down (and made the score to give it one of the hardest to decide in the history of this site). Back in those days when I was emulating every Taito game I could get my hands on as I was discovering a lot of their lesser-known arcade output for the first time, Memories had this air of mystery surrounding it. No home port, after all! After playing Symphony so much, I couldn't wait to try Memories, hoping I'd start to play it obsessively like its predecessor... When I did, I played it once and kinda left it at that, not necessarily hating the experience, but being a little, 'eh'. Back then it was hard to articulate why I felt that way about it, and even today it's really tough. Looking at it one way, you could argue that, like the later Metal Slug sequels (assuming you are being very charitable to 4) more of an established formula is a good thing, so is there a problem with Memories resting on its Bubble Bobble laurels, even if it's missing a lot of garnish from Symphony? There's positive steps it makes as well- the surprisingly clever usage of giant bubbles, the more gentle difficulty that makes it more appealing for two players, and the great character art style are definitely in its favour. Honestly, those first two points are what saved it from a 2-star and bumped it up to a just-barely-there 3-star, but just by a hair.

However, even if I look at it on its own, then the samey-feeling level designs, overly-frustrating secret element required to progress to a half-decent ending, and the addition of annoying giant enemies sour the experience for me. Not by a gigantic degree, but soured all the same, as if it's missed its potential (especially given how neat the giant bubbles themselves are). Go back and look at what Symphony added, and it stings all the more. I can understand a preference to Memories for those positive steps, especially making it more palatable for co-op and the fun addition of the giant bubbles, but ultimately I think Symphony is the better game, a more tightly-constructed sequel between the two, with the giant bubbles being Memories' only real ace in the hole. As a Bubble Bobble game, it does what it's meant to do, and it's not broken like another version of the game I could mention... Going back to something I said about Symphony, I can play that game then go straight back into it immediately, but Memories I kinda have to groan through. Expanding on that a little, having spent far more time with Memories now, it's less a case of Memories being a terrible game exactly, but more like, why am I playing this when I could just play Symphony instead?

So, basically, it's the Metal Slug 5 of the series. Good enough but I'd sooner play the previous games.

[Only on this website would you see Bubble Bobble get compared to Metal Slug and have it make sense.
- Ed]

That's what we're here for, surely!

For basically being an expansion pack, Bubble Memories is awarded...

In a sentence, Bubble Memories is...
Competent, but in the shadow of its predecessor.

And now, it's that time, folks!

There's a few tiny regional differences, but they're even smaller than the ones for Bubble Symphony.

The main one is that several bits of Japanese text have been excised entirely from the World version rather than receiving any kind of translation. Specifically, huge Contra-style text that slowly scrolls across the screen during the Attract Mode is simply missing from the World version, and so are two little bits of text that accompany the monsters that scroll up the screen every 5th round, reminding you to find the Rainbow Potion ingredient in the stage. Obviously, all of the tutorial text that appears in the Practice Game is presented in Japanese too, but there's still some English in the game (like the Treasure Rooms, the story intro text, etc.) which is English in both the World and Japanese versions.

Oh, and the Game Select screen has both English and Japanese in the Japanese version, so the buttons were redone for the World release.

Just a cute little extra- several point items are based on other Taito games!

A few rounds in every Bubble Bobble game automatically drop point items from empty bubbles once the round's over without the normal requirement of matching the tens and hundreds digits in your score. In Bubble Memories, Rounds 51 to 59 in Normal Mode (which almost all have stages that include names/aliases of the development team- neat!) and scattered rounds in Super Mode will spawn a Taito sprite point item upon clearing the round- in a neat touch, there's 'giant' versions of them too that come from big bubbles. They're presented in the little gallery below:

Round 51 / Super 1 - Bubblun (Bubble Bobble)

Round 52 / Super 15- Crab (Space Invaders)

Round 53 / Super 55 - Tiki (The Newzealand Story)

Round 54 - Silver Hawk (Darius)

Round 55 - Hipopo (Liquid Kids / Mizubaku Daibouken)

Round 56 / Super 65- Enemy (Elevator Action)

Round 57 - Ptolemy (The Fairyland Story)

Round 58 / Super 75 - Hero (Ben Bero Beh)

Round 59 - Sayo (Kiki Kaikai)

Additionally, Super Mode's Round 35 has one cameo item not seen in Normal Mode (as far as we know)- Chack'n (Chack'n Pop).

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

Bad Ending 1 - Beat Normal or Super Mode without collecting any of the Rainbow Potion ingredients
After beating the Swimming Queen Monsta in Round 70, a question mark will appear above Bubblun and Bobblun's heads. They make their way to the bottom of the tower where we're quickly told the whole village has turned into bubble dragons (in Normal Mode, without the artwork from the Normal Ending) or that they weren't able to return to human form (Super Mode).

Bad Ending 2 - Beat Normal or Super Mode and collect at least one but not all of the Rainbow Potion ingredients
After beating the Swimming Queen Monsta in Round 70, Bubblun and Bobblun drink whatever they have of the potion, but it turns them into monsters (Drunks in Normal Mode, Spectres in Super Mode) They make their way to the bottom of the tower where they leave (you can see the rest of the village as bubble dragons, but no artwork like the Normal Ending).

Normal Ending - Beat Normal Mode and collect all of the Rainbow Potion ingredients
After the Super Dark Great Dragon is defeated in Round 80, his head pops off and he steals the Rainbow Potion before Bubblun and Bobblun can use it. He then moves over to the Darkness Tower, challenging the pair to reach him. The boys take their parasols down to the bottom of the Rainbow Tower... But are horrified to see their entire village has been turned into bubble dragons! They must now go to the Darkness Tower to get the cure back.

True Ending - Beat Super Mode and collect all of the Rainbow Potion ingredients
After the Super Dark Great Skel Monsta is defeated in Round 80, he explodes and the ingredients fuse together to form the Rainbow Potion, which turns Bubblun and Bobblun back into their human forms. The effects of the Rainbow Potion then spread across the land, and Bubby and Bobby take their parasols down to the bottom of the Darkness Tower, where the rest of the village is there to greet them, now back in their human forms. The game then cuts to a sepia-tone shot of the Rainbow Islands, saying 'History repeats itself...' (although speculated to be referring to another ending, it's probably just a reminder that this is a prequel, and when history repeats itself, it's referring to the events of the original Bubble Bobble).

And hey, let's go for some cheat codes too, why not, courtesy of arcade-history- enter these on the title screen.

Super Mode
Left, Start, Fire, Jump, Up, Down, Start, Right.
You'll now be able select between Normal Mode and Super Mode after selecting Story Game.
Power Up Mode
Up, Right, Down, Left, Up, Right, Down, Left,
You'll now have permanent Shoes, Yellow Candy (fast-firing bubbles) and Blue Candy (fast-moving bubbles).
Original Mode
Start, Left, Fire, Jump, Fire, Jump, Fire, Jump.
You'll now always get the Treasure Room doors in Rounds 7, 37 and 67 to appear, even if you die on the way there.
Additionally, you'll also always get each ingredient of the Rainbow Potion to appear, whether you grab its icon or not!

Home ports of Bubble Memories? Pfft, nah. You're almost out of luck there.

Unlike Bubble Symphony, which got at least one contemporary home port (the Saturn, of course), Bubble Memories wasn't so lucky. At a rough estimate, a little under half of the games Taito released for the F3 system made it to contemporary home consoles (mostly the Saturn) but Memories wasn't among them. Instead, it took until 2007 for a home port, as it was included in Taito Memories II Joukan for the PS2 (that's the one with the green cover). One of the four volumes of the Japanese equivalent of the Western Taito Legends packs, it's a straight emulation of the game, albeit with 'canned' music rather than the F3 sound being directly emulated. This has one odd side-effect- whenever the Hurry Up music plays (except in the Treasure Rooms), the music will increase in pitch as well as get faster whereas in the original game the song gets faster but doesn't change pitch. On the other hand, some of the fade in / out effects (such as when the screen dims in Practice Mode and the screen fading out if you skip the intro) are correctly emulated here, which is not the case in MAME at the time of writing.

After that, 2022 was the next time Bubble Memories would make it home as part of the 40 games included as standard on the Taito Egret II Mini, a plug-and-play miniaturised arcade cabinet stuffed to the gills with Taito love. Much like Taito Memories, there are some fade in / out effects properly implemented here that still aren't done in MAME, but in addition the sound is properly emulated so the Hurry Up music doesn't incorrectly increase in pitch. While a significantly more-expensive route than Taito Memories, plus you'll want to be sure you're using the right power supply to mitigate input lag, this is easily the best way to play Bubble Memories at home legally plus you get the added bonus of a lot of other Taito games you should be playing, right now, as I type this.

You would've thought Taito would forget about Bubble Memories, but apparently not.

We'll start with the weird one, Puzzle Bobble 2. Looking at the dates, it's clear that Puzzle Bobble 2 was released first, and its art-style for Bubblun, Bobblun, Monsta and Maita formed the basis for the one used in Memories... But then there's Gligan. This is the rock monster with crystal shards in his head. the second boss of Memories. A very similar-looking enemy appears in the Vs. COM mode of Puzzle Bobble 2, apparently called Kligan, with the crystal shards replaced with, er, some skyscrapers. You would've thought the one that appeared in Memories would've been the first, but apparently not. Just a bit of an oddity, that. Weirder still, Kligan would reappear in Pop n' Pop too, rather than Gligan.

Beyond Kligan, Pop n' Pop- one of Taito's last puzzle games for the F3 system, and one of their best, when it was expanded upon and ported to the Playstation- includes a few direct nods to Memories. Specifically, the final boss is the Super Dark Great Dragon as he appears in Memories, and also retains his Super Dark Great Skel Monsta form after his first defeat- they even use similar attacks. Also, the Rainbow Tower appears as a background object on the Story Mode map in the Playstation port.

And finally... A bit of a lie.

If you make it to Round 37 without dying, a door will appear to send you to a Treasure Room, in the Bubble bobble tradition. However, the message is presented in plain English as opposed to the Bubble Bobble language, and seems to tell you that if you continue, you won't 'complete' the Rainbow Potion and therefore not get the better ending. Except, of course, that's actually a lie- whether you continue or not, the Potion will be fine to get you through to the final 10 stages and get the proper ending.

... Except there is a small remnant of this original behaviour in-game! If you continue at any point, the enemies that taunt you every 5 stages with the Rainbow Potion ingredient will actually swap the ingredient out for diamonds, implying that they've swapped the Rainbow Potion icon out too and you can't get it anymore. However, finding the icon for the ingredient still gets it for you at the end of the stage. How very odd! Perhaps Taito changed their mind on this- which is a good thing because wow, that'd be incredibly mean, even by Taito standards- at the last minute, so while some of the elements are in place in the final game for this 'you continue, you can't do squat' plan, it doesn't affect anything.

So, are there any other Bubble Bobble games we wanna cover?

... Nah, I think we might be good.

Wait, no! We should cover... Er... Bubble Bobble Junior? Bubble Bobble Evolution? Packy's Treasure Slot?