Chasing Ghosts: One Quarter at a Time

Bust a stereotype: Puzzle Bobble goes against the 90 arcade grain.

Take a journey back into the mid 90s arcade scene with me.

What was popular? Street Fighter. Mortal Kombat. NBA Jam. Daytona USA.

All fantastic games, mind you, but it’s a far cry from the cutesy characters of the 80s. Pac-Man and Frogger were long gone, either a distant memory or a distant walk to the back end of the arcade. These games were in your face, with announcers screaming “FINISH HIM! BRAZIL! BOOMSHAKALAKA!”

Aside from a few racing and sports games, it seemed like arcade gaming in the 90s was all about violence. Punch a guy in Mortal Kombat. Shoot up an alien in Area 51. Piss on a dinosaur in Primal Rage. Which, for me, made Taito’s Puzzle Bobble stand out even more.

Far from the fighting game madness at the time, Puzzle Bobble (or Bust-a-Move) was simple fun: Try to match three colored balls as the stage slowly  collapses onto you. Featuring characters from the 80s classic Bubble Bobble (a game which required friendship to win), you could often find it housed inside of a Neo-Geo cabinet, sharing space with the likes of Samurai Showdown, King of the Monsters, World Heroes 2, and more.

But as a kid, I wasn’t thinking about this game being different than the blood and guts of other games and what that could say about our nation. No, if I had two tokens and I saw a Neo Geo machine in the building, this was the one I was hoping they had.

I enjoyed Bubble Bobble because it had a truly unique look and sound to it. More than most arcade games, it screamed “I’M FROM JAPAN!” And to a kid who recently discovered anime via late night Cartoon Network showings of Vampire Hunter D, anything from Japan had built-in hip factor to it.

In my mind, Bubble Bobble brought cuteness back to the arcade.

But it’s not just me who appreciates it. It’s the game your parents, or any non-gamer to be precise, could play. For someone who had fond memories of the arcade scene in the 1980s, going into an arcade in the mid 90s had to be somewhat of a letdown. In the 80s, you had a wide variety of arcade games. Spaceships blowing up technicolor aliens. Running through a maze with ghosts. Saving a woman from an ape. Playing a live-action cartoon from Don Bluth. In the 90s? Fighting games, fighting games, and well, more fighting games (you can see the disdain that 80s arcade gamers have for the 90s arcade scene in the documentary Chasing Ghosts, and the fantastic podcast No Quarter cuts off their game reviews before the fighting craze takes over).

It’s probably the same feeling I get when I step foot into a modern arcade, full of dead deer and crappy racing games.  ‘There’s nothing here for me,’ I said to myself exiting an arcade in our local mall a few days ago. It was an “arcade” without a joystick, and only Dance Dance Revolution to hold my attention. I was bummed.

That’s why Bust a Move holds such a dear place in my heart. In a world full of Street Fighter clones, it was different. And cute. And beyond addictive.

When I was building my arcade cabinet, this was one of the games I was itching to play. It’s a great showpiece game for your MAME cab. Most people remember Pac-Man and know what Street Fighter is. Not everyone remembers this, but when you show them the fun characters and the challenging but wonderful gameplay, they get hooked. And you, the arcade lover and pseudo-historian, feel vindicated.

Playing in Mame

Get the Neo Geo bios to play this. No special control setup needed: Just a joystick and a button, which makes it a no brainer if you have a classic cab with only two buttons.

My wife plays Bust a Move

I thought it was a cute name. I like that game.I liked it a lot. It was fun, it was quick.
I just wished it had an option to switch the colored balls.
I would keep playing it. It gives you an alternate experience to your standard arcade game, which I really appreciated.