A long forgotten 90s coin-op gets a surprise makeover with new graphics and new levels, as the best Bubble Bobble game never made returns.
Bubble Bobble, and its complicated family tree of sequels and spin-offs, has always been a GameCentral favourite, but while developer Taito were masters of the deceptively deep arcade actioner there are other games that have worked almost as well. Contemporaries like Dig Dug and Bomberman had a similar energy and so too do more modern indie equivalents like Super Crate Box and TowerFall. However, if Bubble Bobble has a true arch-rival then it is Snow Bros.
Originally released in arcades in 1990, Snow Bros. received less home conversions than most Taito games and if you’re reading this and thinking that you’ve never heard of it before then that’s perfectly understandable. A lot of that has to do with creator Toaplan being one of the smaller arcade makers and best known for 2D shooters such as Tiger-Heli and Truxton, so they never had much leverage on the 8- and 16-bit formats of the time.
Toaplan went bust in the mid-90s but many of their staff went on to work at studios like Eighting, Cave, and Gazelle, that still specialise in such games. We don’t think CRT Games, who worked on this Snow Bros. revival, are another spiritual successor, as they’re based in South Korea, but they’ve done a great job of updating the visuals while retaining the old school, classic gameplay.
The story here is, of course, irrelevant but for the record two princes (the unprincely sounding Nick and Tom) are turned into snowmen and have to rescue their sisters from evil lava demons that have invaded the kingdom. The problem with reviewing Snow Bros. is not the narrative simplicity but that it’s impossible to talk about the game without also mentioning Bubble Bobble. It’s also equally hard not to keep saying some variation of ‘it’s like Bubble Bobble but not quite as good’.
Since Bubble Bobble is one of the best co-op games of all time that’s a compliment, not a criticism, but we realise it’s not going to sound like that. But anyway, Nick and Tom’s snowman forms are very reminiscent of Bub and Bob being turned into bubble-blowing dragons… except not quite as good (read: cute).
As you might imagine, instead of bubbles, Nick and Tom are able to throw snowballs. They do so in single screen platform levels that are highly reminiscent of Bubble Bobble, including cartoonish but deadly-to-the-touch bad guys. Throw a few snowballs at them though and you can stop them in their tracks, until they or a comrade shake them free. Keep pelting them until they’re a full snowball and they can then be thrown or rolled until they smash against a wall and die.
A rolling snowball will also take out other enemies as it goes, and push other snowballs, so you can cause an enormous amount of onscreen carnage with just a single nudge. Even more so if you’ve got a second player helping out, which is made easy by the game being playable on a single Joy-Con – although predictably there’s no online options beyond a scoreboard.
If that all sounds very Bobble Bubble-esque then you see what we mean, even if, inevitably, the weapon system isn’t quite as nuanced. It almost is though, with the only missed trick being there’s not really an equivalent of using bubbles as impromptu platforms. You can get in the snowball yourself, to travel with it, which is sometimes used to access otherwise unreachable platforms, but the enemies are so mobile this is rarely necessary.
The more enemies you get at once the more bonuses you receive, in the form of lots of worryingly delicious looking foodstuffs. Once again, that’s just like Bubble Bobble, although what isn’t is the relative paucity of power-ups. There are three coloured potions but two are just minor upgrades to your speed and the distance snowballs travels and it’s only the green one, that lets you inflate to giant size and knock enemies out manually, that does anything different.
There are a lot of hidden secrets but nothing as convoluted as Bubble Bobble and Rainbow Islands. However, the one thing that Snow Bros. does better than either game is its boss battles, which are surprisingly varied and require subtly different skills and planning, such as an octopus monster that throws out mines you have to snowball up and then throw back at it.
One of the great problems with retro games is finding out something you used to love as a child is not nearly as good as you remember it. That’s a danger with any media, but since video games tend to age very quickly it can be a much more frequent problem. Top end 2D games are more resistant than most to the ravages of time, although some fans will no doubt be unhappy that Snow Bros. updates all the sprites for a more detailed, modern look.
We feel the developers have done a good job though, one that’s much more in keeping with the original style than many other similar attempts. Why there’s not just an option to swap to the original sprites we don’t know though. An option to simply play the original arcade game would’ve done just as well but unfortunately it’s not included.
Snow Bros. is a great little game but now, as in the 90s, it cannot escape from the shadow of Bubble Bobble, even though it’s better than several of Taito’s own attempts to replicate the formula (most of which are in the Egret II mini-console we reviewed recently).
The biggest problem with this remake is that, at £18, if you don’t have any nostalgia for the original it is very expensive, especially given the lack of online play. It’s also rather galling that there’s an £9 slice of DLC which lets you play as the monsters and is included as standard with the physical version. The normal version has time attack and survival modes but that’s it. So apart from remixed music the only additional effort is 30 new levels, which is welcome but still struggles to justify the price.
It’s a shame for such an underappreciated game to have its comeback ruined purely because of its price but there is no way we can recommend this to someone that isn’t either familiar with the original or has a long-standing interest in classic arcade games. Well, maybe not classic, exactly, but almost. Rather than being second best, the real failure of Snow Bros. is simply that so few know about it, and thanks to this overly expensive remake that’s going to continue to be the case.
Snow Bros. Nick & Tom Special review summary
In Short: The arcade original is a little known gem but while this remake is a competent effort it’s too expensive, and has too few new features, to recommend to non-fans.
Pros: The original gameplay is still a lot of fun, especially in co-op, with a clever weapons system and well-designed bosses. The new visuals can be a bit grotesque but they’re a logical upgrade.
Cons: Too expensive, especially for anyone that hasn’t played it before. No online options and the original arcade game isn’t included. Extra DLC is a cheek.
Formats: Nintendo Switch
Publisher: Clear River Games/Daewon Media
Developer: CRT Games and Toaplan
Release Date: 19th May 2022
Age Rating: 7
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