While consoles were the dominant forms of at-home gaming in Japan, proprietary personal computers were also quite popular amongst the more tech-inclined and older players (in other words, people who could afford them). Before Windows and MacOS became the standard systems most folks across the globe used, Japan had a whole mess of fragmented PC platforms from manufacturers like Sharp, Fujitsu, and NEC. I’m not going to pretend like I’m an expert on old Japanese PCs – it’s an area of gaming I’m still actively learning about and researching, but when I find interesting things about the systems and the games they played host to, I definitely want to share.
One such thing involves the port of Bubble Bobble for the Sharp X68000, a platform that played host to both a lot of amazing arcade ports and original titles. Bubble Bobble is an example of the former, a practically arcade perfect transplant which had creator Fukio “MTJ” Mitsuji himself aiding in the port.
The porting team at DEMPA didn’t stop there, however. With MTJ’s aid, they added a hidden “expert mode” with 20 brand-new levels… and a facelift connected to one of MTJ’s other titles.
Thus, Syvalion and Bubble Bobble had a beautiful crossover baby, and they named it…
From the get-go, it’s clear that a great amount of effort went into Sybubblun: Besides the bubble dragons getting re-skinned as adorable SD variants of the Syvalion, all of the enemies have been redrawn as utterly precious adorbsifications of Syvalion bosses. Even the Skel has been replaced with a distressingly cute version of Syvalion’s pursuing robot head.
With the redraws comes some variations in how the enemies act – while most foes’ behavior is based on preexisting Bubble Bobble enemies, there’s usually some new element added to the mix, such as an added ability to shoot projectiles that cause the same stun reaction as a thunder bubble on hit. The items, too, have seen a facelift, being redrawn to look like the health, score multiplier, and power-up bonuses from Syvalion. Even the game’s music is redone, being given a bit of a kick to match the style of tempo and instrumentation Yack demonstrated in his Syvalion compositions.
Also of note is the difficulty. Make no mistake: Sybubblun is hard. The very first stage requires you to put your bubble manipulation skills to the test, as you try to arrange mostly unmoving bubbles in a way to reach stationary enemies that frequently fire non-lethal but movement-hindering lightning blasts at you. Later stages pull dick moves like giving you the “Hurry Up!” warning from the very start while placing enemies in very difficult-to-reach locations. If you’re not intimately familiar with advanced elements of Bubble Bobble’s gameplay, Sybubblun will be nigh impossible to complete.
But seeing as how a lot of us have played the everloving hell out of Bubble Bobble and would love to have a go at some fiercely challenging stages, how do we go about accessing Sybubblun? Well, for most folks outside of Japan, emulation is the way to go, though the method for actually enabling the game (holding down the X68000 Opt.1 key while typing SYBUBBLUN on the title screen, then switching to it in the config menu) didn’t seem to want to kick on on the emulator I use (WinX68k HighSpeed). The lovely Kimimi came to the rescue, however, and managed to find a method to enable it off the bat. I’ve gone and made a savestate you all can use to enable it easily, but I wouldn’t have this without her help, so go give her your thanks! (It’s still up to you to find the ROM, though.)
If you don’t want to futz with emulation and just want to see the game in action, here’s a Nico Nico Douga video showcasing a full playthrough.
Now I should probably see about giving the X68000 version of Syvalion itself a try, shouldn’t I?