It would seem that Bub and Bob just can't catch a break. Last year's Bubble Bobble Revolution for the DS was a disastrous attempt to update the franchise, despite the fact that it included a functional version of the much-loved original Bubble Bobble. Now there's Bubble Bobble Evolution for the PlayStation Portable, which clumsily shifts the focus of the gameplay to be more puzzle oriented. Yeah, there's still a pair of cute, bubble-bustin' dinosaurs to mess around with, but the graphics are cold and lifeless, the music is crushingly monotonous, and the gameplay itself is simply tedious. It may not be out-and-out busted, but it's still no fun.
For some completely and totally inexplicable reason, Bubble Bobble Evolution is set in 18th-century London, where two young boys named Bub and Bob are inexplicably turned into dragons (or, more accurately, young boys in dragon costumes), separated, and then each placed on the ground floor of two mazelike towers. To escape, they'll have to work their way to the top of their respective towers, and though you'll control both Bub and Bob, since they've been isolated from each other, you'll have to hop back and forth between the two towers as they make their ascent.
Classic Bubble Bobble rules dictate that to advance from one level to another, all you really need to concern yourself with is capturing enemies in bubbles that you spit out, and then eliminating the enemies by popping those bubbles. Once all the enemies in a level have been eliminated, you move on to the next level. Bubble Bobble Evolution has the dinosaurs and the bubbles, but it pretty much disregards everything else that has defined previous Bubble Bobble games. You can still trap enemies in bubbles, but the bubbles have become much sturdier, which is important for other reasons, but makes dispatching enemies a much slower, more tedious process. Save for the occasional boss battle, the enemies in Bubble Bobble Evolution are more of an obstacle than your main concern. Rather, you'll spend most of your time trying to solve switch-based puzzles in order to open an elevator door that advances you to the next floor. You'll capture elements like fire and electricity in bubbles, and then transport them to other parts of the floor in order to break down obstacles.
Though their towers seem to be mostly independent of each other, you'll occasionally have to hop back and forth between controlling Bub and Bob to advance. The other big twist in Bubble Bobble Evolution is the way it plays around with 3D in some obtuse ways. Though the game actually plays from a traditional, 2D perspective, each floor is circular, and is split up like a pie into three wedges. There are doors and vents that you can use to travel and transport bubbles from one section of a floor to another, which becomes a key gameplay element early on. The environmental conditions can change radically from one section to the next, and it's common to have to capture an item in a bubble, take it to another section where the environmental conditions will change the item's state, then move the item over to the third section in order to use it. Figuring out what you need to do is often just a process of trial and error, as the environmental conditions are noted mostly by a set of tiny, indistinct bubble icons that sit in the corner of the screen.
None of these concepts speak to the simple joy that previously defined Bubble Bobble, and only serve to turn the easy delight of bobbling bubbles into an arduous task. The basic controls feel mushy, and the floors often have overly confined designs that make simply getting around a chore. Along with life-sucking enemies, you'll have to contend with poorly marked wind currents as you try to shepherd specific bubbles around the level. And, while the bubbles may be sturdier, it's still not difficult to accidentally pop the bubbles you're trying to preserve, leaving you to make your way back around and start the floor over again. There's more, such as special letter bubbles and robot parts to collect, but none of them add up to anything that makes this process fun.
On top of indistinct and needlessly complicated gameplay, Bubble Bobble Evolution is kind of an ugly game to boot. While Bub, Bob, and the various enemies you'll encounter are all vaguely reminiscent of their classic 8-bit counterparts, they all appear tiny and muddy, with little in the way of detail or personality. The backgrounds look washed out, but are often busy enough that they obscure the actual platforms that you need to jump on in order to make your way around each floor. The game's music is far worse, though; it rarely deviates from a nauseating loop of numbingly generic-sounding, synthesized carnival music.
There's nothing inherently wrong with an aged franchise going in a new direction, but Bubble Bobble Evolution just goes about it all wrong. Not only does it completely miss the mark on the classically cheery presentation, but the new gameplay concepts are half-baked and make for a dreary experience. Those who still have fond memories of the Bubble Bobble of yore should avoid this or risk ruining those memories, while those without any previous Bubble Bobble exposure should skip it because it's just no good.