Short Subject Saturdays: Böbl (NES Indie Review)

As I said in my review of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Cowabunga Collection, I’d rather have thirty minutes of playtime with a perfect game over hours spent with a great game. Perfection is so much rarer. With that in mind, here’s thirty minutes of a perfect Metroidvania. And it even has replay value beyond speed-running! If the length of games isn’t factored in, Böbl by Morphcat Games is the single most perfect Metroidvania ever made. For the time it lasts, which is roughly the length of an episode of Cobra Kai (can you tell what I had on TV while I played this?), it’s one of the most joyous, creative, downright amazing adventure games I’ve ever played. You take the role of a sentient bubble that’s trying to ascend to the heavens. Literally just a bubble. No face or fantasy personality or anything, yet this bubble has more charm than 99% of all gaming characters.

It’s 2022 and nobody should give a shit about graphics anymore, but let it be said, Böbl looks great!

You don’t expect an aquatic physics adventure on the NES, but that’s exactly what Böbl is. At the start of the game, the bubble can briefly submerge, though it can’t sink very far underwater. This is the key mechanic, and when you let go of the button, you’ll launch upwards and out of the water. You have to work your way through a beautiful ruined palace and discover upgrades that increase your submersion time, or give you other abilities to navigate. There’s no map to help you out, but that’s fine. It’s a very small game, and if you get lost once, it’s unlikely to happen a second time. It also helps that the actual level design and overall map area are simply delightful to explore. There’s no pressure, either. There’s no enemies to kill you, or to be killed. Instead, you die if your bubble touches any surface. The controls feel spot-on for the bubble, and while you will die a lot, the game was extremely generous with checkpoints. Böbl’s not a particularly difficult game, but the latest build of the ROM (ver 1.2) allows you to turn off checkpoints, which would mean every time you die, you have to return to the starting room. What would normally be a maddening mode not for the faint of heart actually works wonderfully here. Yea, you lose progress, but not that much progress.

There’s eight hidden rubber duckies in the game. This is where the replay value comes into play. In my first two play-throughs, I only found three. When I actually played again to seek them out, I got a couple hours out of Böbl. Oh, and the latest build actually can randomize their locations, further extending the play value. Hell, I don’t think any NES homebrew lends itself to speed-running quite like Böbl does. Morphcat seems to agree, because they added a time trial ghost to Ver 1.2.

The only question is, could this be further extended into a larger game? I don’t know. I’m not a particularly creative person and I really can’t imagine what possible gimmicks could be added to lengthen this. Honestly, with the level design seemingly utilizing every form that works within the logic of the physics, I sort of feel like this might not be able to be added onto without completely betraying the concept by doing something like adding enemies. Böbl was made for an NES development competition in 2019, which explains the length. Maybe I’m wrong, but I suspect Morphcat Games squeezed the fullest potential out of this concept. That, or they recognized that they’d actually made the rarest of the rare: a perfect game that there’s literally nothing to criticize, where it’s just euphoric to play, and decided to walk away with their masterpiece. Because that’s what Böbl is. It’s the NES equivalent of Portal. A sequel that builds on this idea and lengthens it might not be as good, but of course it won’t be, because the first game was perfect. Expanding this concept will almost certainly be fun, but it’ll be hard to top the original. Böbl is perfect. One of few games I have zero complaints about. Besides, guys who complain about length might want to look in their pants first and make absolute certain that going off length of all things is the hill they want to die on.

Böbl is Chick-Approved
Leaderboard Ranking: #26 of 303 Ranked Games
Top 96 Percentile of All IGC Reviews
Top 91.5 Percentile of All IGC-Approved Indie Games
*Rankings based on time of publication. Check the Leaderboard for updated standings.

Böbl was developed by Morphcat Games
Point of Sale: Evercade (included in the Morphcat Games Collection 1) or
Choose your Own Price at Itch.io

$19.99 (Evercade) böbbed when I should have wēāved in the making of this review.

About Indie Gamer Chick
Indie game reviews and editorials.

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