There is a story behind the Commodore 64 conversion of Bubbler, but to condense it into just a few sentences: the game was being converted in 1987 by an intermediary company for Ultimate, called Lynsoft, but was canned before release because it wasn’t fast enough.
The original programmer, Matt Young, kept the source code and game elements on floppy disks and these were found and converted by a small team of people in 2008. While the majority of the game was written and completed there wasn’t a version of the conversion with all the disparate parts compiled together and all the bugs fixed, so this was undertaken by Matt Young (the original programmer), David Simmonds, and ‘Triad‘, who were able to produce a final, playable version and release it in 2009. In fact, they released two versions of the game, the ‘original’ and an ‘enhanced’ version. The “enhanced” version, though, is really the same as the original, but with cheat keys available during play. If you want to know how to play Bubbler, read my Spectrum, Amstrad or MSX reviews.
The first thing that’s noticeable about this C64 conversion of Bubbler is how slow it is, compared to the officially-released versions of the game. It runs at approximately 10 FPS (if that), which is mostly due to the way the C64 handles on-screen graphics. If the programmers had redesigned the graphics to utilise the C64‘s built-in hardware sprites and graphics modes, then it would probably have been quicker, but apparently the people at Lynsoft wanted the programmer to make a like-for-like conversion of the Spectrum version, so his hands were tied when it came to choosing the screen modes.
C64 Bubbler also has a different control system to the Spectrum original; so rather than pressing up to move forward and left and right to rotate, you push the joystick in the direction you want to move to continually move in that direction. Anyone who has played the original extensively (as I’ve just done) might struggle a little to get their head around this change, but it is what it is and it works okay when you get used to it.
While the slow speed of C64 Bubbler is a little frustrating, in a funny way it does make the game easier to play, because it gives you a bit more time to react to situations. What bothers me more than the slow speed, though, is the change of control system, and the fact that the game doesn’t allow the player to at least toggle between this new method and the original directional controls. It does make the game more difficult to play – especially when trying to move in certain directions.
There also seem to be a few bugs remaining too. On occasion I would die for no reason, and the collision detection between the player character and enemy projectiles seems a bit off. Also: the blob seems to move weirdly at times, like at the start of a level when it seems to move on its own in a different direction to where you’re pushing. The blob also doesn’t seem to want to get close to walls too.
I can’t be too critical of this release, though, because it’s only really a ‘beta’ and hasn’t been speed optimised or fully bug-fixed. We should just be thankful that the game exists today, is playable, and has been archived for people to download. If you want to read the full story about the game and its development, or download and play it, click the link below.
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