🧵Bubbas Bubbles

Author
WiL
Size
822.1 KB
Boards
34 / 39
Rating
5.00 / 5.00

Closer Look: Bubba's Bubbles

By: Dr. Dos
Published: Dec. 31, 2021

Oktrollberfest origins bubble their way to the surface of this fowl puzzle game

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Bubbas Bubbles

By: WiL
Published Under: Mean Girls Games
Released: October 10, 2020
Played Using: BUBZZT via Zeta v37
Download | Play Online | View Files

Oktrollberfest

October 2020 was an unexpectedly busy month for the ZZT community. The general lack of commercial incentives in ZZT means that when a game is ready to release, it gets released. There's no "holiday window" or anything of the sort to consider in order to have a successful launch. If anything, the slower output of releases means that the ideal timing for publication on the Museum of ZZT is to do so in a way that keeps your game on the front page spotlight without having to scroll for as long as possible. The timing on this these days is pretty dang arbitrary (except when I make something and have the power to publish and hope I don't look like I'm trying to give myself special treatment). In modern times there are only really two times of year where it's reasonable to expect some clutter. The later of the two is at the end of the year when there's a rush to release various Doodads, compilations of errata released so others can be inspired or learn whatever weird things were tried with ZZT in a given year, or to finish up games just to see how high we can get the total releases for the year. The earlier time of year with some clutter is late October. A period which only got crowded due to the very event that this game was created for: the "Oktrollberfest" game jam.

Ran by WiL, KKairos, and lovelovekitty in its original incarnation, the concept was simple: "Give us your best Trollgame in October". With little elaboration and no real examples to look towards, the competition did quite well! A dozen entries, eight of which were ZZT games. Three were definitively not ZZT games, and one of which was secretly not a ZZT game. Unsurprisingly, its success meant that Oktrollberfest 2021 was inevitable.

How much of that initial success stemmed from "I can watch Dos struggle in a livestream for my amusement" remains unknown, but I feel like it's a good amount.

Today we're taking a look at WiL's "entry", Bubba's Bubbles, a puzzle game disqualified from winning any prizes due to its author being one of the competition's hosts. While I did stream this one at the time, I did not get anywhere near completing it on camera. A combination of lengthy streams of multiple exhausting games and something that required some real thought combined with not wanting to slow down lest the audience gets bored of nothing happening meant that I set the game aside. "Don't worry WiL. I will play your game at a later date."

AND I NEVER DID.

At least not until this year. Rather conveniently as one of WiL's own patron requested Closer Looks. (The first of which was for zzo's The Game of XYZABCDE.) The easiest way to get me to sit down and play something for ZZT is to turn it into work. Hot off the heels of the Oktrollberfest 2021 entries, I was in a similar position of playing an impressive puzzle game in a sea of subverted expectations, keeping me apprehensive, but at least with the luxury of being able to play the game off-camera where I could struggle as much as I wanted in private.

It's a bit early to get to conclusions but: Bubba's Bubbles is a highly impressive puzzle game both within the confines of "ZZT puzzle games" as well as "puzzle games" in general. Despite its creation as an Oktrollberfest entry, I think this game would have worked better on its own merits and that the inherent labeling of it as a "troll" game, does it a disservice.

Mechanics

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So what does one do in Bubba's Bubbles? The player simply has to reach the end of nine (or maybe more) stages. Boards are broken up into bubbles that the player can only enter and exit from set points via transporters. This compartmentalized single screen design might lend you to see the game as something like a rounder version of Flimsy Parkins's Sixteen Easy Pieces. However, while Flimsy opts to stick entirely to object-free design and utilizing ZZT's default elements as the sole puzzle components, WiL takes an engine based approach with common objects appearing from level to level which are get more of the focus.

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The natural challenge of the game comes from figuring out a functional route to reach the exit. The bulk of this involves managing keys and doors in order to get where you need to go. Later stages up the danger a bit with some ZZT creatures, though they're often slowed down as the player has no offensive abilities in this game. Still, one wrong step can get you shot by a lazy spinning gun, bitten by a centipede, or kiss-of-deathed by a bear. On its own, this isn't really all that "bubbly-puzzly" as the title screen describes the game. Get keys but don't get hit is about as traditional as ZZT gameplay gets. Town's prison this ain't though.

The real puzzle aspect comes from the divisions between the bubbles. Bubbles are placed over a square grid with a counter object at each point where two grid lines intersect. Each time you cross one of these boundaries, the counters decrease. When they reach zero the player is locked in the room momentarily and stars flood the space, resulting in the player being warped back to the start of the stage and the counters resetting. Different corners have different starting values on their counters which go all the way up to eleven with "X" for ten and "‼" for 11 in order to represent a 2-digit number with a single object. The true obstacle here is to minimize these crossings or find alternate routes.

Bringing things back to Sixteen Easy Pieces again, you'll find yourself pausing to try and plan your steps while the visual chaos makes it difficult to actually parse things. The bubbles of the game go beyond the spaces the player walks inside. The backgrounds are loaded with circular ASCII characters which let WiL hide things like still bullets, duplicators, doors, and even keys at point. This is a very deliberate choice with WiL gladly taking advantage of the inscrutability to troll the player.

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This could be maddening. Modern ZZT design constantly stresses how atrocious ZZT's default doors are at being distinguished from each other with purple, red, and yellow doors being the worst offenders of all. WiL could have pushed people away from interest in this game by overusing this near-effortless trick, but WiL has been around game creation circles (bubbles?) long enough to know the difference between a friendly ribbing and malice. Bubba's difficultly scales immaculately with the player's own investment in doing well. Health is reset back to 100 between levels so as long as the player isn't outright ignoring the crossing mechanic they should be able to make it to the exit. There's plenty of care here in making sure to avoid soft-locking the game. At this point, this sort of thing is expected in a modern ZZT world, but for a game with a one-month dev cycle, it's a corner that could have easily been cut, opting for a more old-school "SAVE" message between levels to put the onus on the player to not have to start anew.

Where this does slip up a bit is that the health reset isn't communicated, making the first stage feel extra challenging out of a fear that this is going to be a game like (surprise) Sixteen Easy Pieces where resources carry over from level to level.

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Where things get more impressive is when the player tries to do more than the bare minimum of reaching the exit. What makes Bubba's Bubbles go from a game about watching where you to step to truly understanding the layout of each stage is in its exit system. Stages typically have two exits: a yellow normal exit and a white "skill" exit. When a counter hits zero and the player takes damage, all non-normal exits are destroyed. The player is expect to confirm their mastery of a stage by getting through it without being hit. Mostly this means finding an ideal route, though the creatures, guns, and blink walls of later stages also mean being dexterous as well. Some levels share a normal and skillful exit with the passage color being changed when the player takes damage. Getting a skilled exit gives bonus points and amounts to just a little badge of honor. Going even further are purple "clever" exits with even more stringent requirements to access while still requiring that the player does not get hurt in the process of reaching one. Completing one of these leads to a bonus stage for more points.

The multi-tiered exit system works quite nicely. Getting a skill or clever exit is very satisfying. You really do need to put in the effort plus keep your eyes open to reach them. Every level starts with you having the opportunity to get these exits making it feel like you're the one in control of whether or not they can be reached. When the game strikes back at you and erases them there's a mixed feeling of wanting to restore a save and try again and a sort of shrugging and just carrying on. The points are the quantified reward, but ZZT's high scores can't capture the satisfaction from truly conquering a stage.

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For those who don't have the patience to figure out advanced exits, there's still a little more that can be done to differentiate one playthrough from the next. Bubba's Bubbles is full of keys which can include lots of spares. Between each stage a transition board is used to tally points based on your exit and drain the player of excess keys. This is done in a somewhat clumsy matter where the player has to duck into an alcove to grab a key, open the door, advance to the next color key/door combo and repeat. If you have a spare key, an object will detect the opening of a door on this board and recognize that the courtesy key remains. You'll get bonus points for these spare keys and can chase an even higher score if you can sneak some extras out of a level.

Alas, more often than I didn't have any spares, or if I did it was just one or two. This actually makes getting to the next level a little slow constantly having to stop moving forward to grab a key. A zippier approach might have been to line up a column of player clones with doors being duplicated on top of them. Once the duplicators fire, any doors the player brought in keys for would be erased and could be detected as missing. This would need a silencer object lest you get a barrage of seven locked door sounds queued in a row, but I think that workaround would help move things along for the player who wants to see what lies ahead.

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The multiple exit types and spare key bonus add a significant amount of replayability to the game. Most ZZT puzzle games are rather binary. You either complete The Rube Board or you don't. You solve the easy pieces or you don't. You wait nearly thirty years to "Think Ahead!" because you didn't. Bubba's Bubbles gives the player more choices than just to sink or swim and never admonishes you for merely reaching an exit. Again this comes down to WiL's understanding that a good troll game is one that laughs with the player, not at them. It's very easy to make an unplayable mess, but that was never the goal for Oktrollberfest in the first place.

That covers the bulk of how things play, but there are two more small systems of note. Firstly, in addition to the standard seven colored doors, WiL also has an object-based door that consumes one torch to open. This expands the puzzle opportunities by providing a common key that the player can carry multiples of.

Secondly, and honestly far more significant were it not for the fact that it only appears in one level, but WiL also included the ability for the player to blow up crates with bombs. I'm not talking about changing a bullet into a bomb, I'm talking a complete engine with directional placement of bombs and a custom plus instantaneous explosion.

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The game's fifth stage is littered with crates make up by careful placement of 2x2 linewalls. The player can only pick up one bomb at a time, and a picture of it appears in the top left corner when they're holding one for reference. When the player has a bomb they receive two ammo and are told to press space to activate it when next to a crate. Doing so changes all the empty space on the board to black solid walls and changes the linewalls to fakes. The player can then shoot a bullet onto a crate which is then turned into a red slime which covers the crate with some one object fire before everything is erased, the remaining fakes are returned to crates and the solid walls become walkable empties. This is of course used to complicate things further in terms of opening doors or using bombs which can primarily be found in the starting room.

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For the curious, if the player walks onto the fake wall instead of shooting to activate the bomb, the bomb is destroyed by being stepped on and the crate is instead partially destroyed where the player stood. In theory you could perhaps engineer a situation where this is preferable over the destruction of the entire crate, but in this stage as it's designed there's no actual benefit to doing so here.

Truthfully it feels a bit out of place since it only shows up in one stage and drops a complex engine into what (from the player's perspective) is a game with a simple structure. The strict requirements for the various elements that get changed in order to actually pull off this engine may very well mean that the engine could be too challenging to use in a more action oriented title where explosives and crates would be a little more expected set-pieces. It is still impressive here though! I just would have liked to see bombs and crates show up in other levels.

Weaver's Delight

WiL also went a little above and beyond in terms of playability with the use of his Weave ZZT fork which is included and intended to be used when playing Bubba's Bubbles. Here however, the only modifications are for accessibility and cosmetics which means that you can in fact just play the game in ZZT v3.2. This means the bomb engine, the counters, and all the visuals are perfectly ordinary bits of ZZT design rather than Turbo Pascal code made for convenience. ZZT's sounds are adjusted in this build of Weave which I didn't think was all that important until I tried playing a bit in 3.2 just to see the difference. You'll forget just how long the transporter sound effect goes on for. WiL has been one of ZZT's most prolific musicians so it should be no surprise that he's capable of creating quick sound effects to give the game a more distinct sound that's easy to listen to repeatedly as you constantly collect things, bump into keys you already have, and transport over and over again.

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The other big change comes from a special key and door drawing routine. This actually makes use of a custom font as well. Rather than use the standard two characters for all keys and doors, WiL makes them display with a different character based on their color. The circular part of the standard character is then tweaked in various ways to make each color key and door unique and far more friendly to colorblind individuals. This does mean losing fourteen characters though it's easy to find a few that won't go noticed. WiL uses the range from 133-146 (

for doors and
for keys), but if you're thinking of playing old ZZT worlds with this you may run into issues with candles, large ammo packs, and goobers.

All the same, while I quite like the idea, the actual impacted portion of the characters is fairly small and may still require some squinting to decipher without the use of color. Really this is less an issue with the execution of the visual and more just not being trained to look at keys based on "left half shaded" and "top half shaded". Kudos to WiL for the option though. This is the kind of feature I fully expect to be standardized in some form as ZZT forks mature. Something that looks like a text mode program but is graphical would make it easy to bend the rules and inject some special graphics keys and doors alone would be quite nice actually. The effort here is greatly appreciated. If you're making something with heavy use of keys and doors and can spare the characters I think this is something that is very much worthwhile.

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I'm not entirely sure if this is a Weave thing, but Bubba's Bubbles also defies convention by having a password system that generates a four letter code before starting each stage. ZZT's save everywhere design is maintained in Weave, and works fine in v3.2 so I'm not entirely sure why this is here. There was a period of time in which Zeta's web release only stored saves until the browser (and its session) was closed, but I'm certain this wasn't the case by the time Oktrollberfest rolled around. The password system implies that you're not meant to be saving in the middle of a stage, though there's nothing preventing it or even any text suggesting the game be enjoyed in such a way. It's odd, but in the context of the released game seems pretty vestigial. Perhaps it was convenience for testers? If you broke something on stage four you could just use a password on a fixed later release and take over where you left off. Actually that makes a lot of sense and is far friendlier than making people edit the game to pick up where they left off or to try out other stages if they get really stuck. (The text file includes a password list at the end giving anyone easy access to any stage.)

Dramatis Anser

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As a puzzle game with distinct stages the expectation would be for Bubba's Bubbles to not really have any characters. Perhaps a protagonist, who you couldn't be blamed for incorrectly guessing was Bubba. It is true that this game could be comprised exclusively of lifeless mechanical puzzle components. It certainly wouldn't be a WiL game for this to be the case. Even his endless runner Run-On takes a moment in the Passive Semantic scene to let you interact and converse with others in a bar. Not wanting to run afoul of a chance to interject some personality, scattered throughout various levels are various geese. While the species has become Internet darlings for their mischief (putting it lightly) and of course Untitled Goose Game, WiL's inclusion of them comes from his own work in avian preservation which includes some endangered geese! The cast of characters are ZZT representations of some very real birds, and knowing that, there's little doubt that their behavior within Bubba's Bubbles is anything other than true to life.

Bubba: Obviously.

Lady: She honks. She hoards.

Jaime: He struggles with swimming due to a wonky leg. Will do anything for lettuce and other greens.

Princess: She's a horrible goose who loves junk food and repays kindness with horrible messes.

Chungus Khan: "Lover, not fighter."

Nu nu: Not a goose. A cat.

Duchess: The goose spirit of judgment. You were nice to everybody right?

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Despite portrayals in other games, the animals here ultimately help more than they hurt. A few can shove the player around a little, but they're never in spots where that can actually endanger for the player. If they wander randomly it is possible with some bad luck for them to end up somewhere you'd rather there not be a goose, but really, isn't this just how the world actually is?

Aesthetics (aka Goose-Wave)

The geese are what give the game personality rather than just being a puzzle engine to be skinned differently based on whatever license the studio can get. Their roles are pretty minor though. It's the bubbles that make this game what it is, and the look of Bubba's Bubbles is really striking. Perhaps a bit Viovisian, but more cohesive as the boards need to have room for the player to get around. It is without a doubt the most unique looking of the Oktrollberfest 2020 entries. Its title screen is clearly a zima based work, while the levels themselves are made from scratch. It's so rare for a ZZT world to be so round. The bubble looks carry over into decoration and give off a vibe less like you're exploring a ZZT environment and more like you've gone into upper Norfair or at the very least like you're staring into a glass of fizzy soda.

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My personal favorite level visually was stage four which is really one of the less visually busy levels in terms of its layout and decoration. On this particular stage the keys all flash and cycle through six colors which really makes the scene pop and changes the planning from grabbing keys you need to open doors and more into getting rid of all these dang keys.

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Sticking to the less literally flashy designs of that stage, the sixth stage is also nice to look at with its numerous instances of bubbles overlapping bubbles. This is just used as a way to frame some doors, but the movement from the main grid to this internal bubble makes it easy to get a bit disoriented with which corners you need to be looking at as you move around it.

The numerous details when combined with a non-insignificant amount of code actually add up to make Bubba's Bubbles a Chungus sized game. The file size clocks in at more than 380 kilobytes. These days, doesn't come close to setting any records with a few ZZT v3.2 compatible worlds surpassing the 400 KB boundary, but it does barely beat out myth's Fred! 2 Gold Edition, a 1995 adventure that held the record for a significant amount of time. Plus, this is a game created in a month. That's pretty huge for such a short development period.

Bubble Popping

Level by level Bubba's Bubbles does a nice job of easing the player in while simultaneously keeping its troll game nature apparent and in check. The first level has helpful tutorial scrolls, that like to tell you things once it's too late. The upper portion of the board with plenty of ammo and a blue key includes scrolls that enlighten you to the importance of conserving your limited number of moves while the layout is designed so that entering that upper bubble necessitates running out of moves and taking damage once you leave it.

Other scrolls will have you waste a key to explain that sometimes you'll run into a dead-end or will teach you that you can't always trust your eyes just after a free key vanishes when you approach. This is the bulk of the trolling through subversion. As the player settles in this sort of thing happens less and less, but WiL's tacit acknowledgment of your failure through pre-emptively coding scrolls describing the myriad of ways that the player will probably screw up is definitely enough to get the message across of what jam birthed this creation.

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The first stage is pretty gentle aside from it's scroll-trolls. Movement is pretty open here with the numerous scrolls catching the player's interest more than anything else.

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The second stage begins the more overwhelming look of things. Not only are you handed a plethora of keys right away, but the scroll warns you to only take what you're sure you'll need. Large piles of identical keys demand you think about you pick up to tunnel your way through, creating situations where the role of key and door feels reversed, the keys come easy but making progress means finding a purple door somewhere to open if you're going to attempt to get a clever exit.

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Stage three introduces geese whose favor has to be won over. What appear to be yellow and green torches are actually vegetation to feed the geese with. Choose wisely of course, as you can only carry one of them at a time.

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Ah, the flashing key level that is the palace of Chungus Khan. This one goes all in on the doors feeling like keys. The flashing keys mean that you can essentially pick up six keys to make a rainbow. A series of doors up top will reappear after opening giving you a dumping ground for them, making the puzzle finding a way to navigate the main part of the stage without having to take too many trips up top. There's also some fun work to be done in order to get the white keys needed to reach the exit.

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Ah, the bomb level. I already got into this engine and it's pretty neat to see in practice. You do have unlimited bombs as there's one at the start behind a duplicator, though it's very slow to discourage relying too much on it. It's more of a safety thing. I love how the crates spill into the background as well, keeping things quite messy looking. This one is comparatively key-less to previous levels. You could honestly make a puzzle game out of just the bombs and torch doors alone.

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The overlapping bubbles of stage six. The bright doors and dark keys make it seem like you wouldn't even be able to get a key of each color for that clever exit in the middle. This one goes all in on the danger with blinkwalls to time moving though. Be sure to think about which of the fifty billion white keys is the one you specifically want!

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For stage seven all the stops are pulled out. You'll have to solve some timid slider puzzles to get all the torches you can, plus make a few mutually exclusive choices with the boulders along the top and bottom of the stage. This one's a lot of fun to solve with how many limited resources are in play.

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Stage eight says to hell with it and makes you dodge centipedes. They've been slowed down all the way to cycle twenty so it takes seconds for them to move. This one also has some very high counters that are absolutely needed with how much key juggling there is. These clumps of keys and doors mean a lot of going back and forth and hoping you have enough safe movement left to open up enough doors to obtain a different key contained within. It also does something interesting with its opening section where it places a yellow key and door at the start and constantly replaces them when they've been destroyed. This means you can't actually keep a yellow key if you take damage and there's another still on the board.

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The final stage pivots to more action. This time it's not politely slowed down. You have to deal with some vicious spinning guns and really open up the level if you want to reach the end. Don't worry though, everyone is here to lend you support!

Secrets!

Bubba's Bubbles is one of those ZZT worlds that I played, then looked at in the file viewer and realized just how much I didn't get to see. Of course the clever exits lead to bonus levels, but there's definitely still more beneath this game's surface that I just did not get to see for myself in my initial playthrough. Whenever you manged to reach a clever exit you're then led to a bonus stage where the goal is to bank points running around some more actiony bubbles with enemies to avoid and items to collect without taking too many hits.

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A cool aspect of this though is that some tricks with ZZT's passage priority are used to make it so that you play them in order regardless of what clever exits you get. Get your first clever exit in stage two? You play secret stage one. Get your first clever exit in stage seven? You still play secret stage one. I really like this fixed order to them. For one thing it means WiL only needs to explain how it works once, but it also means that WiL doesn't have to treat each of the secret stages as potentially the player's first. It reminds me of special stages in 16-bit Sonic the Hedgehog games that play in a looping order. These bonus stages have no real fail state though so each one will only ever be seen once.

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The specifics for how they work are that the player is put into a large stage with torches and gems to collect and enemies (some of which run extra fast) to avoid. Gems usually give ten points, but here those points are suppressed. Instead you get points from the "bank". Gems collected when the bank has points to give provide the regular points, but if the bank is empty they only give health. Health is used to represent your attempts in the bonus stage. The goal is to get gems to gain more attempts and drain the bank to get points. The torches can be deposited into the bank to convert them to points for the gems to give. It confused the hell out of me the first time I tried a bonus stage, but now I finally comprehend it. Again, it's all just for a high score so don't worry too much if you don't play super optimally.

One you're out of attempts or actually complete the bonus stage you can resume where you left off.

Trollful Woes

Coming back to my opening conclusion. Bubba's Bubbles works better without its Oktrollberfest associations. I had a lot of fun working my way through these puzzles, sometimes getting so close to a skill or clever exit before blowing it at the last moment and realizing I have no idea how to actually get through in one go. What makes a good puzzle game is incredibly subjective. Trying to appeal to as many players as possible is a noble goal, but in practice this is a genre that's very difficult to work in without alienating somebody. There are folks who will wish the game got more devious with its design. Still, there will inevitably be people who won't want to actually see it through to the end due to its difficulty as it currently is. That's a puzzle where nobody's managed a clever exit from yet. This game looks more difficult than it actually is, which for me at least is the ideal. Under fewer time restrictions I'd have been happy to play through a stage, be horrified looking at the next one, and stop until the next day. I wound up playing it in two sittings, and only replayed one stage (stage six) when I made one easily avoided mistake at the very end that deprived me of a clever exit. When you get that close to victory, it's hard to not want to give it another go.

I don't think this is a game that's going to push people away from it overall. At the same time though, I think all of the potential reasons I can see somebody deciding this isn't a game they'd enjoy boil down to things done because Bubba's Bubbles had to be submitted as an Oktrollberfest entry.

First there's just the weird psychological factor innate to it being an Oktrollberfest game. I've played quite a number of ZZT puzzle games over the years with Bubba's Bubbles being closer to games like Sixteen Easy Pieces, or comparable to the more standard puzzle design seen in boards like "Thief's Fortress" from The Three Trials than say an inventory puzzler like Nadir's Dizzy conversions. Puzzles are self-contained to a single board with everything you need to solve them being there. This means that they start scary as you enter them with little idea on where to begin, and ease up as you work your way through them.

Except this is for Oktrollberfest, so you inherently have to distrust everything which keeps the anxiety up, especially in early levels which are actually more willing to trick the player than later ones. When you first scan over these levels you're going to notice things like freely grabbable keys and make your way towards them. When WiL pulls the rug out and makes the key vanish, it turns things into a guessing game. Any key could vanish. Throughout the game picking up items or crossing certain lines can make items appear. The game encourages you to get these special exits which requires utmost confidence in the moves you make, yet these japes keep you from attaining the level of confidence.

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Stage eight is arranged in such a way that being warped back to the start will make you have to spend one of your keys. This instills a fear of soft-locking if you move too inefficiently. In reality, WiL doesn't spawn in that door if there are no more keys in the main portion of the level. He doesn't want you to soft-lock, but you can't truly know that. The only way you'll learn that you can't soft-lock is by putting yourself in what would be a soft-lock situation.

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The geese, amusing as they may be often provide keys in some way, either just by touching them or by providing them with something they want. This hides information from the player and all but guarantees that you will not succeed at getting a skill exit on your first try because you do not have all the information you need to figure things out. I don't believe you'd be very likely to get through a stage without damage even with this information, but I don't see any benefit to withholding it form the player. This could even be a teachable mechanic by having the various geese programmed to walk to a key and collect it at the start of a stage before the player can get near. Then the player would know that a goose has a specific key and could act accordingly, still allowing the interactions without the guessing of what a goose will offer up.

I find these instances of hidden information to not add anything other than small frustrations. Noncollectable items fit right in with troll games and even show up in other Oktrollberfest entries (both 2021 examples as they're fresher in my mind). Bubba's Bubbles is a puzzle game that has to shoehorn in these moments to fit the theme of its jam better which works great for judge's scores, but hinders the game outside of it.

The underlying lack of trust stemming from these moments leads to a distrust of legitimate features. I found myself wondering if it was actually possible to beat each stage without taking damage. Until you actually get a skill or clever exit, there's a nagging doubt in the back of your mind that it might just be a joke at your expense.

Both the lack of trust and hidden information both read as things that WiL wouldn't normally have done in this game were it not for Oktrollberfest. Had that been the case, I think this game would be something that you could genuinely point at as one of ZZT's better puzzle games and something to easily recommend to a newcomer as the actual mechanics are straightforward and require little familiarity with ZZT. Instead you'd have to clumsily explain it to be a game make for a troll game competition that has a few moments of out of character obtuseness.

Final Thoughts

In the end, Bubba's Bubbles is a fantastic puzzle game whose design hasn't been seen in ZZT before. WiL really put in a lot of effort with these puzzles to really get all he could out of the simple idea of limiting the player's movement. The levels are difficult, but doable for your basic exits. The more advanced ones really do demand that you know exactly what you're doing. When I finished some levels I felt like given a few more attempts I could pull off these more complex routes. Others I didn't have the slightest idea how I'd even begin, with the advanced routes requiring such radically different keys that it feels like there are two completely different stages in one board.

The game comes together in pretty much every aspect. WiL has been an all-rounder for years now, making him a one man studio capable of impressing you in a myriad of ways. Graphics, sound, design, and programming in Bubba's Bubbles all rate easily well above average, and get even more impressive when considering the one month time limit the game had to adhere to for its creation. Stumped as you may be at time, from start to finish with Bubba's Bubbles will keep you entertained. Overall it hits a really nice balance in terms of difficulty with a wide range of greater challenges in special exits for those who want to really sink their teeth into this game.

So it's really awkward when the game decides to troll. As the game progresses it seems more interested in being this impressive collection of single-screen puzzles over deceiving the player, and that's when it's at its strongest. The ideas contained within this world developed in such a short time-frame makes it ripe for a longer sequel. At ten stages the game is hardly short, but ideas like the bombable crates and flashing keys could definitely be explored even further for some real head-scratchers. As an Oktrollberfest game, it feels like these moments of bothering the player aren't part of some hilarious joke. They just come off as purposely placed frustrations in a genuinely great puzzle game. I would to see more of this game, especially free from the confines of the contest from which is sprung.

If you haven't played Bubba's Bubbles because of it's a troll-puzzle game, you're missing out on one of ZZT's finest in the latter genre. Do give it the chance it deserves because there's something really worthwhile and quite ambitious here. It's just that you're probably not entirely wrong in your reasoning for why you avoided it. There's far more to Bubba's Bubbles than merely being an entry in a troll game jam. Once you can get past the few pivots to subvert player expectations at times you'll be left with something quite memorable. Don't let some purposely bruised apples spoil the bunch.

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