I have an odd fascination with unlicensed NES games. Okay, so a lot of unlicensed titles were crap. But a lot of licensed titles were crap, too(Dragon's Lair
, yeah, you'd BETTER
run!). AVE had a decent track record, at least. They had a few real good games, a lot of fairly decent ones, and even the bad ones weren't too bad. One of the middile grount titles in Mermaids of Atlantis
. In Mermaids,
the story is as follows-
The evil undersea wizard Odnetnin has stolen the games belonging to the merpeople and is making them pay to get them back. A single Mermaid has set out to pop the bubbles which hold their games. Of course, Odnetnin
was an obvious reverse of Nintendo
and the story a stab at licensing fees(One common line amongst the unlicensed manufacturers was that their games were more "affordable" since they didn't pay licensing fees- perhaps true, but some would argue that the quality suffered as well).
However, the "story" is basically tacked on to cover up something even far stranger.... Mermaids
is nothing more than a graphical hack and slight reworking of the Panesian/Hacker International 8-bit adult game Bubble Bath Babes
. The nude woman has been redrawn into a mermaid, the "reward" screens replaced with story cutscenes, and anything else they could do to remove the adult nature.
On the upside, though, AVE also tweaked the game slightly, making the game a bit more playable!
The basic gameplay is simple. Clusters of 4 bubbles, in any of 4 colors and arrangements, rise upward. Match 4 or more of any color to "pop" the bubbles. Each round lasts for 200 bubble pops. Each level consists of four rounds, the bubbles rising faster with each round. Okay, the game comes off as little more than a semi-inspired Puyo Puyo
clone. However, one important difference is that bubbles will leave "air pockets" if they do not rise all the way. These can quickly fill up the play area.
Throughout the rounds, bubbles containing letters will appear. Pop those, and spell out the word MAGIC to gain the magic bubble. This, when used, will clear all air pockets, allow clusters to rise and pop, then change colors of remaining bubbles for more chances of bubble bursting. You get one magic bubble per spelling. The downside is that there is no indicator for how many you actually have- they can be saved up- so you must remember. Supposedly, there is a "secret" way to keep track, but I have no idea what this is. I suspect it's the tiny bubbles around the mermaid, but I'm not sure. I have yet to discover the "secret" on-screen indicator. Assuming it actually exists. Activating bubbles is done by pressing down and B, meaning you have to be careful not to activate one when using B to flip a cluster(one would have wondered why the magic bubble was not programmed to the otherwise useless select button).
Every two rounds completed displays a story cut scene. the first several are intruductions to the Mermaids' undersea life, eventually telling of Odnetnin's plot.
That's basically all the game consist of. Bubbles can be flipped Tetris-style, and controls are generally easy. Of course, I'm not reviewing Bubble Bath Babes
, I'm reviewing Mermaid of Atlantis.
Aside from gutting the poor quality 8-bit nudity, the pattern around the play field is different. Story cutscenes were heavily reworked into several screens each. Rounds 5 and 6 were cut from each level(at this point, the bubbles rise almost too fast for all but the most experienced of player to actually win anyway, and the story seems aimed at children, so simplicity is the key). One minor improvment AVE made was to adjust the counter. Bubble
suffered by requiring at least 200 NEW bubbles to be popped per round(you can get the counter over the 200 mark at the end of a level), while Mermaids
cuts the level off at the 200 counter mark(meaning if your counter is higher at the start of a round, a full 200 is not requred- so long as the 200+ mark is crossed).
There is also Stacked mode, where you clear a level by popping the buried bubble containing a letter.
The old menu options(1 or 2 players, type 1 or 2 game, music 1 or 2) remain, but we now have the addition of a level select, a 3rd type of game(hard mode, which speeds things up), a bubble speed select, and even a third piece of music. Bubble Bath Babes
is a horribly incomplete game by comparison of it's weak menu options. The only real bit retained was the MAGIC letters. The story was written around them.
The downside is that the game can not only get hard after a while, but it can also get boring. While you get three continues if you lose, there is no way to save your progress, or a password system, so expect to sit this game out if you plan on beating all the levels. The levels basically "resetting" every 4 rounds also lends to a repetitive nature(it would be like playing the same few levels of Donkey Kong
in a row without the difficulty increasing with each time through). The air pockets can also lose your round in a hurry. Nothing sucks the fun out faster than the play field filling up in mere seconds, resulting in an instant loss. Even good players may find themselves stuck with a piling field and no magic bubbles to clear the pockets. You also lose your popped bubble count and score when you continue.
It's fun for an hour. It has a story. It's more playable than it's adult counterpart. However, there are a lot more puzzle games out in a similar vein, many of which are a lot more fun. That's not to say the game is that bad, on its own it has some merits. But Tetris, Dr. Mario, and Puyo Puyo, not to mention the series of decent (and original) Sailor Moon puzzle games out in Japan, far outshine this game. But while it's Panesian counterpart may have rarity and demand on its side, if you actually want the game to PLAY it, Mermaids of Atlantis
is at least worth checking out.