Arcade-style titles were once the foundation for the games industry; today they have nearly grown exctinct. Long lapsed is an era when a twenty-five-cent wager could be converted into a coveted spot on the leaderboard, where a three-letter monogram could flaunt your prowess. Generally, our recreations are no longer intense fifteen-minute sessions, dominated by a single, identifiable hook, with a high-score serving as the main motivation. Now, games have evolved into interminable affairs typically driven by extended exposition and built around a multitude of mechanics for players to master, all in pursuit of a perceptible goalmouth.
The release of Whip! Whip! on the Switch and PC returns players to that halcyon period when a protagonist’s ability set could be summarized with a pictograph and two buttons were all you needed to restore harmony in a digital world. It’s a game that unambiguously draws from two historic arcade titles from the Eighties, action-platformer, Bubble Bobble, along with Capcom’s, Bionic Commando.
The first inspiration is immediately evident when commencing a single-player or local co-operative game. After a few screens that impart a peculiar impetus (essentially, a baker-fox named Tira teams up a sentient mitten) Whip! Whip!’s brightly hued, single-screen platforms undoubtedly recall Taito’s comical coin-op, with the protagonist leaping across section of the on-screen scaffolding. Like Bub and Bob’s beloved outing, enemies exhibit similar behaviors, moving back and forth on platforms and gradually encroaching on the player. While they can be eliminated individually, you’ll want to create a chain-reaction, potentially turning every creature into delectable foods worth an exponential amount of points.
But instead of shooting bubbles capable of encapsulating and eliminating enemies, you’ll use Minton, the golem-glove to grab distant foes. Latching onto to adversary pulls Tira in, and when after striking an enemy, a blue flame ignites underneath him, gradually lifting the fox up. As you fall, the blaze scorches any other opponents you touch, until it’s extinguished when you touch any type of platform.
Undoubtedly, it takes a bit of time to get used to Tira’s powers. Early on, it’s easy to target a cluster of enemies, and after eliminating one, your flame burns out just as another monster touches you. On the upside, Whip! Whip! endows players with a bit of persistence, with Tira beginning each game with a collection of six hit-point hearts. Purge the playfield of multiple enemies and you’ll randomly trigger the letters “E-X-P-A-N-D” to appear, Mr. Do-style, earning a trio of additional hearts.
But like most games of the arcade era, you’ll gradually learn technique. In this case, it’s identifying scoring possibilities. Soon, you’ll be using Minton to propel yourself skyward, striking a single foe, before gliding into an assembly of adjacent adversaries. When performed correctly, it’s a suitably satisfying experience, only undermined by a reward system that might not dispense the one letter you need to replenish your hit point supply. Across the game’s hundred stages, referred to as recipes, you’ll also encounter the occasional power-up icon which do things like speed up the movement speed of Tira, expanding the reach of Minton, or even bypassing a few stages.
Like the Bubble Bobble series, Whip! Whip! breaks the cadence by delivering a boss battle every ten stages. Initially, these can be off-putting, and you might absorb a bit of injury before determining that not only are the on-screen foes summon by the baddies are lethal, but so are their entire, screen-filling body. But given the main campaign’s ability to continue your journey on the stage that Tira perished, losing a few hearts during these showdowns doesn’t feel punitive. Once you complete the game, you’ll unlock a challenge mode that confiscates the ability to continue. Longevity is also extended by gaming endings that differ if you play as an individual or with a local partner.
With sprite-based arcade action complemented by cheerful chiptune harmonies, Whip! Whip! is poised to induce pangs of nostalgia for retro-loving players. While it’s not a faultless game, feeling derivative, like those coin-op bootlegs that would be built on the backs of popular quarter-munchers, it is an enjoyable romp. Until Taito honors late Bubble Bobble creator Fukio Mitsuji with a compilation or re-release, Whip! Whip! serves as an ersatz reminder of arcade gaming’s golden era.
Whip! Whip! was played on the Switch with
review code provided by the publisher.
Developer: Alpha unit
Publisher: Alpha unit
Release date: June 28th, 2018
Price: $9.99 via digital download