Sometimes, video games get really weird and take the virtual theater to scenes that no one ever would have believed possible. Who knew that a fantasy world where munching mushrooms for strength and using sewer pipes for travel would become accepted elements into one of the biggest video game franchises ever? Games have gone to ever stranger if lesser-known places, like the incomprehensible frozen time world of Taito's Pu-Li-Ru-La, the overtly hormonal muscle-scape of Masaya's Cho Aniki, and the randomly generated lands of wonder and horror from LSD: Dream Emulator. Game settings have covered absolutely everything but the kitchen sink... an idiom that would only be appropriate if Williams didn't already include the kitchen sink too! Williams was always credited for addictive and innovative games that hold appeal to this very day, their best known of which were released on one of the earliest arcade game compilations: Williams Arcade's Greatest Hits. That collection had all of the big names on it: Defender, Defender II (a.k.a. Stargate), Joust, Robotron: 2084, Sinistar, and Bubbles. Wait, Bubbles? What the heck is Bubbles about anyway? Well, it's about a sentient bubble that cleans up a kitchen sink. That certainly doesn't sound as thrilling as zapping aliens with eye beams or obliterating a massive space skull, but leave it to Williams to turn the most mundane of concepts into a fun and innovative idea that would become one of their sleeper hits.
Bubbles was jokingly conceived by designer John Kotlarik as a non-violent "clean" game, one akin to Pac-Man but with an open arena instead of mazey walls. Kotlarik programmed Bubbles with Tim Murphy and pinball designer Python Anghelo, and it was released to modest success, albeit not quite up to levels that could rival Pac-Man. The objective is to float around and rack up three different types of sink scum: Food crumbs, live ants, and grease stains. Crumbs and ants give you 150 individual points, while grease gives you 200, and you get double points for each speck you collect right around the edge of the drain. Crumbs and grease float towards the center of the sink (with grease moving faster) and disappear if they reach the hole, while ants just wander around willy-nilly. For each dirty little glob you absorb, your bubble grows larger and significantly creepier with a widening gaze and smile. Your goal is to become large enough so that the sinkhole flashes green, clearing the level once you slip down the pipe. You can either make a dash for the exit when it appears or stick around to collect more junk and rack up points. When you're done, the faucet washes away everything else with psychedelic red water if you reach the sink and more conventional blue water if you wait until every possible speck is gone. You'll get 1000 bonus points for each "phase" of growth your bubble experiences past the minimum requirement to open the green sink light.
Your simple task of cleaning the sink is made far less simple by the interference of rival brushes who think they can do your job better. They scrub around their areas and move slightly, being able to devour you if your bubble is too small. Later stages give you sponges who are more mobile than brushes and float about in circular patterns. If your bubble is big enough, you can actually bump them around and earn major bonus points for shuttling them into the sinkhole, though each bump reduces your bubble size slightly. Furthermore, whoever owns this sink is a careless moron who chucks random razor blades into it like a hotel disposal slot. These blades remain stationary, but they're so sharp that you can do absolutely nothing to them without causing yourself a fatality. The oddest and least probable element in the sink by far is the miniature cleaning lady who rides around on a broom and sweeps up specks of dirt before you can, but running into her is harmless and actually encouraged, as you get a point bonus and steal her broom, which points in the direction you move. By far, the most threatening hazards you'll face are roaches which climb out of the sink, indicated by a harsh drumming sound and the sinkhole flashing a warning red. Roaches actually move fairly quickly towards your bubble and can only be killed if you ram into them with the cleaning lady's broom, netting you a fair bonus if you do so. Finally, the sinkhole itself will end you if you're not big enough to end the level, and if you run out of items to snag before reaching your quota, you are told the bubble is too small and you will summarily lose a life.
Once you get past its unlikely appearance, Bubbles is as simple as you can get. There's no other objective besides surviving as long as you can and racking up as high a score as possible. It starts getting tricky around the third wave and doesn't relent, but no matter how far you get, it's hard not to feel amused even if you lose all lives within a minute. Its graphics are too quirky to forget, like the squinted eyes of the brushes and sponges and the complete nonsensical appearances of the cleaning lady. Your bubble starts out faceless, then grows to be kinda cute, and eventually becomes somewhat unnerving as it reaches its zenith. There's a good amount of detail all around despite everything taking place in a cold blue sink arena. The sound design also deserves mention for its peculiar effects, like the little gulping noise for each speck absorbed or the aforementioned nightmare drum beat preceding roaches. There isn't much for music save for the seven-note tune at the beginning of the game and the hilarious "neener-neener" music when it's game over. Bubbles overflows with charm like soap suds out of a squeezed sponge, and it certainly deserves more attention than what it has gotten. It's mildly popular but nowhere near Defender or Joust levels for Williams' arcade classics. On the aforementioned Williams Arcade's Greatest Hits, Bubbles was only on the PlayStation, DOS, Windows, and Dreamcast versions, having been excluded from the Genesis, Super Nintendo, and Saturn releases of the compilation. It would also show up later on the PS2 compilation Midway Arcade Treasures, but while not fully forgotten, it is sadly underrated. It may not look or sound like much at first thought, but Bubbles comes highly recommended to those looking for golden-age arcade goodness with a cleaner approach than simply shooting up everything that moves.