Tuesday, February 3, 2009

But I Do Not Want to Become a Watermelon

Technically speaking, it would be misleading to say that the subject of this post gave me nightmares, in the plural. But it did result in one vivid childhood nightmare — and that’s singular. It’s just difficult to say “This gave me a nightmare” and give the thing discussed the amount of power that ones gives to another thing that generated multiple nightmares and would have even probably ruined you as a person if you weren’t so strong, deep down, inside, somehow.

When I was about seven or so, I received the gift of the Nintendo game Bubble Bobble. I’ve previously walked Back of the Cereal Box readers through obscure bits of video game lore, but I’m convinced that the Bubble Bobble franchise is one with which many people would be at least tangentially familiar. Aside from the main line of games, there’s a slew of spin-offs that appeared in arcades. Anyone casually walking through a family-style pizza parlor in the last fifteen years could have had reason to notice various games with such resort-evocative titles as Rainbow Islands and Parasol Stars. Beyond these, there’s the game known variously as Puzzle Bobble or Bust-a-Move, which saddles Bubble Bobble’s emblematic dragon characters with the task of operating a bubble-shooting machine that they must use to ricochet away the clutter presented on the screen above them.

Allow this image to illustrate:

image courtesy of

It should look especially familiar to anyone who ate their pizza in view of the arcade but also to anyone who spent the early part of this decade addicted to Snood. Minor modifications aside, Snood is a total homage to Puzzle Bobble, and that’s putting it nicely.

Long story short, Bubble Bobble has been around a while and, consequently, has taken on many forms. Maybe you’re nodding your head in agreement, maybe not, but at least we have established that it is a video game that spawned subsequent games and have therefore put this all in a bit of context for the video game illiterate.

In Bubble Bobble, the player controls the aforementioned dragons, who, it must be said, specialize much more in cuteness than the snot-singeing badassness for which dragons have become famous. These dragonitos fight their way through the game, one static screen at a time, fending off marginally less cute enemies by spitting bubbles at them and consequently encasing them inside. A sphere of soap film keeps the enemies quiet enough until the dragon tags the bubble, killing the enemy inside. Now, one way that Bubble Bobble is a lot like other video games of its era is that its enemies, once killed, transform into items. It’s common video game phenonmenon: You kill someone bad and they turn into something good, like a coin or more ammunition or a life-restoring heart or whatever. In Bubble Bobble the universal currency happens to be food — both produce and prepared pastries.


Simple enough: from enemies to food.

Then there was that nightmare, which had everything to do with a single piece of promotion art that the game’s developer and publisher, Taito, decided to release in the United States.

Perhaps the title of this post will give you a hint at what so disturbed me. It appeared in advertisements, it appeared on the game’s box, it even appeared on the game cartridge itself: some artist’s conception of what a dead Bubble Bobble baddie would look like midway through his transformation into food, specifically watermelon. This is pretty awful, when you really think about it — the equivalent of a centaur with his horse bits replaced by a watermelon slice that presumably would be unable to contain any vital organs. And that’s to say nothing of the fact that the fully transformed bit of food would be presumably gobbled down by the one who caused the change to begin with. Even with the wacky video game logic of enemies’ corpses somehow turning into valuable goods all aside, you have to admit, this is a grotesque, horrifying little situation that the promo art suggests.

This image of a half-man, half-watermelon slice hybrid screaming in fatal agony did once make an appearance during my dreams shortly after I noted how awful the image was. But unlike the cartoony illustration above, my subconscious brain decided to dissever the idea from any bouncy Bubble Bobble memory and instead approximate what the metamorphosis would look like in real life, with an actual person stuck partway through the change that made his lower half a watermelon slice. I can remember it quite clearly, and believe me when I tell you that this man was none too happy about his lower body having transformed into a picnic snack.

To this day, anytime Bubble Bobble crosses my mind, the immediately following thought is that unfortunate son of a bitch Watermelon Man. Consequently, I’m less than enthusiastic about the aforementioned generative nature of the original game. On some level, I dread it. And, by extension, Snood. And possibly watermelon.

Sometimes I think my video games figure too heavily into my life.


  1. Does your fear extend to classic Herbie Hancock tunes?

  2. Possibly. Not at the moment, however. I know little about H. Hancock. Please explain the reference.

  3. Herbie Hancock is a jazz pianist and composer who got his start in one of Miles Davis' quintets before striking out on his own. His composition "Cantaloupe Island" was sampled for the Us3 song "Cantaloop" in the early 90s, and he had a hit on MTV in the mid 80s with "Rockit."

    Anyway, one of his big songs earlier on was "Watermelon Man." It's a good tune. No lyrics, to my knowledge, and more upbeat than the horrible imagery of your nightmare would suggest.

    He went to my college (Grinnell), so he's a sentimental favorite.

  4. But there is good eating in one of those half-ghost/half watermelon fellas.