Bulb! is a GB Studio project that we’ve been watching since its initial release in February, 2021. Developed by skRap Klan, the game is one of the few we’ve seen made with GB Studio that’s “Only for Game Boy Color”. When the Game Boy saw its Color model released in 1998, many of the earliest games were “dual carts” that played on both the original Game Boy (DMG) and on Color models. These distinctive black shells provided developers with the ability to sell to an existing market in addition to the new color consoles that were released. Soon, games with clear shells and a distinctive “humped” shell would be released as “Only for Game Boy Color”. These games would leverage unique hardware advantages that the Game Boy Color boasted, and in all would see 612 titles released for this mode in its life span.
GB Studio doesn’t actually have a specific “Game Boy Color Only” mode to allow for taking advantage of those extra hardware features, but there is a handy [If Device Supports Color] event that can be used to determine if the device the player is running has color capabilities or not. A fairly well known use of a technique similar to this is in The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX. The bonus “Color Dungeon” has color based puzzles that absolutely won’t work for a player on a DMG, so a pair of skeletons block your path and won’t let you proceed unless you are running the game on a Game Boy Color.
Bulb! has a similar check when starting the game to determine if it’s indeed a Color device and proceeds only if one is present. So what’s so important about making sure the Game Boy you’re using supports color for this game? Why the very mechanic the game is based upon!
This isn’t some simple graphical enhancement or visually enticing feature, Bulb! makes use of the GB Studio 2.0 Beta’s palette swapping events to create a unique and fun game that mixes precision platformer with puzzle solving.
The game’s story is quickly shown in it’s opening cutscene where an army of light bulbs is tasked with investigating the cause of other worldly electrical disturbances and to help stop them. The levels take place within the rooms of different houses. Each room starts off by showing you the layout – it seems simple enough, a few platforms illuminated by a light overhead and a goal light fixture to reach with your bulb character. Moving into the room reveals the unique twist/mechanic – these platforms are only visible when you are within the light peeking in from the doorway. Move into the room, and these platforms disappear, forcing you to memorize the layout and try and traverse it while they are invisible.
The game does offer you the ability to shine a burst of light which will reveal the platforms for a brief moment, but this tool takes time to recharge meaning you will either have to wait it out or carefully plan your movement in the dark. Like any good platformer, the levels start simple enough, but quickly ramp up in challenge with the inclusion of enemies that block your path, as well as obstacles like spikes that will break your bulb in one hit. While there are platforming moments that can be frustrating, the game offers unlimited lives to attempt each room. This is welcome in the later levels where the size of the rooms extend well beyond the Game Boy’s screen.
There’s more to do as the game progresses with different platforming challenges and unlocked abilities, even boss fights to conquer, but I will leave that for you to discover. The game can be played for free in browser on skRap Klan’s itch page, and you can download the ROM for $3 USD (it’s well worth it). Plans are in the works to also have the game released on cartridge. Be sure to not miss this unique and fun game.
Audio Engineer, Mac Technologist and Video Game Developer. Managing Editor of GBStudio Central. (he/him)