Bomberman ReviewJoe Shaffer
A game that kicked off a successful franchise should be given extremely good marks.
I'll start by saying I respect Bomberman. It came out in simpler times, when all a game needed was fast action and basic mechanics. Our greatest concern was surviving long enough to have a higher score so we could brag about it the next day at school. Games like this required skill, but only one or two. The more you played basic old school games, the more you improved, the longer you lasted, the higher your score, and the more the girls inside your head would swoon at your mad skills. It could either have meant you were a great player, or really good at honing one or two basic skills--good at surviving, in other words. As a man who still loves Atari 2600 and the like, I can totally dig that.
I respect Bomberman, but that doesn't mean I love the game or think it's worthy of hyperbolic praise.
The rules are simple. Taking and overhead view, you walk around a large arena filled with gray bricks and cute enemies. The only weapon at your disposal is an infinite supply of bombs. These puppies can blow walls to bits and reduce enemies to cartoony pieces. However, they can also turn you into pie filling if you get too close to them. The object is to destroy every enemy before time, or your patience, runs out. After that, you blow away random bricks until the stage exit appears.
It's a solid concept, really. It's not the rule system that's in question here, but how it's applied. You start the game off with a short blast range, hitting only enemies or walls next to the bomb, and can only drop one bomb at a time. To get anywhere or do anything in the first few stages, you have to do a lot of waiting. You drop a single bomb, you wait for it to explode. This especially sucks when you're surrounded by a few layers of brick, because you can only pick at it bit by bit, one bomb at a time. While the wait isn't but a few seconds, it still adds up when you have to do it repeatedly. One thing that arcade-style games thrive on is a fast pace. If the pace slips, the game isn't doing its job, as is the story with the first few stages of Bomberman.
Once you get past the walls, you'll have to track down every enemy and take them out. Unfortunately, enemies don't hold still. Early on, you'll find yourself struggling to annihilate all of them. Usually, they'll slip outside the range of your whopping one or two bombs. That leaves you to try to place another bomb or two and wait only to be disappointed again. Keep at it, though, because one day the enemy will accidentally walk into your blast range and kill itself! That's right. You don't really kill the early enemies, they pass away as a result of carelessness.
Had it not been for bomb upgrades, this game would have been a total wash. Each stage contains one powerup that can modify your bomb and speed up the killing process. Bit by bit, you can increase the range of your attack, drop more bombs at a time, and even gain a manual detonator. Most of these upgrades are permanent, even if you die or get a game over. I'll tell you, there's nothing more empowering than dropping a line of bombs after you've gained a few range extensions and watching flames engulf the stage.
Unfortunately, that's what the game is eventually reduced to. You drop a score of bombs and try not to die while hoping you're enemies aren't so lucky. It's preferable to to dropping a bomb and waiting ages for it to accidentally kill an enemy, but it also robs the game of any skill or strategy.
Bomberman tries to squelch this by adding more and more enemies, but all that does is force you to rely on the kill-everything-with-fire technique even more. The game eventually becomes so ridiculously tough near the end that you really don't have a choice. Enemies move faster, zoom through walls, and gun right for you. Bricks are everywhere, and unless you have the special upgrade that allows you to run through them, you're sitting duck. There's barely any room to maneuver, so running away from enemies isn't an option. It's either drop bombs like crazy and pray or die.
There is, however, one chunk where the game works great. Your blast range isn't too long, you can't rely overmuch on dropping random bombs, and enemies aren't veritable killing machines. It's during this phase that you play the game as it was intended. You hunt enemies down, carefully trap them between your bombs and a wall, and cackle madly while they sweat out the last few seconds of their virtual lives. To do this, you need patience, timing and daring. In other words, you need some kind of skill. Because this is best part of the game, it's also the most fast-paced. In other words, it's over in a flash and you're on to mindless bombing before you know it.
Getting through Bomberman isn't impossible, even if it is tough. At the game over screen, you get a lengthy password that's every bit as annoying to input as it is to write down or memorize. Sadly, there is no 'continue' option after you die. Instead, you have to enter that entire password at the title screen, which takes an eternity. If you make a mistake, you can't delete it. You have to start the entire password over again. This is the worst part about getting a game over. I had to do this about every level or so towards the end of the game, and had to be physically restrained every time for fear that I might snap and bang my head against the desk until my skull gives.
I respect Bomberman because it was the beginning of a good franchise. At the same time, I can't stand the game because of how the core concepts panned out. Either you plant a bomb and wait, fighting off your burgeoning torpor; or you mindlessly drop tons of bombs and die a lot. In either case, you win accidentally more often than intentionally. Survival is not entirely a matter of skill as it is in many arcade-style games, but a matter of luck. It's not something I would associate with a solid arcade-style game.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.