Bomberman has been blowing stuff up for a seriously long time, roughly since the days of the Nintendo Entertainment System. Over that span of time it’s experimented with different single player modes to varying degrees of success. Bomberman has been and will always be a multiplayer game first and foremost. Thus cutting the fat, Bomberman Ultra! dumps the more traditional single player mode completely, in favor of a multiplayer only affair.
For those not versed in the realm of Bomberman, the game puts multiple players in a grid based level with various power-ups hidden in what the game refers to as soft blocks. Each player starts with a single bomb that they can plant, which will detonate on its own shortly thereafter. As players blow up the soft blocks that separate each other on the board they’ll collect power-ups that will afford the player more bombs, larger explosions, etc. Once players are in contact with one another they’ll try and blow one another up, and the game will play out until only one bomber is left standing.
To make up for the lack of a true single player mode (the game can be played against AI opponents), the game boasts more than a dozen maps and several different game types to keep the multiplayer fresh. A number of those maps even have unique traps or obstacles that help differentiate themselves from the traditional Bomberman grids. Despite having a wide variety of settings, none of the levels really stand out and many of the unique level traits fail to alter matches in a particularly interesting manner. One classic stage from Saturn Bomberman had soccer nets on each side of the playing field, which created a much different level strategy. Players would rush to find a ‘Bomb Kick’ power-up, which would allow them to kick their bombs and their opponents’ into the goal for some gargantuan triggered explosions. To be fair, Ultra! does feature tornadoes, teleporters, quick sand and other hazards but they don’t excite as much as distractions found in earlier installments of the franchise.
One feature where Bomberman Ultra!’s variety does really work is your ability to customize Bomberman himself. At first you’ll start with a really small wardrobe but as you play the game offline you’ll accumulate a ton of strange outfits to accessorize with. Thankfully all of the different get ups are split into head, body and legs, allowing you to mix and match for some especially outlandish looks. Unfortunately there is one hitch to playing dress up, as was previously stated, costumes have to be unlocked while playing the game offline. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you’re planning on having friends over to constantly play with, but if you’re buying this game with no local friends to play with, costume collection quickly becomes a chore. No one wants to play Bomberman against the CPU and Ultra! basically forces you to do so, or to go out and make some new friends.
As for playing against human opponents, Bomberman Ultra! supports up to seven players locally and eight online. Local play works fine and in my opinion is the most chaotic and satisfying way to play any Bombeman title. However, chances are you’ll be looking to bring the explosive pain online and disappointingly Ultra! runs into some notable snags. First and foremost there doesn’t seem to be a large community of players at the moment, and it’s especially noticeable when looking for a quick match in Tournament mode, where searches will regularly return no possible games. Fortunately when searching for matches in Battle mode your efforts will routinely bear fruit but even then the game runs into some hiccups. Ultra! matches will somewhat regularly be effected by lag spikes that will render an entire round unplayable. In many online games lag is an unfortunate inevitability and depending on the nature of the game it can have various levels of acceptability, Bomberman is not one of those games. Even the smallest spike can easily be the difference between you cornering an opponent with a bomb or vice versa. What makes the lag especially noteworthy is the game size and apparent latency ratings for the opposing players didn’t seem to correlate. Games consisting of only two players (including myself) with green connection ratings would still occasionally become unplayable. Finally, and to further infuriate, when playing Bomberman Ultra! and experiencing especially heavy lag, the game will occasionally freeze completely and require an old school system reset.
Bomberman Ultra! is an overall disappointing effort for the PlayStation Network. Despite the wide variety of maps, modes and potential outfits to bomb your opponents in, the game suffers from some serious technical issues and an annoying design choice. Although in retrospect, it might be better that you unlock costumes from playing the game offline since the online experience can be extremely frustrating. Even with all of its issues Bomberman Ultra! can still be a blast if you have a bunch of like-minded friends nearby and six extra DualShock 3s, but for those potential online bombermen and women out there, better wait for a patch or the inevitable sequel.