Classic NES Series: Bomberman
What are the first things that come to mind when thinking of a Bomberman game? Obviously bombs, crazy power-ups, the little white and blue fella himself and, of course, frantic multiplayer action. Amazingly enough, the first game in the series, Bomberman for the NES, has no multiplayer modes whatsoever. This is why Nintendo’s decision to include it in their Classic NES Series for the GBA is a decidedly peculiar one. A vast majority of those who will purchase this game are going to be expecting some kind of multiplayer option, and once they realize that an extremely flawed single-player experience is all they get for their gaming cash… well… the poop will likely hit the fan.
Initially, the game looks just like any other Bomberman title; you move through a rectangular gridded environment collecting bomb upgrades, blowing up enemies and trying to find the exit. Sounds fun, right? Not a chance. The first problem you’ll notice is that you start out with bombs that have a pathetically small blast radius and can only be laid one at a time. Level 1 can end up being a huge pain in the ass because it takes forever to blast through the destructible blocks and killing enemies is all based on luck. How fun is it following a dumb, meandering baddie around, repeatedly setting bombs and hoping against hope that it will randomly move into the tiny ensuing blast? Yeah, a real riot.
Naturally, you’ll end up acquiring some power-ups that will extend the blast range of your bombs, and the going will become much easier. But, then we are faced with another problem – the game saves all of your previously collected upgrades, even when you lose all of your lives and are forced to start over. So, at first the game is annoyingly slow and difficult, only to quickly become far too easy. Even for NES standards this just reeks of shoddy game design. And what’s up with these tedious power-ups? I at least want to be able to kick my bombs at enemies or toss them over blocks or something even remotely exciting. Instead you are stuck with arbitrary “wow, I can set more bombs now” or “yippie, I can run a little bit faster” upgrades that just feel so incredibly tired.
Of course, as I mentioned above, there is absolutely no multiplayer mode in this game; not even an option to alternate turns with a friend via GBA to GBA link up. At least battery back-up allows the game to save the highest score and last password issued, options that weren’t in the original NES version.
Visually, Bomberman is an eyesore. The levels are all filled with huge chucks of solid color, drab repetitive textures and a mind-numbing lack of variety. Baddies are all mostly boring blobs with eyes and are surrounded by this odd black outline that makes them appear primitive, even by NES standards. The lone graphical bright spots in the game are the various death animations for Bomberman himself, many of which use about 8 or 10 frames of animation as opposed to the 2 or 3 used for mundane actions like walking.
On a slightly more positive note, the game’s aural presentation is surprisingly decent. The soundtrack consists of only a handful of melodies, but all of them are unobtrusive enough to allow for sustained listening without sparking any MIDI induced fits of rage. All of the general sound effects are typical NES quality, which is to say limited, but they do enhance the gameplay rather than detract from it (though the constant patter of Bomberman’s footsteps can grow wearisome after a time). Worth noting is the outstanding sound bite used for bomb explosions; it actually manages to conjure up some bass from the GBA’s tiny speaker.
In the end, the original Bomberman just wasn’t a very good game back in 1987, and bringing it back unaltered as a “classic” doesn’t change that simple fact. There are plenty of fun, multiplayer Bomberman titles available on just about every system currently available, so if you are absolutely dying to blow stuff up with friends, you’d do well to scrounge one of those up instead of slapping down any hard-earned money for this flawed game.