No game has portrayed bombs in a more novel fashion than Hudson’s Bomberman series. The balls of dynamite haven’t done any favours to my mental perception of a bomb, and they certainly don’t just send a blast in a four directions. The games have hardly been famous for epic sagas; the original NES version featured Bomberman growing tired of making bombs in a factory and attempts to become human. This time the evil forces of Bagular have invaded and destroyed the five coins that unify the Bomber Planet, and it’s up to your human looking protagonist, White Bomber, to relocate the fragments to repair the planet. Significant to the series is no consistent bad guy, unlike Mario’s Bowser for instance, although the Bagular base always seems to be present in some form.
Unlike other contemporary platforms, this was the only Bomberman release on the Mega Drive, a port of the TurboGrafx-16’s Bomberman ’94. However, that doesn’t make this any less of a game as Mega Bomberman is good as ever. The premise of is simple: playing as White Bomber you have to wade through mazes and place bombs to blast away destructible obstacles and enemies. Indestructible obstacles are rhythmically patterned throughout, so the position of the bomb is crucial to avoid getting caught in the crossfire. Levels are completed by trolling through and destroying probes throughout the level to unlock the next area and eventually the exit. To help you throughout the levels there are various collectible tokens that are revealed from blasting blocks. Collecting bomb tokens allows more bombs to be placed; flame tokens increase the blast radius, and other tokens allow the ability to simultaneously place a row of bombs and immunity. New to this version are the kangaroos, which White Bomber can ride and benefit from their extra abilities. Depending on the colour, they can zoom across the level, kick or jump over blocks. Not to mention they are a safety net from the standard one-hit kills.
Mega Bomberman’s single-player isn’t particularly taxing. There are some hiccups, such as a satanic crab in the Slammin’ Sea world and you’ll need to have accumulated the ability to plant many bombs with a high blast range in the final zone. Unfortunately continuing from a password resets them. The worlds aren’t particularly innovative but are designed well enough to set the cartoon effect, each having their own sets of enemies and features. Vexin’ Volcano includes mine carts to safely traverse across a level crushing anything in its way, amongst enemies that fly towards an active bomb and Slammin’ Sea includes submarines that only emerge on occasion plus sharks that can float above all obstacles. Thrashin’ Tundra even has fireworks that stall White Bomber briefly and activate live bombs if hit. It’s a fairly straightforward experience but there are a few hiccups on the way.
Although the story mode is adequate enough, it pales in face of the multiplayer. Featuring 4-player support is already a thumbs-up, and CPU opponents are available if you’re lacking in the friends department. Four Bombermen compete in the area and try to blast each other down, using item tokens and kangaroos to assist them, and can play individually or in teams. Maps themselves don’t extend any further than what’s viewable on the screen, but if time is short blocks will fall from above, reducing the arena’s size to quickly decide a victor. The Bomberman outfits are changeable and there are ample battle arenas, some modelled on the story mode levels and each having their own unique quirks. Whereas some are simply maps with destructible blocks, the snow map features the central igloo and bomb-detonating fireworks whilst some either have high-speed movement, one-way access points or no destructible blocks at all. The arenas are very well varied and provide much more than rather than cosmetic variation. Mega Bomberman proves its worth to highlight the simple, but marvellous multi-player that makes Bomberman great.
Mega Bomberman may have been the only Bomberman release the Mega Drive saw, but it’s a pretty good one at that. It doesn’t stand out among the zillions of other Bomberman titles available, but it’s undoubtedly one of the better ones. The single-player is entertaining if unspectacular, and despite its easy-flowing difficulty it does have a few surprises. However, Mega Bomberman’s main strength is from the gripping battle mode. The four-player action can lead to many possibilities, not to mention plenty of betrayal and common enemies when three Bombermen team up against one. If you can get hold of a multi-player adapter you’ve just found yourself an essential for a Mega Drive party. If you’re stuck finding this gem on the Virtual Console, fear not, as Bomberman ’94 for the Turbografx-16 is essentially the same game.