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NDS Review - 'Bomberman DS'

by Agustin on Aug. 13, 2005 @ 4:00 a.m. PDT

The Bomberman series returns with Bomberman for Nintendo DS, boasting the first eight-player wireless LAN action for the Nintendo DS system and supporting the DS microphone. Bomberman's addictive blend of strategy and action will keep puzzle fans and players of all ages and skill levels drawn to the 100 stages of gameplay.

Genre: Puzzle
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Hudson
Release Date: June 21, 2005


I would love to sound like your regular “in the know” gamer and cite the titling of the new Bomberman game -- simply “Bomberman” -- as the sign of a new path for the series, a release that sets a new bar for the games that follow it, a la Resident Evil 4. Bomberman for the DS is not that game. With reality backing me up just slightly this time around, I would love to tell you that this new Bomberman game is a back to basics look at the series, a game that removes the fluff surrounding the gameplay and brings fans back to a bomb-’n-run experience. But Bomberman for the DS is not that game, either.

So what is it, then? The short answer: It’s just another Bomberman game. It does not compete with the likes of classics like Mega and Saturn Bomberman, yet it distances itself from series duds Bomberman 64 and Bomberman Generations. It brings new ideas to the table, such as the new touch screen-based revenge game, yet it leaves out many of the fun new modes introduced in Bomberman Online and Bomberman Jetters. It is Bomberman DS, not an evolution and definitely not a revolution, right along with every Bomberman game that has seen release within the past decade. It’s the same bomb-dropping concept, the same grid-based setting (barring Bomberman 64), the same mundane single player mode and the same sublime multiplayer experience.

So, to get the negative side of Bomberman out of the way, let’s hop right into the single player portion of the game. In a word: Boring. These are the portions of every game in this series that have earned the genre title “puzzle,” although only in the most loose application. The “thinking” part (which is where the puzzle genre comes in, although that is to say little of the thousands of games in existence which require the user to “think”) is in timing the bomb explosions -- which, for the uninitiated, occur moments after the bomb is placed -- with the approach of various types of enemies. Simple enough, yes?

There’s a little more to it. Each enemy type has a different raison d’etre. Some approach in specific patterns and velocities. Others float continuously through even the most solid obstacles. Still others are powerful enough to absorb strings of hits. Different approaches, often involving a hefty amount of pre-planning, are required to take down each enemy.

The problems with the single player mode all tie in to the fact that there just isn’t much to do. Nothing on the basic grid is altered adequately throughout the near one hundred levels of gameplay. While more action-packed games can easily get away with ignoring diversity for the most part, Bomberman’s slow-paced nature makes the repitition far too obvious.

But make no mistake: Bomberman only carries snail-like pace when the DS download play features aren’t being taken advantage of. Single player is tedious, but multiplayer gamers are anything but.

The action moves with blinstering speed. The name of the game is straight-up deathmatch -- blow up every enemy bomber in your path and be the last man standing, Highlander style. While the inhibiting blocks that initially surround every combatant keep the initial moments of each match fairly tame, don’t be fooled; things are about to get crazy.

Most times, it is only seconds before the literal heat is on. Hordes of items throughout each stage lend impressive item upgrades -- and, for the crafty player, downgrades -- to specific aspects of the bombermen: Bomb type (bouncy, landmine, power), bomb strength (long, longer, and even freakin’ longer), running speed, and abilities (punch, kick, throw). During eight player matches, despite the added room thanks to two full screens of action, flames undoubtedly end up hosing down the majority of the breakable obstacles on any given map in no time at all.

Added bells and whistles tie up the essence of Bomberman DS neatly: Voice-activated shields and bomb-detonations add a surprising about of charm to the experience, as long as enough players are present for the fun. The manual instructs players to yell specific silly phrases like “ka-BOOM!!!” to activate voice functions, but in reality, just about any loud noise close to the microphone works like a charm. Best of all, voice modes, like Donkey Konga’s clap-sensing microphone, are protected by variable sensitivity options. My playtest: Loud blasts from those annoying party trumpet/noisemaker trinkets. If it worked for us, it can work for you, too! When they ask, tell your friends you heard of this idea on! (Wink.)

While not as exciting as gleefully screaming your personal choice for hottest young actor of the year, the DS’s native touch screen also adds a dose of gimmick-y joy. Instead of the traditional “lobbin’ carts” of ye olde Bomberman, players must gauge the frequency and length of touch screen flicks in order to propell bombs across one or both screens. While this mode is strategically lacking, as the flick speed is very shaky, it is a welcome change to the traditional revenge mode. Even after all these years, there still isn’t a better gaming moment in the world than taking out another player during revenge, being ressurrected because of it, and subsequently winning the game.

Most of what makes up Bomberman DS’s multiplayer mode is nearly perfect, part by part. The problem is what’s missing. As per the How To Make A Bomberman Game Official Rule Book, this newest Bomberman must completely ignore any steps forward made by any Bomberman game prior to or after the release of the former said game. That means no submarine bomber, Chu Chu Rocket-style modes, rideable animals, online play (though, to be fair, this is because the game is releasing months before Nintendo plans to unveil the DS’s online infastructure), almost nothing. Eight player Bomberman almost graces Saturn Bomberman levels of fun (10-player widescreen mode!), but without the added extras that made that game so close to complete genre perfection (if you consider Bomberman games to be a genre unto themselves), this DS rendition is nowhere near being the classic that that game was.

Every Bomberman review -- even the one I would have written for Saturn Bomberman, had I been given the chance to review it upon release -- has felt dated. The difference is, while the luster of Saturn Bomberman has only grown when compared to the titles following it, no game in the series has managed to maintain the same image, with the Dreamcast’s Bomberman Online being the strongest challenger.

On a console as truly different as the DS is from anything before it, a Bomberman game should feel much more new than this one does. We’ve been here, we’ve done that, and once the 8-player luster wears off -- if you can get that many DS systems in one place to begin with -- the empty steps to nowhere taken by Hudson become very, very clear.

Score: 6.7/10

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