Release Date: September 12, 2006
Back when Bomberman 64 came out, I saw the game as a slight diversion – a funny little experiment, at best. Then I went right back to playing standard Bomberman games. Bomberman 64 just seemed like a failed experiment at the time, and maybe it still is now. I never thought I would think this way, but my god, I wish Hudson would do another game like it.
Yes, Bomberman 64 was almost universally panned, but the state we're in now is sorry. Even something as alien as Bomberman: Act Zero clings too closely to convention while tarnishing the franchise. The budget PSP import version does nearly the same; there are a bunch of creepy Japanese superheroes in colorful tights instead of our beloved bombermen, but the gameplay is completely unchanged. The near-launch DS version is one of the better ones I've ever played, right up there with Saturn Bomberman, and even that bores me to tears. I know it's great because it has features I would have loved, such as eight-player download games, and the return of my all-time favorite from the Dreamcast's Bomberman Online, Paint Mode. Really, I just can't take the grids anymore. These games don't need to exist on next-generation platforms because they don't take advantage of anything next-generation. The last game that tried is approaching 10 years old. That should be embarrassing to Hudson.
I had some hopes for this PSP version, after hearing it would be different from the aforementioned budget import. On a minor platform like the PSP – because, let's face it, this thing is the Dreamcast of the portable world, complete with upcoming Powerstone games – I'd hoped that Hudson would try out some new ideas.
I'd hoped that they would improve on the terrible single-player mode, because multiplayer isn't ever the best focus for a portable game, considering it demands people to have friends or family with the same console
That didn't happen either.
This latest self-titled Bomberman, as I like to refer to this new practice of "resetting" the series by avoiding any subtitles (see the recent DS version for more of this confusion), is yet another gut-and-switch iteration; specifically, it isn't a feature-filled Saturn Bomberman, but something of a throwback to the first Super Bomberman, with a few new ideas thrown in.
For the single-player action, there are 100 long-winded levels to plod through. Gone are the failed experiments of Bomberman Hero, Pocket Bomberman, and yes, Bomberman 64. Those games were miraculous duds, although the last one in that bunch had some fancy concepts here and there. But duds are duds, and we wouldn't want them back, would we?
So we've got a conservative dud instead.
Is that really better? It's the same thing we've been doing for what seems like decades: Guide your little bomber-fellow around a simple grid, blow up blocks, and set up bombs timed to explode when enemies slowly walk by. Blow them all up, and you win.
The flaw isn't necessarily the simplicity of it. Here's an example of simplicity implemented properly: Guide a little yellow circle around a maze and get all the pills, but don't let any ghosts run into you unless you've swallowed one of the four power pills present on each board. That game is pure digital poetry. Bomberman is just as simplistic – more so, even – but doesn't provide any excitement in the process. It's too slow, for one, and with 100 boards to play through, you'd have to sink far more of your time than anyone in their right mind would want to. Worse yet, the difficulty seems to stagnate early on. The fast-paced craziness of multiplayer Bomberman has its antithesis right on the same disc in this case (and most cases, really). Multiplayer is all crazy bouncing bombs, running from waves of explosions popping up all over the place, hitting see-saws that toss your explosives right into your opponent's face; single-player is like Charlie Chaplin filling in for Charles Bronson in "Deathwish VII."
Actually, it's not nearly as amusing as that might have panned out.
While the single-player is exactly what is and has been wrong with the series ever since the 32/64-bit experimentation came to a quick close, the multiplayer actually does have much less to offer than its direct competition. To think that my DS copy is sitting just a few feet away from this PSP version on my shelf – heck, they have the same exact title, and similar boxart, even! – and with that, I can enjoy more modes and, most importantly, more players than this PSP version allows. Then again, I only know a precious few PSP owners, probably just enough to fill the four-player limit once in a blue moon, while I've enjoyed numerous DS matches at or near that game's eight-player cap.
What was so great about the DS Bomberman was that it didn't take too many of the DS' stranger features to heart. Standard games were fully playable, albeit on larger maps that fill both of the screens, and different modes could be added on to take advantage of the touch-screen and microphone. (Plus, you didn't have to deal with the irritating trance soundtrack present in the PSP version.) The PSP version is the one with the quirkiest feature: Items have to be activated by pressing the shoulder buttons to set them up. This makes for some nice on-the-fly customization, especially if you're not ready to power up your bomb that much just yet. That situation so rarely comes up, though; usually, it's just a pain having to look at the ever-present side menu to prepare your power-ups. While flicking the screen in Revenge mode might have annoyed some DS players (not me!), at least that was optional. Here, the developer's hand is too hard to avoid, but hey, they tried something new, however minute, and I'm glad to see that this version wasn't marred entirely by stagnation.
If you don't have a DS and you have at least two friends with a PSP, get this game when the price inevitably drops like a stone, as Bomberman titles are prone to do. Otherwise, wait for the DS sequel, complete with online support, and leave this one for your friends looking to justify their PSP purchases.
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