Release Date: August 29, 2006
Please, don't tell anyone.
This fascination stems from the fact that, whenever this is attempted, the results tend to be so overblown it's ridiculous. Shadow the Hedgehog's stabs (or should I say, shots) at hardcore grit amused the heck out of me, and I actually enjoyed that game on a few levels. Now, here we are with Bomberman Act: Zero, a chilling re-envisioning of the first game's story. Funny, I wasn't aware Bomberman had much of a storyline of which to speak. I also certainly can't imagine it being in any way similar to what we've got here.
No, seriously, Straightjackets? Smelting ovens? Crazed and vaguely Guyver-ish Bomberman (and Bomberwoman! With bounce factor! That is just sick and wrong!) robotic metal frames? You wanted 'em (not really), so you've got 'em! They're all running around dank, dark corridors that are devoid of any color, because as we all know, color in angst is totally evil.
As a result, the visuals are sufficiently high-definition, but that is wasted in so many places. There was a chance to make the bomb explosions really fiery and convincing, but it's passed over. The gameplay also suffers from the attempt to make this series "hardcore." The lack of environmental color (not to mention the lack of Bomber-thing palette colors) means that it can be very hard, more so than in other Bomberman games, to tell yourself apart from your enemy. Color-coded bombs could have helped, but they're not employed here. How do you tell which bombs are yours? Well, in one game mode you can walk through them and put yourself out of harm's way. In the other, you're kind of screwed.
I'll stop ragging on the theme, though. As I said before, I find it all amusing rather than offensive. The good news is, the core of the game is still Bomberman, with all of the fun that that entails, plus a few changes to the game's formula for which I've been jonesing for quite some time now. The bad news is, that, well … Hudson didn't see fit to actually finish the game before releasing it.
Let's hit each of these points one by one. Bomberman is a game where you run around planting bombs in various places to blow up other players, whether it be in your explosions, or their own. That's still present here, and it can be as addictive as ever, if you let it. The thing is, Act: Zero seems hell-bent on making this otherwise-winning gameplay as hateful as possible. To whit, unless you have Xbox Live, you're only going to be playing alone. In fact, unless you have Live, you can't even save your high scores or stage records. What kind of madness is this? That's right, there's no multiplayer in this game except for online, which supports up to eight. Despite what some Saturn Bomberman folks will tell you, eight is not a bad number — it's just a bad number when you're forced to admit that you paid 50 freaking dollars for this thing.
The single-player modes, while promising at first glance, are broken in their own ways as well. For starters, there are no checkpoints or saving or anything. I suppose it gives the game the arcade feel, but really, it's just annoying, especially considering that there are unskippable cut scenes between each and every round. The wasted time does get to you after a while. If I make it to a high stage, I'd like to be able to somehow practice at it instead of being forced to work my way up there again and again. Would a practice mode have been so bad?
There are two single-player modes: FPB and traditional. FPB brings the Bomber battles close to home. The camera is manipulable and closer to the player for (apparently) a more intense experience, since you can't see where your opponents are at any given time. It actually sort of works in the tension department; unfortunately, the camera wants to fight you every step of the way. Try not to ever make turns when playing in FPB. Yes, it's that bad.
In FPB, instead of one-hit deaths, you're given a set amount of hit points to work with, and the novel idea of being able to crouch-block bomb explosions to take less damage. Also, you can walk through bombs you've planted. These are changes I actually like, and had the potential to make Bomberman more strategic, if designed correctly. However, these moves all serve to make matches longer, which brings us to FPB's fatal flaw. After but a few minutes, the entire board starts closing in on everyone present, and the game shifts into sudden death. No matter how well you've been doing thus far, closing in on your enemy and whatnot, if the board smacks you down, you're instantly destroyed. So much for taking the time to plan your moves.
Standard mode is like the Bomberman of days gone by, except, you know, all hardcore and metal (one hit kills you, etc.). If you've played any other Bomberman before, you've played this.
All of this manic and sometimes slow-paced gameplay is accompanied by roughly three tracks of "tough" techno, two of which barely manage to be tolerable. Also, the announcer is a throwback to one of those early sci-fi movies around the turn of the century; a female mechanized voiceover that will happily tell you that "You Are Alive" or "You Are Dead." That's right, getting blown up with a huge bomb now means that you can die. You're now in for the fight of your life! Gritty!
Wait, I'd promised to stop poking fun at the game's theme, didn't I? Oh, well.
In the end, Bomberman Act: Zero doesn't really suffer as much from its distorted image rather than the fact that it's missing key elements that should be present in any Bomberman game — nay, any game that is actually fun. It trades off tried-and-true design decisions for things that would have made great bonuses in a better-made title. I hate to say it (mainly because so many other people have already), but this is a $50 Xbox Live Arcade title. This isn't because of its no-frills aspect, but because it's bloody online only. Even now, I still can't understand that. There are a billion other Bomberman games on a billion other platforms, many of them on the current hardware generation. I suggest you go spend your money on those instead.