Publisher: Hudson Entertainment
Developer: Hudson Entertainment
Release Date: June 11, 2009
Over the past 20 years, the Bomberman franchise has been able to survive and prosper over multiple systems without having to change its core mechanics at all. While the game started out in the U.S. as a single-player adventure on the Nintendo Entertainment System, it wasn't until the TurboGrafx-16 debut that the public started liking the game's new feature: multiplayer. Going up against friends with all sorts of explosives and power-ups in randomly designed arenas gave the game an addictive quality that kept players playing for long stretches of time. The multiplayer became so crucial to the game that versions made without the mode, like Bomberman Hero for the Nintendo 64, and those that deviated too greatly from the formula, like Bomberman: Act Zero for the Xbox 360, were shunned by both critics and fans alike.
For this generation of home consoles, both the Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii received more traditional Bomberman games in the form of Bomberman Live and Bomberman Blast, respectively. After seeing both of those titles receive praise and love from game critics and fans, Hudson has decided to spread the game over to the PlayStation family's latest console with Bomberman Ultra. Anyone who's ever played a game in the series will instantly enjoy this offering, while newcomers will easily see why it has been a treasured franchise for so long.
The premise of the game has not changed at all since the early versions on the TG-16. You play as a bomberman stuck in an arena full of other bombermen. Your objective is to eliminate the competition by getting them caught up in the explosions made by either your bombs or their own bombs. To do that, you have to bomb your way through the obstacles placed in the arena and hope that your blast hits them first. Blowing up these obstacles reveals power-ups such as the ability to throw bombs, lay down multiple bombs or increase the blast radius of your explosives. There are drawbacks, however, such as power-downs that weaken your abilities and skulls that do random things such as make you uncontrollably drop bombs at inopportune times or disable your bomb-dropping altogether for a short time span. You also have to worry about your own explosions since you're not immune to them. One careless move on your part, and you could spell your own doom for the round.
Considering that this game is downloadable and that the series' accolades really come from the multiplayer portion, it's not all that surprising to see the single-player game so watered-down. The single-player game can be thought of as a training session for those who want to practice their tactics before going into multiplayer. You can face up to seven other bots in the same match, change parameters such as which power-ups appear and which ones can be destroyed, and change the arena and game type. The opponent AI is fairly good and unless you place this on the easy setting, don't be surprised if you suddenly find yourself on the losing side of a match due to a combination of good AI strategy and your own carelessness. If anything, this is where most people will spend their time trying to hone their skills.
Multiplayer is the main focus of the game, and it remains Bomberman Ultra's strong suit. Offline gameplay is still the best way to experience the title, as every option can be configured just like in the single-player game. The big draw to the PS3 version is the fact that you can now play with up to seven players locally. This not only trumps the Xbox 360 version, which only allows up to four local players, but it also makes it one of the few PS3 games to take advantage of the seven-player option on the system, period. The online play for the game is great, allowing for up to eight-player games with a good mix from console to console. For example, you can have three or four people on one console battle with four other people from different PS3 consoles online. The options remain unchanged, so the differences between offline and online game modes are barely noticeable.
Lag is barely present in all but the worst connections, which is good for a title that has action happening almost all of the time, and the online community is vibrant enough that you can easily find someone playing the game at almost any time. The only annoyance here is whenever you join a game. Even if you confirm that you're ready for the match, anytime the number of players gets increased or reduced, the ready indicator resets. Considering the number of times the player count will fluctuate before a game can begin, this quirk can lead to small bouts of frustration for the player who just wants a quick online game.
For those wondering just how different this game is in comparison to the Xbox 360 version, you'll either be happy or saddened to know that this is exactly the same game. All of the levels, power-ups, costumes and music are the same ones found in the Xbox 360 version released about two years ago. In other words, if you've played that version before, you've played this one. The advantage here is that you get more for your money here since all of the downloadable expansion packs are included here, including the Destructoid mascot costume. While this may be a bragging point for PS3 owners to hover over 360 owners' heads, know that there doesn't look to be an option to download more costumes or levels exclusive to the console. Without any other extras for the PS3, the game can be considered exactly the same on both platforms.
The controls are excellent, though it would be anyone's guess as to why they wouldn't be. Either the d-pad or the left analog stick is used for movement while the X button is used to lay down bombs. The only other button used here is the Square button, which is used for punching bombs if you have the appropriate power-up. The controls are responsive, and you never have the feeling that you're fighting them whenever you play. Again, there's nothing to complain about with a control scheme this fine-tuned.
The graphics are exactly what one would expect from a Bomberman game. Everything from the environments to the characters is bright and colorful, giving the game a cartoon-like charm amidst the violence. The explosions fit well with what's given and strike a nice balance between awe and dread whenever they are set off. Seeing a fully powered dangerous bomb explode and fill almost half the screen still elicits gasps even from longtime players. Movement is smooth, with everything running at a good 60 frames per second and no slowdown is present no matter how many bombs are set off at the same time. There's really nothing to complain about for the graphics. For those wondering, the PS3 version looks a tad bit sharper than the Xbox 360 version, but one has to look at it very closely to see the difference.
The sound is good, especially if you have a good speaker system through which to pump it. The music, like the graphics, is whimsical and brings more of a fun mood to the game as opposed to a stressed-out one. The same can be said for the announcer's voice when power-ups are picked up, though the high-pitched nature of the voice may be too much for some to stand. The sound effects are the real stars of this category. This is especially true of the explosions, which really work out the bass, especially if you're running a Dolby Digital sound system that can rattle floors. About the only drawback to the sound is the volume. For some reason, the game is played at a lower volume than the system, forcing you to turn it up when you play and turn it back down if you don't want the rest of your games to sound louder than before. It's annoying, but it's tolerable.
The game may technically be over two years old, but that doesn't stop Bomberman Ultra from being one of the best downloadable games on the PS3. The graphics and sound may be simple compared to other games on the service, but the controls are easy for anyone to grasp. More importantly, the gameplay is still solid. While the single-player experience may be shallow, the online multiplayer is excellent, and the local multiplayer finally gives you a good excuse to have seven PS3 controllers in your possession. Unless you absolutely hate multiplayer games of any sort, you should have Bomberman Ultra in your PS3 game library.Score: 8.5/10
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