Wednesday, August 25, 2010


This classic blast from the past has lost some of its flare.

Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System, Game Boy Advance
Published by: Hudson Soft
Developed by: Hudson Soft
Genre: Action
Players: 1
US Release Date: 1987
ESRB Rating: Everyone - Mild Cartoon Violence

Story: As with many early video games, Bomberman lacks any form of deep, significant storyline, instead focusing on addicting, arcade-style gameplay. Bomberman is a robot worker who has tired of his monotonous existence in an underground bomb factory. He decides to throw away his old life to pursue a rumor that robots who escape the factory are transformed into humans upon reaching the surface. Unfortunately for Bomberman, he must first navigate a 50 floor maze of bricks, swarming with enemies he must blast into oblivion with his trusty bombs (which I assume are stolen company property).

The story doesn't deviate beyond these basic building blocks. To be honest, back in the '80s, no one really cared - they just wanted to blow shit up.

Escaping: You're doin' it wrong.

Graphics: Anyone expecting Bomberman to include hyper-realistic graphics, saturated in a lush color palette obviously missed out on the NES, and maybe shouldn't be reading my articles without parental consent. For those of you who are old enough to have enjoyed what the NES had to offer, you already know that there isn't a lot to Bomberman's visual presentation, beyond endless walls of drab bricks, goofy-looking enemies in various basic shades, and the frequent, cross-shaped blast of fiery, bomb-spawned destruction. Basic animations deliver exactly what they're intended to: enemies (and Bomberman) die with cartoony anguish etched into their faces, bricks disintegrate into nonexistence upon being blasted, and Bomberman waddles across the screen with all the finesse of a burnt-out, middle-aged, workaholic spending his lunch break at the company gym.

Despite the lack of any mind-blowing contributions to video game graphics, there is one major feature that sticks out about Bomberman: the eponymous character of the game, Bomberman established his signature look early on. Bomberman's classic appearance has remained, for the most part, unaltered, despite his jump from the NES onto almost every major gaming system since 1987. Without this introduction, perhaps the Bomberman of today would be without his unmistakable anime-inspired eyes, ball hands, white helmet, and stupid-looking antenna.

Despite his most genuine efforts to enforce justice, Bomberman's destruction of his underground factory made him an easy target for Homeland Security.

Sound/Music: Not much here, to be honest. Music is a standard, NES, bleeps-and-bloops fanfare, with little variety and surprisingly little staying power, despite the maddening repetition. The sound of Bomberman's detonating bombs is appropriate, and the "bling" noise when you acquire a power-up is cheerful and bright. However, the incessant tapping of Bomberman's footsteps might drive you to the point of intentionally killing the little bastard, which will leave you scratching your head in confusion when he lets out a death cry that can only be described as a mix between a duck call and a Japanese dirt bike.

Listen around 4:00. You'll get what I mean.

Gameplay: Bomberman is built on a user-friendly, action-oriented, arcadey gameplay style. As Bomberman, you must blast your way through a gauntlet of 50 brick mazes, teeming with various monsters, all possessing the ability to inexplicably kill you with a single touch. You may defend yourself by dropping bombs, which will explode after a set amount of time, destroying any bricks or enemies within their blast radius. However, each stage also has a 200 second time limit; if the timer reaches zero, then swarms of difficult enemies invade the screen to kill you. Fortunately for Bomberman, power-ups are randomly hidden within bricks in each stage, capable of giving him new abilities to fight off his enemies. Eventually, Bomberman is able to walk through brick walls, detonate bombs when he pleases, and strategically place up to ten explosives on the screen. Constantly upgrading Bomberman's abilities is a surprisingly satisfying journey.

Unfortunately, by the time you've collected enough power-ups to obtain all the available abilities, the game has lost most of its challenge, and therefore most of its fun. On top of the disappointing challenge curve is the absolutely atrocious enemy AI (or lack thereof). Although some of the more "challenging" enemies of the later game will give chase to Bomberman if they see him, most will still mindlessly charge into the path of an exploding bomb; this, paired with the giant mess of power-ups already accumulated by this point in the game, almost completely eliminates any need to fear death from your enemies. Essentially, enemies will begin to serve only as a minor annoyance, rushing ahead of each other with an idiotic determination to become bomb fodder. Even the ghosts of Pac-Man had the sense to flee once Pac-Man had eaten a special dot. In fact, the biggest challenges you'll probably face are: (a) accidentally trapping yourself in between a wall and a bomb in the early stages; (b) accidentally bombing a doorway, which will release new hordes of annoying enemies in your direction; and (c) keeping yourself interested enough to plod through all 50, quasi-identical levels. Players are given the opportunity to play a "bonus" stage after every five normal levels, but these also grow old, as their only purpose is to allow the player to go on a murderous rampage in hopes of earning extra lives, which are completely unneeded. Yawn.

Bomberman's Jesus Bomb crucifies another enemy.

Overall: While Bomberman is by no means a bad game, it really can't be called a great game either. Mediocre at best, Bomberman follows its formula almost too well, growing stale quickly and completely. While later iterations have added multiplayer, new upgrades, and boss battles, I feel that these areas were not where the critical flaws of the first game resided. Rather, instead of adding more, I feel Bomberman on NES should have offered less: cutting the number of levels in half, or even by a third would have made this experience far more enjoyable; offering players less power-ups would keep the challenge of the later enemies pertinent, and would require players to utilize some form of strategy to overcome adversaries.

While it may sound like I'm dishonoring and discrediting what Bomberman did for gaming (trust me, I'm not), I can't bring myself to call a game "great" simply for nostalgia's sake. However, I can confidently say that I'm glad Hudson Soft continued the Bomberman series after this incarnation: I consider some of this title's sequels and spin-offs among my favorite games of all time, and none of them would exist without Bomberman's foray onto the original Nintendo Entertainment System.

Score (out of 10): 6

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