Reviewed: July 8, 2005
Released: June 21, 2005
Bomberman has been around almost as long as there have been consoles, and heís left his mark on just about everyone one of them, so itís no surprise that our mad bomberís latest adventure takes place on the Nintendo DS.
Bomberman is simple enough that it plays just as good on a handheld as it does on a full-sized console. In fact, the simplistic grid-like gameplay might seem quite primitive on todayís powerful systems, but with left and right, up and down movement, and only a few required buttons for commands, the game is a perfect match for the NDS.
The DS has two major things going for it; the touch screen and the wireless gameplay, and while the touch screen is implemented with only moderate success, the wireless support for up to eight players with only one copy of the game is pure genius. A third function that has rarely been tapped is the DS microphone, and in this iteration of Bomberman you can actually detonate bombs and command Bomberman using voice commands. How cool is that?
Bomberman offers up 100 stages of varying difficulty spread across multiple chapters, each with a mid-level bonus challenge and each culminating in a boss battle. The standard levels take place only on the upper screen with the bottom screen reserved for menu access to all of the dozens of power-ups you can collect from the exploded blocks and containers within the maze. You have access to three power-ups per page and you can scroll the pages numerous times to access everything in your inventory.
Boss battles and bonus challenges take place on both screens with multiple tunnels connecting the mazes between the top and bottom screens. Some boss battles are multi-tiered so you have to fight sub-bosses or smaller enemies on the bottom screen before you are granted access to the top screen to tackle the boss himself.
The basic premise of Bomberman hasnít changed and the DS version is basically the same as the NES version with a few modern enhancements. Your ultimate goal is to clear the maze of all enemies, locate the exit and escape before time runs out. Enemies get more numerous and some start requiring multiple explosions before they die. Later in the game it becomes just a challenge to find the exit before the timer expires. Some X-Ray Glasses can make this a bit easier.
Power-ups are too numerous to list here but you have the basics that allow you to drop multiple bombs, remote-control bombs, and increase the flame-burst of each bomb. The trick here is to balance the power of your bombs with your ability to get clear of the blast. Thankfully, you can upgrade your speed as well.
As bombs go off you will destroy blocks that open up the maze allowing you greater freedom to explore and set traps for the monsters that wander around in mindless patterns. Thankfully, the monsters arenít that aggressive, at least in the earlier levels, so you can often just duck into a single-square nook and let them pass by.
One complaint I have with the game is that I found it way too easy to take a ďwrong turnĒ using the D-pad, so I would lay down a bomb then instead of going up or down I would accidentally go left or right into a dead end, and since you canít travel over a bomb you just have to sit there and die.
Donít worry, you will die a lot in Bomberman and more often than not it will be of you own doing. Out of more than 100 game sessions I probably only got killed by a monster 6-8 times, not including boss battles. This leads to my second complaint Ė the save system.
The game auto-saves about halfway through each chapter which means if you make it to level 2-5 and die you get to start over at 2-1 and do them all again. And if you make it to the boss battle and die you have to go back to 2-6 and play the entire second half of the chapter to get back to the boss. There is a quick save option that will save your game on any level but it also forces you to quit, and when you restart it deletes the file so you revert back to the mid-level save system again.
There is no continue option for a new game so basically your goal is to somehow finish all 100 levels in a single game, even though that game can be checkpointed and span the course of several weeks. Your goal is to keep finding 1-ups and timer bonuses and other power-ups to keep your game (and Bomberman) alive.
Bomberman truly shines as a multiplayer game with support for eight players using a single copy of the game. Unlike most games where you have limited access to only a sample of the full product, Bomberman offers up numerous game modes, dozens of levels, and a robust handicap system to balance the game among various skilled players.
You can play massive versus games or setup teams and even bring in some highly intelligent (too intelligent) ďbotsĒ to beef-up the action. With eight bombers running around these tight mazes setting off columns of fire, the game just gets totally insane. At least the multiplayer games use both screens which doubles the size of the mazes. This also leads to some interesting strategy where you can setup bombs on one screen that shoot fire into the other.
Depending on how many you have playing and how close you are to each other you may or may not want to explore the voice command option. Regardless, you are all going to feel pretty silly yelling into your DS, but if everyone is within voice range to everyone else it becomes way to easy to trigger somebody elseís bombs.
Bomberman is a decent looking game considering the simplistic nature of the design. Basically, you have a game board that is slightly more advanced than a Pac-Man maze in design, yet through clever texturing and shadows the 2D levels pop off the screen with subtle 3D details.
There is also excellent use of bright and cheery colors, both in the levels and the various icons you collect for your power-ups. These are just as charming in their micro form in the maze as they are in their larger version in the side-scrolling menu. Players are color-coded in the multiplayer games so itís easy to keep track of their scores.
There is even a clever 3D animated intro movie as well as a storybook level-select painting that spans both the top and bottom screen. This has to be one of the best-designed action-puzzle titles on the DS.
The soundtrack starts to get on your nerves about an hour into the game. The music changes for each chapter but it can take upwards of an hour to complete a chapter, especially if you lose all your lives and keep restarting from checkpoints, which means you hear the same music even more. At least itís cheery music and good quality.
There is some campy voice work in the game that is high-pitched and suits the character design and theme of the game. The rest of the sound package is your typical 80ís arcade blips and beeps and buzzes mixed in with the unceasing explosions. It definitely dates the game, but then again, this is basically a remake of a game from a completely different era.
The biggest thing I have learned playing Bomberman is to be ďpatientĒ. When you die, get frustrated, and start to rush through the levels to get back to where you were, this is when you die even faster. Take your time and plot your strategy and you can get through all the levels in the solo game in 10-12 hours if you are good.
The multiplayer component of Bomberman is easily its strongest aspect and this is where the fun has infinite potential. And best of all, only one of you has to spring for the game, although if your friends are smart, they will get their own copies so they can practice when you and your copy arenít around to leech off of.
Bomberman on the DS is Bomberman at his best. The classic 2D design keeps the game simple and perfectly suited to D-pad controls, and the touch screen allows for quick access to power-up items and lets you navigate the setup menus much more quickly than button presses.
The multiplayer is insanely fun and totally addicting and the voice command system is probably going to be an under-appreciated touch, but itís still worth noting and even trying out in smaller groups or larger rooms.
Alone or with friends, Bomberman for the DS is a great action-puzzle game and a worthy addition to your DS library. Once you buy a copy you might be surprised how many other DS owners start to gravitate your way.