Reviewed: April 12, 2004
Released: March 9, 2004
Since its inception in the eighties, the Bomberman series has always been about a signature action-puzzle play style, hectic time limits and so much "cute" that mean people gag when they look at it. Recently, Hudson has produced two new Bomberman titles for the GameCube: the higher-end Bomberman Generations and a budget title, Bomberman Jetters.
It's been a while since the franchise has been this high profile in the gaming world. Generations, the earlier release, was met with largely favorable reviews, which touted the long-running series' three defining characteristics (type of gameplay, hectic pace, cuteness all around) as the best parts of it. Obviously, not that much has changed over time regarding this franchise's formula for success.
But what of Generations' new cousin, Bomberman Jetters? Well, it features a single-player 3D adventure mode plus several top-down one-to-four player mini-games presented in varying degrees of carefree madness. It's still got the cute, the style and at least some of the time limits imposed upon earlier installments. It may not be as expansive (or as expensive) as the high-end game, but at $15, Bomberman Jetters has a surprising amount of stuff crammed onto its gigadisc.
Gameplay has always been the defining hallmark of the Bomberman series. The formula is simple: your Bomber is placed into a blocked-apart puzzle room with dangers and power-ups hidden within, that can only be cleared by (what else?) dropping bombs next to walls and blasting through them. A bomb's blast radius can be increased over time, but the upgrade is also a danger, since your character can blow itself up just as easily if caught in the explosion.
It had been a long time since I'd parted ways with these games when I started reviewing Jetters. I was surprised that, at least in multiplayer, the basic game had remained the same for over 15 years. As I played it more and got into the feel of the levels and power-ups, I gradually realized why: it's hard to improve on the formula of the originals. It's all here: frantic running, explosive devices, mind games with your friends. What's not to like about that?
There are levels with alternate winning conditions and other interesting board effects (like gusty winds or a mine car that can be ridden around the arena), but although some of them are a lot of fun, there's nothing terribly innovative about any of it. I would gripe about the use of these gimmick levels to add variety, rather than a completely new type of play, but it's a moot point to argue in this case - as I have said, there's not much about it that could be changed for the better.
My only real complaint is that, versus the A.I., your character will basically stand no chance in multiplayer. Even on the easy level, the computer opponents play like pros - running until they're one step past the edge of their bomb blast (like any human player could memorize how big they are!), always able to find the one safe space in a firestorm of explosions, and so on. You'll want to be playing with either two or (preferably) four friends when you take these mini-games on, also - there is no way to only play against one or two other bombers.
Annoyingly, the game insists on there always being four of them in an arena, even if you and a friend just want to have at each other without the computer killing you both off in the first minute. Luckily, you can assign computer bombers to your "team" (they'll do their best to not kill you, in other words), which makes two-player still viable. In all fairness, always having four characters on-screen can get pretty enjoyable simply because of the constant visual confusion. However, a "number of opponents" option still would have been nice. Four human players make the multi modes a blast (pun intended).
The biggest leap forward, gameplay-wise, comes in the single-player adventure mode. All is peaceful on White Bomber's home planet... when, for almost no reason, the evil Hige Hige Bandits decide to send an artificial planetoid hurtling into it, destroying it completely! After a little setup and the teaming of Bomberman with his (apparently) archrival, Max, the mission begins. Your goal? to help White Bomber (aka Bomberman) and Max destroy the four jet engines (hence the name "Jetters") propelling the Hige Hige planet into theirs.
This part of the game is presented in the style of a 3-D platformer, with separate camera controls and large, semi-open-ended worlds to explore. There are four areas with a respectable six levels each. Though it isn't anything to write home about, this part of the game is actually quite a refreshing departure from standard plaformers. Your characters can't jump at all, and instead must rely on various other devices to get to out-of-reach places. Often times, this will involve bombing something, which topples it, creating a bridge or ramp upon which to cross the next barrier. Other times, switches must be activated or portals stepped into (these are quite similar to pipes in the Super Mario games).
Sometimes, though, a little extra help is called for. Enter the "charaboms", Pokemon-type critters that can be fed fruit to upgrade their various abilities. There are quite a few of these things in the game (16, I believe) and almost all of them are quite handy at times. For instance, Sharkun, a mechanical shark-thing (go figure), allows Max and B-man to cross water. Level him up by feeding him enough fruit, and he'll be able to climb waterfalls and eventually move more quickly through any type of water. Only in a game like this could developers get away with leveling up a mechanical shark by feeding it strawberries, but oddly enough, it works. Finding food for your new charaboms makes for a fun side quest throughout play.
Another nice thing about the one-player experience - it's easy to get into and fun to watch. Your characters drop bombs with the utmost precision, and can kick them, throw them and make them bigger with relative ease. Controls are largely intuitive and the charaboms activate automatically when needed. As play progresses, different types of bombs become available to the pair, each with a unique way of clearing out baddies. The Hurricane Bomb, for instance, sends a small twister in the direction you were facing when you planted the bomb and is useful for clearing skittish enemies or those with long-range attacks. The bosses are all fun and have some very cute character designs, and although none of them were nearly as difficult as in more serious titles, some could be quite a challenge until the pattern was worked out. Though I have no idea why other Bombers were fighting with our heroes - do they WANT their planet to be blown to smithereens? Hmm.
Anyway, the only other real noise I want to make regarding the adventure mode is this: Bomberman and Max can do all of the same things and basically use all of the same weapons. They even share charaboms! And they can be switched between on the fly at any time during gameplay (your character changes shape to the appropriate person). However, Max has a flash attack that White Bomber doesn't, which hits all enemies on the screen. So... why would anyone ever play with White Bomber? Hudson ought to have given him (or it, as the case may be) a special ability that only it could use right from the start, like Max. Oh well...
I also didn't appreciate the unusually long load times on this disc. GameCube owners usually do not have to deal with this problem on exclusive titles, but Hudson obviously hasn't found the most efficient way to compress for this system. However, despite minor complaints, the game is basically very charming and has a style all its own, which helps the technical aspects of play stand out that much more.
Well, there isn't a whole lot to say about the graphics in Bomberman Jetters. Overall, they're quite sub-par. The cel-shading is not very fluid and characters don't have a very wide range of positions or expressions to be seen. Objects are simplified and blocky. The levels are done in big strokes of pastel color and particle effects are last-gen, by and large. The overall effect is that of playing a very nicely made N64 game, rather than a title designed for the GameCube.
However, before heads start bowing in disappointment, let me say that the style of Bomberman Jetters is the biggest saving grace for its graphics. Character designs may not be able to pose that much or make many expressions, but they're very unique and likeable. The enemies are quite funny at times, especially the Hige Hige bandits. Levels are well-designed from a visual standpoint and they all look unique compared to the others. The overall world of the game is expressed largely through graphics, and for that purpose, they work quite well.
There's just nothing in this game's visual presentation that didn't make me smile, and considering the technical quality of the graphics, that is saying a lot. Although I think it could have been done a lot better, the charm of the characters and graphics in general, plus the fact that it is a budget title to begin with, slightly outweigh the dated appearance of Bomberman Jetters.
Let me start with the good. Bomberman Jetters is nicely scored, with a peppy, bizarre (but likeable!) soundtrack that complements the already peppy and bizarre gameplay nicely. These songs aren't terribly memorable, but they're quite listenable and don't get old as time passes. That's always a relief when a game doesn't actually have that many songs, which is also the case with this title.
Most of the sound effects are just "there" - bomb blasts actually seemed rather muted to me - but some of them are inspired. In particular, the sounds that enemies and allies make in multiplayer mode are priceless. The high-pitched wail of a Bomber being tossed off the side of an arena is one of the funniest sounds I've ever heard in gaming, and does a nice job of taking the edge off of losing horribly to a trio of evil computer opponents. Ambience is at a minimum here, but effects are generally well-placed.
The most unfortunate thing about Bomberman Jetters has to be its voice acting. Thankfully, there isn't much of it. All of the voices sound as though they are being acted by people under the influence of various drugs - usually meth, I gather, but a couple instances of depressant users, too. Of course, I don't mean to actually imply this statement. It's just that the majority of the voices are fast and high-pitched, with improper intonation and delivery. This includes the voice of White Bomber. There are a couple of voices that just plain sound dumb, and a few others that are over-acted (the main bad guy, for instance). The only redeeming light in this dark maelstrom of bad voice acting is the voice of Max, who actually sounds pretty cool and gets a lot of good lines. In the end, though, voices are a rather grating experience in Bomberman Jetters.
The catchword for any Bomberman game is "style". There's just something about the character designs, slightly left-of-center gameplay mechanics and vibrantly designed worlds of this game that make it more fun to play than any generic imitator could ever be. Oddly enough, the Bomberman games rarely do get imitated, so at the very least, the lack of truly original concepts in Bomberman Jetters is a somewhat more forgivable transgression than it might have been with a game that more clearly fills a specific genre.
Also, I'd like to mention once again the price of this game: $15.00. That's it. If you like party games, puzzle games or cute Japanese character design, you will get a lot of play out of those fifteen bucks. The single-player mode alone takes eight or twelve hours to beat, and there's actually a lot of replay in the multiplayer, which has five separate modes of play with one of those modes featuring several different levels on which to play it. If you want a game that gives at least two hours of decently satisfying fun for every dollar spent on it, then look no further than Bomberman Jetters.
The main caveat I have is that, without three friends and four controllers, the value drops significantly since it just isn't as playable against the computer. With only one controller and no friends (ah, we poor Nintendo faithful!), the game stops being interesting after no more than fifteen hours. In any case, considering the price, there's an awful lot of game here. Just keep in mind that the more people you can get playing at once, the better.
Bomberman Jetters has its faults. Bad voice acting, dated graphics and a preternaturally challenging multiplayer AI all detract from the general experience it provides. However, they aren't enough to kill its charm, well-tuned gameplay and multiplayer allure. It's nothing fans haven't seen before, but the overall presentation is solid and it's a successful inheritor to the very unique Bomberman legacy. Rent it first, since some people will probably not care for the strange mix of action and puzzle solving. However, in general, gamers with fifteen bucks to spare won't be let down by this latest installment in the Bomberman series.