Over the past decade and a half, Hudson's capitalized on the success of its Bomberman
franchise by continuously reinventing the series as different presentations using the same "blow up everything" game mechanic. He's moved from the top-down world of 2D in classics such as Super Bomberman
to the obscure isometric angled perspective of Bomberman Fight
on the Sega Saturn, even hitting a full-blown 3D adventure on the Nintendo 64 with, what else, Bomberman 64
But it's his classic grid-based 2D design where Hudson's bombing hero has really shone, and over the years there have been literally dozens of Bomberman spinoffs that use the familiar gameplay in adventures, RPGs, and flat-out action games on systems from the NES to the Game Boy Advance. The Nintendo DS addition Bomberman, like the title suggests, brings the Hudson series back to its classic, old-school bomb-battling roots. It's a very modest presentation that shows the strengths and weaknesses of the original concept, but there's a huge reason to pick this title up: an absolutely fantastic focus on multiplayer competition.
Bomberman for the Nintendo DS is an extension of the original Bomberman concept created on the Nintendo Entertainment System more than 15 years ago, but enhanced slightly to contemporize the gameplay, balance out the difficulty, and take advantage of some new-fangled touch-screen mechanics specific to the handheld version. The single player adventure is, just like the original Bomberman NES concept, a series of increasingly more difficult arenas of varying sizes, with the task of eliminating the wandering enemies with a near-endless supply of bombs. Once players wipe out the playing field and discover the hidden exit, they can move on to the next round. The challenge is, of course, accurately planting bombs and getting the heck out of the way of the criss-cross explosion, as well as avoiding the rogue enemies moving throughout the grid.
Most of the single-player experience takes place on the upper screen, with the touch screen giving players easy access to power-ups they've picked up along the way. Unlike past Bomberman games, picked up power-ups aren't instantly activated; instead, they're stockpiled into inventory, and players can choose when and where to bulk up their character with such abilities as bomb punches and kicks, shields, extra explosion power, and more. This is all handled by a simple touch-screen interface that's easy to navigate. This unique aspect also weighs things heavily to the player's benefit, compared to past single-player Bomberman games; players only lose the power-ups they've activated when they die, and can bulk up their character with whatever tokens are left in inventory. In other words, players are no longer left all weak and defenseless on the next try, something that was frustrating in previous games in the series. Ultimately, though, this additional stock-piling mechanic makes it just a little too easy to beat the single player mode since smart players will have literally dozens of power-ups ready at their fingertips.
Overall, it's a rather weak and boring single player action game on the DS. Anyone picking up this game expecting a fulfilling solitaire experience will most likely end up disappointed because it lacks any sort of intensity and excitement for an action title.
This, however, cannot be said about the second mode of Bomberman. The multiplayer option, clearly the product's main focus, is a night and day difference from the single player adventure. Though the series originally began life as a single player action game, the classic Bomberman design really burst out of its shell as a maniacal multiplayer competition. When people think of classic Bomberman, it's always Super Bomberman on the Super NES, or Bomberman SS on the Saturn because of their absolutely frantic battle mode. Tack the Nintendo DS version onto this "classic" list, because the development team put a lot of effort into making this option as fun as possible.
Most importantly, the game only requires a single cartridge for the eight player battles. This means that the game is instantly accessible to anyone with a Nintendo DS system, just as long as one friend has a copy of the game. Within this single-cartridge functionality, every little feature of multiplayer is open to players: individual and team battle, computer controlled bots, power-up and handicap adjustments, dozens of different single and multi-screen arenas, and unique, but ultimately silly, functions like microphone-activated bomb detonating. Eight players running around a bomb-filled arena is absolutely intense, and the Nintendo DS hardware keeps up with the action flawlessly. It's some of the best 2D deathmatch ever created, and on the Nintendo DS it's really something that shouldn't be missed.
But again, the game absolutely requires multiplayer to squeeze the enjoyment out of the product. Even though you have the ability to enter the battle mode against computer-controlled players, it really isn't the same because the AI opponents behave, well, artificially. For example, these AI drones know exactly where a player's blasts will end, so they'll stop just out of explosion's reach right before the bomb detonates. Playing against the computer isn't good practice for human competition because of their clairvoyant-like behavior, but at least it gives players the upper hand in learning the different options available in this mode.
The Nintendo DS hardware is used modestly in Bomberman. The dual-screen aspect is actually quite clever in battle mode, as it's used to double up the arena size by connecting the two screens as a single playfield. This also changes up the strategy in the arenas that link the two displays, since players can cleverly plant bombs on one screen that'll send an explosion to the other half of the arena. It's a game where alertness pays off, and when you have to keep track of two different screens, it's a lot tougher to do. And makes things a lot more frantic. The microphone element is an almost unnecessary inclusion that will most likely be dismissed by the mass public. By shouting something -- anything -- into the microphone, you can detonate bombs or mines depending on the game mode. It's meant to add a little personality to the local area network, and it succeeds in making everyone in the room feel foolish by yelling obscenities or random noises just to pull off control that could have been done by simply pushing a button.
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