Who knew that being so destructive could have such longevity? 23 years ago, Bomberman was introduced to the world, blowing up bricks and enemies in various mazes. While the consoles (and even our hero's outfit) have changed since then, the basic concept has remained the same. So has the explosive protagonist's popularity, with many fans looking forward to destroying mazes with every new release. Now, PSP owners have the chance to blow things up on the go with the latest installment of the franchise, Bomberman.
Plot has never really been the strong suit of the Bomberman franchise; inevitably, the title has usually revolved around the destructive one's attempts to save himself and his home planet from attack. With the latest title, the plot of the normal game itself is relatively close to that: A mysterious figure (that fans of the franchise will recognize as Professor Bagular) has surrounded a number of planets in the galaxy, including Bomber World, with a strange brown haze. Although Bomberman isn't aware of this attack at first, he is quickly alerted to the threat as he flies through space in his personal ship. Descending onto each planet in turn, Bomberman confronts the threats facing him to liberate each world from Bagular's forces.
The normal game takes place across 10 worlds, each with ten separate stages to explore and explode. The objective to each level is simple: destroy each opponent found on that level, discover the hidden exit by blowing up the bricks that hide it from view, and leave the stage before time runs out. This, of course, is easier said than done, because not only do you have to contend with the various monsters that populate each stage, but you'll also have to deal with the numerous environmental hazards that each world potentially hosts. For example, the Desert World features a number of warp holes based on swirling sand whirlpools that teleport Bomberman around the map, while the Ice World makes him slide around uncontrollably on the ground. Oh yeah, and did we forget to mention avoiding incineration from the very bombs that he's placed around the levels?
Of course, fans of the game will know that the numerous items unearthed from explosions can potentially help the diminutive demo expert escape these lethal threats, giving him the ability to move fast enough to escape the blast of bombs, lay down multiple explosives and even determine when you want to detonate them. However, previous games have usually triggered the effects of these items as soon as our hero touched them, which would turn the game into a mad dash for powerups. That is no longer an issue thanks to the new stockpile system for Bomberman. Now, whenever players run into one of the 19 items available in the normal game, it's immediately added to their stash of objects that can be accessed at almost any point in time thanks to the left and right buttons. There are three classes of items as well: 1)effects that cross over from stage to stage, such as speed increases, 2) effects that can only be used for that particular stage, such as glasses that show where items are hidden on that level, and 3) effects with a definite time limit, such as invincibility. Isn't it nice to know now that you can potentially avoid a scorching demise by triggering a protective effect right before a bomb detonates?
Although players can trigger these effects almost at any time, there are a few caveats to the system. One of the largest ones is that you have to toggle through all 19 items until you find the one that you need. While this might be fine in-between stages, it can be a serious pain in the neck during the flow of gameplay as you frantically search your collected objects for protection during a difficult level. Fortunately, this option is completely removed during boss battles (since the temptation for continually triggering invincibility would be way too strong). Another one is that it's a bit too easy to get items that you need -- every single level has at least 10 items per stage, meaning that you can easily replenish the items that you may have used. This doesn't count the bonus rounds that you'll go through after every fifth stage on a planet. Since you're invincible at this time, it can be pretty easy to plan massive detonations around the enemies on these levels to collect your spoils in these rounds without breaking a sweat.
This does make it a lot easier to unlock the classic mode of Bomberman (particularly because there's no additional difficulty levels to the normal game), which lets you play more than 50 levels in 3D environments. Inevitably, experienced Bomberman players will be able to blow through these stages without a lot of trouble -- most likely it'll take less than a day to complete both the normal game and the classic stages. However, Bomberman has always been strongest with multiplayer, which is carried over to the portable version as well thanks to the battle mode. If you're looking to hone your skills, you can try a single player game against the computer in a number of stages to see who comes out on top, or you can try to take on your friends in some friendly competition.
Players can decide just about every option within a Battle game, including the number of rounds, ability to get revenge on another player, and the time limit. While Bomberman supports ad hoc play, the more impressive thing is that it supports game sharing for up to four players on one UMD, allowing you and three friends to battle each other on a variety of levels. Game sharing is relatively quick to do for other systems -- we found that it took less than a minute to transfer the related information to other PSPs, although it was quite strange to notice that these other systems without the UMD displayed intermittent loading screens as the host system moved through certain menu screens. We also noticed that there happened to be a certain amount of lag that affected gameplay with multiple players, something that made the control of each Bomberman somewhat sticky. Strangely, this wasn't present if you played against computerized opponents.
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