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Bomberman (TurboGrafx-16) artwork

Bomberman (TurboGrafx-16) review

"Everything recycled is new again..."

Everything is right where you left it on the Nintendo Entertainment System, but more colourful, better sounding and more responsive in general. Except now weíre on the PC Engine, or rather its North American counterpart, the oversized and oddly named TurboGrafx-16. This game makes nearly as many missteps as the NEC did with the packaging and presentation of said hardware, even though it is more ďadvancedĒ.

So I suppose that makes Bomberman a NES port to NECís console, since it was the Lode, er forerunner. The history of Bomberman starts with a title localized in Europe as "Eric and the Floaters", thanks to local tensions about the use of unauthorized incendiaries. The advancements this game has made are stuck with uncomfortable growing pains, but letís not garrote the protagonist before he has a chance to rescue the girl.

Bomberman screenshotBomberman screenshot

You heard it, this is a franchise first: A token damsel in distress snatched by Bombermanís rival and locked away in his castle, but Iíll not judge it too harshly for that. Future installments supplant this trope-lashed story with a wholly original mythos. What we get in place of that is a considerable bump up in colour, and a significant improvement in detail, but nothing the NES can't match. The PC Engine was a powerful slice of silicon, but was early to the party and quickly outdated. That, friends, is the theme of this review.

I could write a short guide about the particulars of timing and bombing tactics in these games, but as with most, persistence, patience and loads of button pressing will earn you those ever valuable quick-thinking reflex based skills. The good news is that everything you learn is transferable to most of the other games in the franchise, which is a pretty unique feature, and has done a lot for the longevity of the series. Even the Mario games have seen more alterations to their base mechanics.

Bomberman screenshot Bomberman screenshot

In terms of mechanics, Bomberman is every bit as explosive and embattled as he is on any platform, as this title almost fully embodies what players would have for an entire decade before any significant changes were introduced. We're looking at minor tweaks here, unfortunately. This time around the grid there's an overworld that situates Bomberman in one of eight areas consisting of eight stages. You start off in the typical green and grey grid stage with red bricks you can destroy along with a handful of orange balloon foes, and then move through a colourful array of areas that include a forest and even a water flooded area, and so on.

Everything recycled is new again, except for the dejected foes that didnít make the transition, which is hard to complain about because new enemies are crafty in new ways compared to the ones they replace. Noteworthy examples are a large wheel that takes two hits to defeat, cheese-wheel looking slabs that hurl themselves at you and a cutesy flying dragon that floats over blocks. Powerups are entirely recycled, too, except that the fireproof vest lasts only until you exit the level. Mastering bomb arrangement and timing is your only way to win, but youíve got few options to handle defeat:

First of all youíve got extra lives, and youíll pick up more periodically as you progress. Of course, restarting from scratch is the forever option, and passcodes made a triumphant return, but Hudson has introduced the ability to save your progress. When youíre out of continues, of which you only get two, you can just reload from the main menu. The good news is that youíll keep your bomb count and range for future demolitions planning. On the other hand, youíll lose everything else and that can make progressing unnecessarily wearisome.

Bomberman screenshotBomberman screenshot

Bosses occur at the end of every area and can be very tough if youíre unprepared. Almost invariably youíre going to die and lose your advantage. Itís not much fun starting a level or boss battle this way, though it is doable if you have the patience and can be satisfying to overcome those odds. That said, when you have your bomb trigger powerup, these fights are almost absurdly easily when youíve learned exactly what you need to do. The catch is that passcodes are only given when youíve died, and neither that nor the save option are going to enable you to recover what youíve lost.

That pesky timer returns, as it always does, but this time you'll start out with four minutes, which will be scaled down to three in the later levels. Very seldom will you run afoul of the last second, but beware that you will explode when time runs out. Bomberman will explode. Not you. Got it? Good.

Caution, however, wonít protect you from the more grueling boss fights later in the game, and unlike Bomberman 93, you donít get any warning, youíre just dropped into a room with a baddie and expected to sort things out. The last fight is a real pain in the rear as youíre pitted against four Bomber, er... men who shapeshift into fire-spitting enemies while your black-clothed rival scoots around with a forcefield that protects him from all damage. Frankly I ran out of patience and used save states to prevent the loss of my powerups. Beating the game became an exercise in frustration and futility, and thatís not what Iím looking for when I play.

Bomberman screenshotBomberman screenshot

It seems Iím not alone in this view, as this isnít one of those games players flock to for their hit of nostalgia. Another failure point is the music, which is more expressive and detailed on the TurboGrafx-16ís PSG soundchip - more capable than the fixed function hardware in the NES. Even though the stages change theme, the music doesnít follow along, sporting just one song right up until the last area. There are boss themes, but just two of those, and then the fire vest theme and credits. Not much to rave about there, and though they establish the de facto mix of the Bomberman theme, itís not exactly what Iíd call toe tapping.

Itís important to note that multiplayer modes are available, but not having tested them, thatís about all Iím prepared to say on the subject.

Listen, Iím not suggesting that I wouldnít have had the patience to play the game without save states, but the teething problems that arrived with these new boss teeth make the game a less entertaining proposition than NES Bomberman or even its sequel. The improvements are both welcome and would have undersold the TurboGrafx-16 had they not been made... but I think Iíll be passing this one over for much improved Bomberman 93, and Iíd suggest you do as well.

hastypixels's avatar
Community review by hastypixels (March 26, 2019)

At some point you stop justifying what you play and begin to realize what you're learning by playing.

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Masters posted March 27, 2019:

This is a very good review, Hasty, even if I disagree with much of it. It's probably my favourite of your reviews.

I will say that the multiplayer feature was a BIG deal in the game's heyday; I actually played the game with four friends using the TurboTap peripheral and five TurboPads, and sheer chaos ensued. The amount of fun you would have... can't be undersold. The TG16 was the only system which could allow 5-player simultaneous play, and Bomberman was one of the few games which made use of that ability. This was, for the small TG16 audience, Unreal Tournament before its time.
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hastypixels posted March 27, 2019:

Thanks, Masters. I appreciate that. Back in the day I knew just one kid who had the TG16, and he had Bonk and Commander Keith, so you might imagine I was underwhelmed. That's part of what has fueled my interest in the system's more outstanding offerings now. I still don't find it a good mesh for my tastes, but it's not difficult to see what made the PC Engine a hit.

I didn't get my multiplayer kicks until Super Mario Kart's Battle Mode... which reminds me, that's one I should review. I suppose that the singleplayer campaigns of Bomberman aren't the shining moment of these titles. I just finished my playthrough of 94, and... well, yeah. When I get there.
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Ogreatgames posted March 28, 2019:


Nice review.

I recall this version of Bomberman getting a shear praise for its amazing end bosses and impressive multiplayer.

I think this was the version of Bomberman with screen scrolling.

I played the NES Bomberman, and I remember how all the stages were confined to one screen.

It was still fun though.
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hastypixels posted March 28, 2019:

Actually, all versions of Bomberman on NES featured screen scrolling, though the first was always the same size and shape of rectangle. Bomberman 2 varied the stage occasionally, from scrolling to non-scrolling, but, yeah, variety wasn't the hallmark of these early games. That wouldn't come until later.

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