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Bombastic (PlayStation 2) artwork

Bombastic (PlayStation 2) review

"If you manage to line up three connecting dice with that number facing up, those dice will then ignite and, after a short time, explode. This is where Bombastic gets its title. Once a set of such dice explodes, a blast extends a number of panels equivalent to the number on the dice's face."

I have a theory that every set of dice that disappeared from every board game I ever played as a child wound up in the game Bombastic, the Capcom-published sequel to an obscure Playstation puzzler title known as Devil Dice. There are two reasons this notion has the ring of truth to it. The first is that, well, those dice had to go somewhere. And the second is that with so many exploding dice, the supply would have been quite low if they could not have been stolen from innocent children.

Perhaps you played Devil Dice and perhaps you didn't. I myself had only seen a few screenshots of it, yet it looked intriguing, like a solid alternative to Tetris in a world with not enough such surprises. When I heard Capcom (who was not the developer) had decided to risk its good name publishing a sequel for the Playstation 2, I knew this was one title I had to own. And was it worth the money I paid for it? Did I find myself enraptured in the joys of flipping dice to set up explosions? Well, yes and no.

When you first boot up the game, you'll be nudged toward the 'Quest' mode. I'm not sure if such an option was available in the previous title in the series (though I would think not), but here it takes front and center stage. This is puzzling because the Quest mode is actually one of the least enjoyable aspects of the game. That's not to say it's bad. It's actually quite enjoyable in a Kickle Cubicle sort of way. It just pales in comparison to the proper game.

The Quest mode is really just another way of saying that you get to watch a story unfold as you play. Except since there are only a few stages, the story isn't really anything more than an overly cute intro, and then some more of the same at the end. It's not like there are unexpected twists or anything like that. Another problem is that the first 'level' is really just a dull tutorial that you don't have the option of skipping. It's a good tutorial one time through, but not worth playing after that.

In Quest mode, you'll learn a lot of the basics that apply to the game itself. You take control of a cute little character who looks like a bat stuck in a pajama suit. He runs around through short, isometric stages, trying to get to the end without bumping into enemies or hazards (such as sharpened blades or bottomless pits). When on the ground, he can push dice into place, or climb stunted staircases. Usually, a set of stairs leads to a giant dice. Once atop such an object, the character can roll through the stage, matching up numbers on the die he is riding to numbers on other ones.

Basically, the 'face' of the die is the side that's pointing directly upward. Suppose you have a face with a three on it. If you manage to line up three connecting dice with that number facing up, those dice will then ignite and, after a short time, explode. This is where Bombastic gets its title. Once a set of such dice explodes, a blast extends a number of panels equivalent to the number on the dice's face. Continuing with the example of the three that I referenced, an explosion would extend three panels in the four general directions: up, down, left and right.

If that blast should happen to touch other dice, something may happen. If the number on the face of that dice is less than the original one, it will then ignite. In this manner, you can set up huge explosive chains. In Quest mode, this is used to blast enemies out of your path, melt ice that blocks the way, or whatever else happens to be appropriate.

Every few stages, you'll find yourself in a boss encounter. These are generally quite challenging, and the goal varies from foe to foe. At first, your goal is to just cause the opponent to get blasted. Later, you must make one swallow an ignited dice, or you have to expel a bunch of tiny kitties while their mother tries to blast you, or whatever. There aren't many bosses, but each is unique in the challenges it presents. It's a shame the last one is so darn frustrating.

One positive note about this mode is that while it's easy enough to go from one area to the next and feel good about yourself, you are rated according to what objectives you completed. Conquering a level means not only advancing to the flags and final curtain, but also destroying every enemy along the way and not losing a life (you get five chances at any area). Their placement and that of the dices means this can be quite the puzzle for those gamers who wish to spend the time to glean personal satisfaction.

Of course, the Quest mode isn't the only part of the game. You can also use the same knowledge in 'Time Trial' areas, and it is these that are the true reason you should play Bombastic.

Rather than presenting you with a scrolling screen and a level layout, this mode simply plops you down in a huge square of tiles, topped by a large number of dice. You then roll around within that limited arena, setting up combos and trying to avoid finding yourself caught up on an exploding dice when it goes 'boom.' Level progression is determined by the number of points you have gained, and there are up to a hundred such levels. This is a score fiend's dream come true.

Another plus to this mode is that it can be played with a friend. If other people in your life happen to find Bombastic appealing, you're in for a true treat. You can select from numerous options, whether that be trying to survive a full 100 levels, scoring the most points in a 3-minute period, or even engaging in no-holds-barred battle where the winner is the guy without the toasted behind. If you have a multi-tap, a bushel of friends, and a wallet that allows you to finance all those controllers, up to five people can play together at once.

What this all means is that a group of open-minded friends will be hard-pressed to find a better way to blow an afternoon. I say 'open-minded' because, well, the game looks like it was made for six-year-olds. I've already described how the characters themselves look, and that most certainly extends to all aspects of the overall presentation. The little dice demolitions experts will teeter on the edge of a die when about to fall, topple in a heap when struck, and fly into the air like a kickball on a schoolyard playground if caught up in a blast. The environments surrounding the peppy protagonists are similarly structured to permit maximum cuteness (in Quest mode, that is). Spiders dangle from webs, exclamation marks appear over the heads of foes when they spot you, and so forth. Even the map where you choose your stage is cute, with tiny little animations to set each area apart. In fact, the whole design is unified in a pool of cuteness.

If you can get past that, though, there's still the sound. While what's here is very good, the problem is that there are perhaps twenty seconds of original composition in the whole game! The rest just loops for all eternity, prodding you to skip past menu after menu just so you can escape the irritation of not-quite-grinding guitar and the like. The only reason to leave the sound piping out of your television is for the occasional satisfying blast when you've set up a large combo. Most people will likely opt to put the sound out of its misery early into the whole process.

Such issues aside, though, Bombastic is certainly a game you ought to at least rent. It's a perfect way to kill a lazy evening, or a dull morning before the matinee movie airs. And if you happen to have a few friends who also enjoy puzzlers, well, so much the better. I'm sure you'll all get together and have a blast.

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Staff review by Jason Venter (January 10, 2004)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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