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Bomberman (PSP) artwork

Bomberman (PSP) review

"The single-player campaign is spiced up by the inclusion of an item inventory system. When you blow up the block de jour within a certain area, there’s a pretty good chance it will leave behind a collectable item. You can activate one of these at a time to impact how you clear the screen, while those goodies not in use head to your war chest. Then, in a moment of need, you can utilize one for simple salvation."

In the PSP version of Bomberman, you can jump into an arena with three other bombers and when things get hectic and you’re surrounded by explosives, you can kick them away so that they blow your opponents to smithereens. It’s like playing hot potato with TNT. Sure, that sort of chaos has been available in Bomberman games for awhile, but it’s still nice to see it return after its painful absence from the recent Xbox 360 release. With that said, the portable version does retain some issues it could have done without.

For the most part, those arise in the game’s “Normal” mode, which is where you’ll spend the bulk of your time if you don’t have a lot of like-minded friends to play with. Your goal is to make your way across the surface of various planets in the Bomberman universe and rid them of nastiness. These locations are based on simple themes, like jungles or deserts. Themes are carried through in the visual design, which means the jungle stage will see you bombing your way past giant fruit while other stages might require you to obliterate walls of crates or cactus brush. Each world has a suitable boss encounter that serves as its conclusion, and then you can move into the next zone and repeat everything.

The single-player campaign is spiced up by the inclusion of an item inventory system. When you blow up the block de jour within a certain area, there’s a pretty good chance it will leave behind a collectable item. You can activate one of these at a time to impact how you clear the screen, while those goodies not in use head to your war chest. Then, in a moment of need, you can utilize one for simple salvation. One item might allow you to detonate a charge that flows through a passage until it hits a dead end. The range can be a real help. Another gives you the ability to kick bombs for that stage’s duration, while ystill another lets you plant a charge, run to safety, then detonate it precisely when you wish. You can also add time to the clock that ticks down from the start of each level. Even if you get the “Game Over” screen, anything you’ve collected stays with you, waiting for you to decide that you wish to use it.

After playing the normal mode for awhile, it becomes extremely obvious that you are supposed to make full use of these items to survive. Enemies pick up tricks as you make your way through zones. Some move through walls. Others set off charges of their own. And it’s not just your living opponents that grow more devious. Level design gradually extends to include shielded barriers that hide what your adversaries are doing and might give them a way to come at you from almost any side. That’s an example from just the second world. Bomberman isn’t the sort of game that is ready to coddle you, no matter how ‘cute’ its presentation may seem. The result is something that feels a lot like a puzzle game, but with the explosions and serious tension.

This is all well and good, but there’s one frustrating element that really puts a damper on the experience. Let’s say you’re blasting your merry way through a zone and you uncover a level portal. Before you can advance to the next stage, you must pass through this little device. However, it’s not activated until you’ve cleared the screen of enemies. Sometimes, this means you’ve blown up a few blocks and toasted your opponents, only to find that you must run around blasting more objects just to unearth the stage’s exit. Not cool. Other times, you’ll reveal it almost immediately (it randomly changes location each time you respawn). This is even worse, because when your timer dips below a minute remaining, enemies start to flood from the portal. They will kill you.

For that matter, so will the bosses. Because you’ll fight them many times, you’ll also start to notice another of Bomberman’s flaws: load times. Normally, you wait a few seconds between level loads. That’s fine. But if you die, you have to twiddle your thumbs several seconds while the level loads again, despite how simple in design a given stage actually is. If an area is particularly rough, you can literally spend more time on load screens than actually playing the game. Bosses exacerbate this issue.

An obvious example of this comes at the end of level two, where you’ll fight a giant spider. Defeating him requires you not only to avoid his massive and rapidly moving girth, but to plant a bomb that will explode when he’s in the perfect position to be on the receiving end of his blast (and while his weak point is vulnerable). You must do this while dodging his bombs not only as they explode, but as he launches them in the air toward you. If one lands on you, you’ll stand like a stupid statue right in the path of an explosion. As you hit him several times, his attacks grow more frenzied and eventually you either win or you die for the hundredth time. The struggle definitely is tougher than one might expect from the boss of only the second world, and enough that younger gamers—or those without much time—may just give up on the endeavor entirely. As a point of pride, I stuck around and beat the fiend, but it wasn’t fun. That’s a problem when we’re talking about a video game.

If the single-player mode is unnecessarily frustrating, though, at least it isn’t overly redundant. Stages are mixed up with enough frequency that you’ll often enjoy beating them and heading onto the next planet. And if you aren’t the sort who can play alone forever, Hudson has also included the multi-player option. With one UMD, you can share with those who have a PSP in the immediate vicinity, then play in a narrow arena where the one to emerge is the one who kicks around the most bombs and finds shelter the most readily. You know… typical Bomberman.

It’s good that Hudson included this option. Multi-player action is where Bomberman has always shined, and it does here all over again. The mode serves as a welcome reminder to anyone paying attention that simple and familiar is sometimes best. You’re sure to have a good time if you can get some friends to sign up for the experience, or you can compete against surprisingly devious AI. When you combine that limitless potential with a lengthy single-player campaign, it’s easy to forgive the game for its flaws, if only momentarily. Bomberman’s first PSP outing might not beg for you to buy it, but it’s a lot better than its more expensive big brother on the Xbox 360. Who would have suspected that a portable could be more explosive than a console?

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Staff review by Jason Venter (September 19, 2006)

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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