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Bomberman (NES) artwork

Bomberman (NES) review

"The surprisingly strong start of the long-running series. Multiplayer sold separately."

The NES version of Bomberman is a greatly enhanced port of the original MSX version, and essentially the starting point for one of gaming's most classic franchises.

If you've ever played a single-player Bomberman game, you probably know what to expect from this early entry. Each stage consists of a grid made up of evenly spaced solid blocks, as well as randomly placed destructible walls. The goal in each stage is to use bombs (which explode a few seconds after they're placed) to defeat all of your enemies while also searching behind blasted walls for power-ups and the stage's exit, which only opens once all enemies have been defeated.

Bomberman starts off with the ability to place a single bomb, which sends an explosive blast a distance of exactly one tile in each of the four cardinal directions. Every stage contains a single power-up that will increase Bomberman's abilities, which most commonly means an extension to the range of bomb blasts or an increase to the number of bombs that can be placed at once. Improved capabilities lead to the opportunity to set off chain reactions by placing bombs within the blast radius of one another. There are plenty of other upgrades to collect, though these are more temporary and will go away if you lose a life. The remote detonator, for example, prevents bombs from exploding until you want them to. Power-ups that let you walk through soft walls and bombs are certainly handy, as well, and will greatly reduce the frequency with which you accidentally blow yourself to bits (and that will happen). One particular power-up absolutely breaks the game by making you immune to your own explosions. This means you can walk through explosions, planting bombs right inside of them, creating an infinite chain reaction. Enemies can still kill you if they get close enough, but there's no reason that should happen while you're constantly at the center of a massive ball of fire.

The fun in playing Bomberman comes from the character upgrades. In fact, Bomberman actually grows significantly easier as you advance. The first stage is the most challenging, since you can't lay traps for enemies with a single bomb, and finding the power-up and exit can take a long time when you can only bomb one or two walls every few seconds. You might actually be unable to find the exit before the timer runs out.

Bomberman stages also feature a few hidden items you can find by doing certain things in certain levels, and they'll give you bonus points. For example, one such item may appear if you clear out all of the enemies and then walk around the perimeter of the stage. These trinkets do more harm than good to the game's potential as a proper score attack title, however. The problem is that a couple of items are worth far too many points. Certain hard-to-collect items are worth a whopping 10 or 20 million, for instance. To put that in perspective, you're unlikely to reach even one million points by the time you reach the end of the game if you don't collect those bonus goodies. One of the special items is earned by defeating all of the enemies in a stage without destroying any walls, which is often impossible in the randomly-generated stages, and that in turn means that getting a high score can come down to luck. Thankfully, Bomberman offers more than enough enjoyment without any need to ever look at your score counter.

Despite their random nature, there's not a lot of variety between stages. Soft walls are positioned in random spots, but unbreakable ones are in the same places within every stage. The layout never changes. The floor is always a bland shade of green and the solid walls are simple squares. There's a nice variety of enemies that behave slightly differently from each other, at least. Some enemies move faster than others. Some can move through walls. Some are smarter than others and are less likely to wander into an explosion. The power-ups and enemy variety are sufficient enough to keep things fun throughout the 50 available levels. The game starts over after the 50th level, though not before the bizzarre little ending in which Bomberman transforms from a robot to a human, becoming the little man from Lode Runner (Bomberman's design and sprite are actually lifted directly from Lode Runner, in which Bombermen appeared as enemies).

On top of those regular 50 levels, there are 10 additional bonus stages that have no breakable walls and which feature an unlimited number of enemies. Bomberman is invincible during these stages, and your goal is to simply defeat as many foes as possible before the time runs out. These stages mix things up a bit, but they're honestly not that interesting after the first few times.

Bomberman is a classic, and rightly so. While this original incarnation lacks the multiplayer mode for which the series would eventually be known, the standards for future Bomberman single-player adventures are set in this very first outing. Folks looking for a fun single-player Bomberman might still be better served by trying later entries in the series, such as Bomberman '93 and Bomberman '94, but Bomberman for NES was a great game in its day and it's just as good now. Play it and you’ll see quite easily why the series has lasted so long.

Roto13's avatar
Staff review by Rhody Tobin (June 17, 2013)

Rhody likes to press the keys on his keyboard. Sometimes the resulting letters form strings of words that kind of make sense when you think about them for a moment. Most times they're just random gibberish that should be ignored. Ball-peen wobble glurk.

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