"Despite all of its (well-intentioned?) efforts to give the series a fresh, hardcore coat of paint, it just doesnít do enough things right for the aesthetic focus to mean anything more than that youíve just dropped a wad of cash on a $10 game. The carefully-rendered backgrounds do a great job of slapping you across the face with the notion that this world is desolate, but they donít add anything to the play mechanics."
The world of the near future is one filled with terror and uncertainty. Humans have battled one another for years, turning the environment into a wasteland, destroying one another until only a few remain alive, locked in a battle for supremacy that threatens not only their future, but that of the now-desolate planet in which they live.
Forced by their meaningless conflict to build bigger, better, stronger and faster weapons, they at last resort to experimentation with others of their own kind. Deep within dank, underground laboratories, they fuse human flesh with explosives, performing surgical upgrades that defy the laws of nature and the universe while the once-verdant wasteland above them drops deeper into the hellish depths that now serve as its destination.
Those unfortunate victims of mutilation, of experiments in the name of science and progression, remain locked in bitter duels to the death. Only the strong survive. As for the weak, they find painful deaths in the middle of infernos and crushing metal, razor-sharp claws and the gleeful destruction brought upon them by their brethren.
THIS. IS. BOMBERMAN.
The back of the Bomberman Ė Act: Zero packaging states that the plot is taken from the original title in the series. Maybe it is. Still, gamers have years of green backgrounds, blocks and almost cheery little explosions to remember. They probably recall sitting down to a good match on the Super Nintendo with a few controllers plugged in so they could do a little trash talking with their friends and then maybe afterwards go out to shoot some hoops. If you have such memories, though, check them at the door. Act: Zero isnít as concerned with providing frantic and fun gameplay as it is with looking grim while kicking your butt. . . n00b!
From the title screen, itís clear that something sinister is afoot. You may have gathered as much from the picture of the robotic mutant on the cover (he has a claw for an appendage that would make even Freddy Krueger jealous). Youíll see white shafts of light seeping down through roiling gray clouds while in the background, an ominous dirge seeps from a pipe organ. Start playing and things continue, with menacing rock rifts accompanying the sound of bombs and explosions that shake every corner of the screen, not to mention your opponentsí shrieks when they are burned alive by your blasts. Youíll half expect Marilyn Manson to step out from behind a wall in his androgynous suit of choice and flip the bird.
That wouldíve been cool, though, and Bomberman Ė Act: Zero just isnít. Despite all of its (well-intentioned?) efforts to give the series a fresh, hardcore coat of paint, it just doesnít do enough things right for the aesthetic focus to mean anything more than that youíve just dropped a wad of cash on a $10 game. The carefully-rendered backgrounds do a great job of slapping you across the face with the notion that this world is desolate, but they donít add anything to the play mechanics. Neither do the cutscenes that show each robot rolled out as if from an assembly line, then dropped onto the battlefield with menacing eyes and an attitude straight out of a slasher movie.
If the flourishes donít add to the experience, though, they definitely detract from it. Youíll be tired of the animations the second time you see them, and youíll see them at least once each game. If you get particularly good at moving through the survival mode (which really is just you playing the same thing a hundred times over), then youíll view the animations once per stage. They last for several seconds and then youíre loaded into the arena, where you start blowing everything to bits. Here, at least, you can zoom in ridiculously close so that all those textures and character models look more impressive, but thereís an important question that really should be asked: why in the world would you want to? If youíre viewing from a more intimate angle, then you canít see what your adversaries are doing. Youíll walk right into a body-shredding napalm blast. Then youíll hear the tinny, emotionless voice say: ďYou. Are. Dead.Ē
Viewed from afar--the way youíll want to view it--the action doesnít look substantially different from something on the Super Nintendo, except that everything has a coat of rust and itís harder to make out whatís going on. The exception is when a bomb explodes, at which point youíll see walls of purple, green or orange fire spreading this way and that, coursing through shafts and over any unfortunate enough to be in the way. It doesnít take many rounds of that punishment before youíll say ďscrew thisĒ and decide to try playing it with a buddy.
Oops. It turns out there isnít a multi-player mode, not unless youíre ready to go on Xbox Live and face off against people you donít know. Such an oversight is baffling to the point where you have to assume it was intentional, yet that doesnít make sense because playing on Xbox Live isnít fun. Maybe thatís because the Bomberman experience is about the trash talk and the close matches, not the grinding rock guitar and the tiresome (but oh, so very hardcore) animations between each match. I spent a little time online and all I could find were opponents from Japan, who then proceeded to kick my butt to the moon every match. The game is probably much better if you can play it with someone at a closer skill level, but the way things stand, most of us will never know for sure unless we play the game long enough to get extremely good at something extremely dull.
In the end, itís hard to look at Bomberman Ė Act: Zero as anything less than a significant failure. Survival mode is dull because itís 99 stages of the same thing and your progress isnít saved if you die, whether that be on stage 3 or 50. Unlocking achievements isnít the hoot it is on some games because it feels more like work than fun, and the online mode isnít good because the people you face either suck or dominate. Finally, the offline multi-player mode that shouldíve given the package a full half of its value is mysteriously missing. Watch for Act: Zero in the bargain bins, if you must make a purchase. Itíll be there soon enough.
Staff review by Jason Venter (September 04, 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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