Retro Review: Bomberman

The Bomberman series is primarily known for its multiplayer, but the original entry is strictly a single-player affair. It’s a very simple game in many respects, but with gameplay that is far more fun than you’d expect.

Bomberman feels like a very old NES game because it is. The original Famicom version was released way back in 1985. In that context, it’s less surprising that the game features a single mode, no graphical differentiation between levels, and a single theme song. The game is structured in a very straightforward way, consisting of 50 levels and 10 bonus levels all sharing the same grid-based layout. Each level is randomly laid out, and differs only in terms of what enemies appear and what power-ups are available.

The power-ups are the heart and soul of Bomberman, and the source of its fun. You start off able to place one bomb at a time, which will explode after a short time with a very small blast radius. You will find permanent upgrades to both the blast radius and number of bombs you can place at once, which results in an odd difficulty curve where the early levels are among the toughest because killing enemies with one weak bomb is very difficult. You need to kill every enemy to clear a given level, and do so in a single life, which can be a tough proposition early on.

The real fun is in the other power-ups, which let you do crazy things like walk through walls or survive your own explosions. You can also gain the ability to detonate your bombs manually rather than wait on a timer. Each of these power-ups is fun in and of itself, but once you get a few of them at the same time, you can become a nigh-unstoppable killing machine. If you die (more often from your own bombs than enemies), you reset down to your standard bomb power-ups, slowing things down considerably.

The downside to Bomberman’s gameplay is that it’s one of those games that rewards perfect play and punishes small mistakes. It’s a lot more fun to be a master than it is to learn the game. But because the reset point doesn’t leave you defenseless and the game allows unlimited password-based continues, the penalty isn’t a complete show-stopper.

Bomberman is far more fun than its simple design should allow, especially considering this version doesn’t even feature the mode that made the series popular. The barrier to entry is a bit high, but the payoff is worth it. Of course, there are many more modern versions of the game to play, so there’s no particular need to search out the original.

Review Score: B−

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