In the name of God, what have they done? But more of that later.
Baku Bomberman is the 22nd, so we're told, variant of the classic multi-player Bomberman game. Depending which old saddo you talk to, the definitive version comes either from the PC Engine (Bomberman '94) or the Super NES (Super Bomberman). But how come these 'definitive versions' are so old?
Because Hudson have to fiddle, that's why. They can't leave well enough alone. They have to 'improve' each new version, tweaking and twiddling and nipping and tucking, just to show that they're paying their programmers to do stuff rather than just sit around drinking coffee for six months before porting the code for the last Bomberman game straight onto a new platform.
It's this kind of incessant meddling that completely screwed up Super Bomberman 2 on the SNES. All the ingredients were there, but for some reason the designers decided not just to add new power-ups and features, but to tinker with the old ones as well. The results were predictably disastrous - fans of Super Bomberman instantly loathed the pointless changes and went back to the original. There were no three hour post-work sessions on Bomberman 2 in the old Super Gamer offices, put it that way.
It doesn't look like there'll be any on Baku Bomberman either. However, as a letter this issue points out, games shouldn't be reviewed on the basis of the multi-player game alone, so we'll kick off with that. Inevitably, the N64 upgrade's Story Mode moves things into 3-D a la Mario 64, so no surprises there. As far as we can tell from the intro and cutscenes (all the text- of which there is a surprising amount- is in japanese, and to date my limit is writing 'Anude Makuderumotu' in katakana), a gang of evil Space Bombermen have sucked some kind of bubbly blue power source from Bomberworld and are using it to nuke the inhabitants from the comfort of their floating space, erm, mountains. Our pom-pommed hero takes it upon himself to sort out the miscreants, using his talents for lobbing bombs around.
To begin with, Bomberman can enter any of four worlds — 'Green Garden', a castle; 'Blue Resort', a water-filled Venetian town; 'Red Mountain', a lava-spewing volcano; and 'White Ice', a vertiginous snowy mountain. Each world is split into smaller sections, which have to be conquered to progress. Once the first part ofthe world is finished there is a sub-boss to blast to hell, then a second adventure section before the mountain's final monster must be vanquished. Nuke all four beasties and the villains' lair, 'Black City', can be reached.
Bomberman is a bit useless as a hero - any obstacle larger than a single step confounds him, which is pretty pathetic as even Davros could manage that! Luckily he has a trick up his sphincter, being able to poo out bombs. Well, they appear between his legs, so draw your own conclusions about where he keeps them! Well-placed bombs can blow up enemies, destroy obstacles or reveal power-ups, which turn the basic fizzing sphere of doom into more versatile, but still equally destructive, tools of boominess.
Much of the problem-solving aspect of the adventure comes from working out where to put your bombs for maximum effect. Power-ups are revealed by blasting trees, crates, stalagmites and blocks, and discovering particular power-ups is vital to progress - so destroy everything in sight! The residents of the mountains obviously aren't keen on this Semtex-powered redecorating - only a few of them actually go all-out to kill you, but the bumblings of the others can easily knock Bomberman off a ledge or into a lake. Death follows quickly.
The camera control system is a lot simpler than that of Mario or Goemon. Instead of being free-floating, the camera can be rotated around Bomberman to any of the eight main compass points, then zoomed in or out. In some ways this makes things easier - because the camera doesn't automatically track behind you, you don't have to make continual adjustments to your course with the analogue stick- but at the same time it can make some parts of the game very difficult. Bomberman is constantly disappearing behind walls and obstacles, and there are some parts of the game where no matter what angle you use, it's all but impossible to make out what's going on. There is no height adjustment either; you are always looking down on the game from a lofty angle, which again makes some parts of the game hard to see. When you're messing about with high explosives, a clear line of sight is usually a help...
At first, I had a real problem with Bomberman's Story Mode, because there were some parts of the levels where it seemed impossible to make progress. Case in point: the very start of Blue Resort, where water all around provides instant death, and the only way off the small platform where you begin is a raised bridge. No matter what I did, no matter how many enemies I killed, no matter what power-ups I collected, the bridge could not be lowered. After a couple of days of not being able to get off this part of the level, I was all in favour of giving Baku Bomberman a mighty slating... until, entirely by chance, I discovered that you can pump up bombs (by holding them and repeatedly tapping the A button) and increase their power. Big bomb on bridge, explosion blows bridge down... problem solved! I mention this for the benefit of anyone buying the Japanese import game, because this feature isn't pointed out anywhere in the manual, even with an illustration.
Once past this minor snag, the game improves a lot. Not being able to jump is ultra-frustrating at first, but when you get past the initial annoyance it concentrates the mind because you know there has to be some clever way of using bombs to get past a problem. If there's a gap, you can slide bombs into it and bounce off the tops of them. A platform with no obvious way of reaching it? Look for objects that can be blown over with big bombs to create new pathways, or switches that you can lob bombs at to trigger. Once you grasp this, avoiding death becomes a matter of your own skill, lack thereof, and what was initially a puppy-kickingly infuriating game becomes a lot more fun. Dying still makes you want to punt Rover out of the window, though!
Then there's the multi-player game, which brings us back to the opening line of the review. Hudson's meddlers have stepped in again! Obviously the old top-down game has given way to 3-D, but other less-welcome changes have also been made to what was one of the most simple and perfect multi-player games ever. The number of destroyable blocks, which dish out power-ups, have been reduced to make the arenas a lot more open. Instead of blasting your way toward your opponents, then using cunning, nay, evil and sneaky tactics to catch them in a bomb blast, now you just run around chucking bombs madly until everyone but you is dead.
Although some of the more confined arenas do offer limited opportunities for tactical play, most of the time it's just a mad race around, bombs flying and sliding hither and yon, until there is only one Bomberman (or Bomberwoman, as the game now offers sexual equality!) left standing. Some people might like the frantic pace of the new battle game. I don't. It's fun for short bursts, but the addiction of old isn't there. This is a great shame, but that's progress for you. Baku Bomberman is the first Bomberman game where the one-player game is the best part.
It's lucky, then, that the Story Mode is so playable. As well as the basic beat-the-bosses adventure, there are all kinds of secrets to uncover - find the right items, for example, and you can customise your Bomberman and save him (or her) out to a Controller Pak to use in multi-player games!
Baku Bomberman is a mixed bag of gelignite; while the battle game is disappointing (especially in comparison to the SNES game - sorry, P Jarman (see this issue's letters), it had to be done), the one-player game is a lot better than I expected. As a 3-D platformer it's no Mario 64, but as an arcade-style puzzler, it's a blast!
Unlike Andy, I actually liked the mad multiplayer game, cause it's so frenzied you can't relax for a second! The adventure part of Baku Bomberman isn't bad either, but there are some annoying bits, like stopping to work out a puzzle only to be fried by a lava bomb. Still, that's par for the course!
- Loz Cooper
An entertaining 3-D puzzle adventure, let down by the disappointing multi-player game.