It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad (Bomberman) World

Thursday, March 21, 2019 at 9:21 pm Comments Off on It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad (Bomberman) World

The Bomberman Shrine Place updated with coverage on Bomberman World, featuring a look at its quirky regional changes and smorgasbord of unused stuff, and also a translation of an interview from the Bomberman Maniax book. This game has been long, long overdue some coverage on the site, and it came about because I wanted to get into the ol’ map-making lark again. Nobody had made any for it yet!

Bomberman World is a bit of a weird one to me. The single-player gameplay feels very simplified and cut-down, as if there’s not enough game to even experience all its features properly. The battle mode is adequate, if a tad pared-down, about on the level of Super Bomberman 4‘s metagame… if you dropped all its animal buddies, special character abilities and bizarre bevy of stage gimmicks. And then there’s the challenge game, which is… there. It’s not great, it’s not bad, it’s just there!
I can’t remember when exactly I bought the game, but I’d estimate it was among my first five Bomberman titles (alongside Bomberman 64, Mega Bomberman and Wario Blast), and it definitely felt a bit ‘off” compared to the others, not just for its isometric viewpoint. Even as a youngster, I felt a little short-changed with it even compared to Mega Bomberman, though my pals and I still had stacks of fun with both games.

I’d love to know more about the game’s development history, or even just more behind-the-scenes on the franchise. Bomberman was going through instalments like crazy in the mid-90s, with radically different development teams it seems like; as far as I can tell, Bomberman 64’s director and designer had no prior credits on the series, while Shigeki Fujiwara, apparently the closest person to the series’ daddy going off interviews at the time, was seemingly directing or supervising at least four other projects at the time.

The game just seems ill-proportioned in some way. Like, only three levels per world? What’s that all about? While they do get somewhat expansive later on, they feel spartan compared even to the likes of Super Bomberman 3; one prototype screenshot (or mock-up?) of Planet Fire shows a stage that looks pretty dang sprawling, with minecart rails leading all over the place. I’m convinced the huge graphics are part of the reason. The level graphics eat up a lot of space on the disc, and if you look at the unused materials page you’ll see they used practically every inch of the VRAM, albeit some of it a tad wastefully. You can’t just reuse one level tile when building isometric stages, and with pre-rendered graphics you need to commit to a basic level layout or else you need to re-render it entirely.

As far as I can tell, Bomberman World was the second game Hudson Soft developed for PlayStation, right after Momotaro Dentetsu 7, which looks like a SNES game with glossy menus. They knew the PlayStation had crummy VRAM, right? It’s possible they could have saved space by dropping the colour depth on most sprites and optimising how graphics were stored… but eventually I’m going to have to ask, why even go with pre-rendered graphics if they’re so much trouble?
Was it a Sony mandate? There’s that old yarn about Sony of America only wanted 3D games on their platform, and the game’s international release was hyped at Tokyo Game Show according to the May 1998 issue of Superjuegos, so that could be a purely speculatory factor. Sony themselves even published it in Europe, while Atlus had to vouch for it in the States.

Was it a bizarre hold-over from Virtual Bomberman? A bunch of the game’s features began life in the cancelled Virtual Boy title, most notably the various “armours” you ride on – nearly everything described in the Space World ’95 flyer is accurate to their functions in World! – and even the final boss design, who’s clearly based on then-nemesis God Bomber. It looked like it would have had as many levels as any of the Super Nintendo or Game Boy titles, and one of the screenshots depicts a level practically identical to World‘s Area 1-2, only without the isometric skew and one of its bridges.

The game was boasted to have 3D depth effects, so tall objects would jut out at the viewer and levels would have multiple layers to them, though this never showed up in screenshots. Were the pre-rendered sprites an attempt to carry on that idea in spirit? Assuming it packed up development around Spring ’96, that would give them over a year and a half to work up something for Sony’s relatively new PlayStation… which is a long time to go without realising the console’s VRAM isn’t cut out for this.

Or was it Hudson’s own choosing? The same issue of Superjuegos has a quote from Shigeki Fujiwara claiming it was to make it “easy to see for the children”, which, like, fair enough. Interviews paint him as putting kids’ interests first. I can’t remember how good TVs were in 1998, and using pre-rendered assets probably beats out having to draw big-ass sprites for every object in the game. Not to mention Bomberman Wars came out only three months later, which also boasted pre-rendered 3D graphics – the two games likely drew from the same pool of 3D resources.

And that’s a whole other kettle of fish: Bomberman World is a tie-in to Bomberman Wars (released that Spring), which is a sequel to Pocket Bomberman (released a month before World), making World final instalment in a tangentially-related trilogy that practically released on top of each other within the span of five months… with Wars, the middle instalment that actually established the link between games, releasing last. What’s up with that?!
It doesn’t really tie into Bomberman World, but why were they pushing this ancient times angle across two spin-off games? I’ve yet to find anything that explains why three completely unrelated titles shared a theme and villains, despite all being completely different genres, or what prompted it in the first place. It’s such a bizarre little vignette for the franchise.

This is way more thought than the game deserves, and it’s hard to even ground it in anything beyond “the game just feels a bit ‘off’, y’know.” Bomberman is such a formulaic franchise that any tiny little diversion feels somewhat noticeable.

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