When I think of the Bomberman series, I think back to my childhood. Playing the Super Bomberman games on the SNES and PS1’s Bomberman World with my family. Fond memories of multiplayer mayhem soon spring to mind. Round 1 would usually begin when trying to get the unresponsive multitap to pick up all of the controllers. The second (and longest) fight would ensue during the character select screen. Who didn’t want to play as Witch Bomber? Whether it was battling my older sister or teaming up to blow up the dastardly AI players, one aspect remained consistent: it was fun. It’s a shame then, that Bombing Busters, a game which closely resembles this formula doesn’t manage to capture that same feeling.
Adventure Mode is the single-player story, and likely where Vita players will be investing most of their time. Upon starting the tutorial, you’ll be introduced to Dr. Wallow, a mad scientist set on conquering the galaxy. How will he achieve this goal? Through yourself, the bomb-dispensing robot character, of course. The mode consists of five worlds in total, each with their own aesthetic theme and stage hazards. These are split up into five regular levels before concluding with a boss battle.
This is played out much like any other Bomberman game. Stages are essentially mazes filled with obstacles and traps to navigate. You’re given five minutes to wipe out all of the enemies on the map to successfully proceed to the next stage. Power-ups such as increased bomb capacity and blast radius, and the ability to kick, pick-up and throw bombs are all present. As such, so are trick items to decrease stats in attempt to beef up the challenge.
Believe me when I say it’s challenging enough. Even the earliest levels require some forward-planning to trap tricky enemies and avoid blowing yourself to bits. Blowing up too many barriers can open up a path to these pesky critters. One touch of an enemy or explosion results in instant death and a restart of the entire stage. For this reason, you have to play very carefully and very strategically – especially when floor traps, teleportation devices and more are soon thrown into the mix. I can’t count on one hand the amount of times I trapped myself in a corner with a bomb or enemy when I was so close to completing the level. While this might sound pleasing to Bomberman veterans, I just couldn’t enjoy myself. The difficulty is harsh from the get-go, and personally, I would have liked a toned down option to ease my frustrations.
However, I’m sure those who yearn for challenge and crave the old-school gameplay have a lot to get out the single-player mode. For added replay value, your performance in each level is rated out of three stars. After completing a stage, the amount of time left on the clock determines which ranking you’ll receive. The full three stars is awarded to players skilled enough to blast through the level in under two minutes. Finishing with two minutes left nets two stars, and so on. This system is rewarding to players who are dedicated enough to finding the most time efficient strategies.
For me, it wasn’t just the brutal difficulty that left a bad taste in my mouth. While the gameplay does remain Bomberman at heart, that’s all it manages to achieve. Like any other clone of a popular game, this one lacks charm or personality of its own, latching on to the foundation of another well-established series to scrape by. Though I did get the very occasional tickle from Dr. Wallow’s quips, the story remained dull and uninviting. The irritating renditions of classical music which make up the game’s soundtrack further illustrate my point about originality.
Moving onto the multiplayer, I fully expected this mode to be its saving grace, but boy was I disappointed. The online battle mode is for 2-8 players. Unless you know buddies with a copy of the game and an internet connection, it’ll be near impossible for you to find multiplayer match on Vita. As there is no ad-hoc play included in the handheld port, the only option is to head online, but here’s the catch: a PS4 is needed to host an online game. This means you cannot play strictly with a group of Vita owners.
To make matters more infuriating, the online infrastructure itself is either incredibly archaic (hello room and IP address search) or there is simply no one playing online. A few weeks after its release, the lobbies remain empty. Many futile searches and tumbleweeds later, I gave up trying. If you’re the type of modern-day gamer who relies on online play with random players, you should too. At least the devs had the decency to soften the blow of the inferior portable version, making the game available as a cross-buy purchase with PS4. Being fortunate enough to own both consoles, I was able to test out the online mode with a friend in the same room. One way to get around the Vita version’s lack of local play…
The result was relatively enjoyable. Upon creating a lobby, you can select from the five themed maps encountered in the main game. You can also adjust match length and the amount of games to be won in order to be crowned tournament victor. Other variants such as the ability to throw in bombs when you’ve been destroyed, whether explosions destroy items and the appearance of the virus item can be toggled on or off. This all being set up from the PS4 – the Vita players have no say in match settings.
After battling through some connection issues, we finally got to play a game. It was your standard multiplayer Bomberman affair alright. “How did that hit me?” and curse words aplenty. With the bare minimum players however, the appeal wasn’t meant to last. The games felt slow-paced and became increasingly tedious. The PS4’s local mode allows for AI-controller players to fill out a match, so why doesn’t the online play? The chaotic fun increases along with the player count. In Battle Mode, the potential for a good time is definitely there, but the lengths a person must go to achieve it? That’s the fundamental issue which stops player enjoyment in its tracks.
In its current state, would I recommend Bombing Busters? Honestly, it’s extremely difficult. There’s little memorable about Sanuk Games’ effort. The lack of personality combined with the uninhabited online servers means there’s very little in the way of appeal. If you’re a big fan of the gameplay and have dedicated friends to play with, it could be worth a punt during a sale. It has the potential to be fun, but there is zero incentive to play the Vita version. It’s essentially Bomberman minus the multiplayer. And that’s not the Bomberman I fondly remember or the one I ever want to experience again.