There are certain characters who more or less define a company and its attitude. You innately associate Mario with Nintendo, Sonic with Sega and dead hookers with blunt head tramua with Rockstar Games. In the same way, Hudson Soft may have produced other games titles, but they're inexorably linked with their mascot character, Bomberman. Over the years, he's appeared in just about every possible spin-off gametype known to man, along with endless iterations of his own block-blasting title. In Australian terms, the definitive Bomberman game was, up until now, Super Bomberman for the SNES. Good lord, it's been twelve years already. Super Bomberman introduced a whole generation of Aussie gamers to the joys of the carefully placed explosive devices and the chaotic multiplayer fun that could ensue just by hooking up four controllers to a suitable console.
Just as every console system has to have a version of Puzzle Bobble, every system has to have a Bomberman game, and it would have been rather easy for Hudson to put out yet another dull reworking of the same formula with the DS, perhaps with a few tepid point and click stylus minigames. Thankfully, that's not what they've done, and while Bomberman DS's use of the stylus isn't that innovative compared to games like Yoshi Touch & Go or Super Mario DS, it's still a must-have title for DS owners. More specifically, it's a must-have title for any DS owners whose friends also own DS systems.
The specifics of Bomberman should be well known to many gamers by now. For those new to the game, Bomberman is a cartoony little fellow with a prediliction towards things that go bang. The classic version of the Bomberman world is rendered in two dimensions, placing Bomberman in the corner of a map, armed only with a single bomb that blows up everything in four compass directions from where it's laid. Hidden powerups allow Bomberman to lay extra bombs, add to the existing blast radius and shift bombs around by kicking or punching them, with later entries in the series adding a variety of other powerups, up to and including some frankly ridiculous vaguely kangaroo-ish mounts. Thankfully, the roos have all hopped away from the DS version.
Look, there's a single player Bomberman game in Bomberman DS. It's very shiny, and you do the usual stuff of blowing up stupid pattern -based enemies for a few screens before taking on a boss character, over and over again. The DS-specific side of this sees your powerups activated at the bottom of the screen, meaning you don't waste powerups you don't need, and can plan somewhat for tricky challenges by stockpiling powerups. It's a reasonable but never terribly engaging way to while away a few hours, or to get used to not accidentally blowing yourself up by trapping yourself against a wall with a freshly laid bomb by your side.
At the heart of the Bomberman experience, however, is the Battle mode. Take up to eight bombermen, drop them in a variety of two dimensional maps festooned with powerups and let them at each other until only one Bomberman remains. No gore, plenty of hijinks, and, in deference to the dual screens of the DS, two screens worth of map to blast each other within. There are even options to make all your bombs voice activated, although those brave or stupid enough to be willing to sit on a train screaming "boom!" at each other probably do deserve everything that's coming to them in the current anti-terrorist climate.
What makes Bomberman DS such a worthy buy for anyone who's regularly in the presence of multiple DS systems is that it offers multiplayer play (for up to eight players) via only one game cartridge. There is a slight price to pay, in that the wireless transfer of data to the other players is a fairly slow process, and you have to re-transfer every time you want to play a different map or change the game rules. If you can overcome those niggles -- and if you can't, a series of attention deficit drugs would probably be a better buy anyway -- then you'll be set for an exhausting series of deathmatches at their most pure. Different maps lay out objectives, traps and the vital pipes that connect the top and bottom screens, giving you plenty of variety over the long term life of the game, and it's such an elegantly simple concept that virtually anyone could pick it up and more or less just start playing. Sure, for your first four or five games you won't do much more than just lay a bomb right next to yourself and kill yourself, but this is also one of those rare games that's fun to watch, simply to enjoy the spectacle of that much destruction tied up in last minute races for survival or suicide.
If there was a criticism of Bomberman to be made, it's that aside from little tweaks -- a few new powerups here, or a multi-screen layout there -- nothing much has changed in the Bomber world since he made his NES debut many, many years ago. As such, when you're buying Bomberman DS, you're not buying anything that's drastically new. Some gamers would bemoan this as a totally unoriginal title -- and they'd be right. Others would point out that it's as much simple and hectic fun as it's always been -- and they'd be right too. It's not really a game suited to the single player DS owner, although it'd be a great way to meet and engage other DS owners you might come across. If you're in a circle of DS-owning mates, though, this is pretty much the must-have title.
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