Review: Hudson Software Company Bomberman
Based on the classic NES, SNES, and TurboGrafx-16/PC Engine Bomberman games, Hudson Soft's iPod version of Bomberman ($5) places you in control of a bomb-toting robot who needs to dispatch enemies, find power ups, and bust through rock walls to clear stages viewed from an overhead perspective. Each of the 20 main stages includes a single-screen, maze-like array of rocks that you blow up to access areas packed with wandering bad guys and hidden weapons; you touch the Click Wheel lightly to walk and use the central Action button to drop bombs. Power Bomberman up and his bombs can become more numerous and more powerful; he can also run faster and find extra lives.
A bonus game appears after every five stages: a simple bowling title called Bowling for Bombs, a whack-a-mole game called Bomb Buster, and a weird track event-like “run on top of rolling bombs” stage called Bomb Rollin’ are designed to break up the similar levels, which are only finished when you uncover and touch a glowing exit block. After completing all of the main and bonus stages, you are taken to a boss confrontation that’s “iPod-exclusive,” but similar to past Bomberman game bosses—a big bad guy who needs to be bombed multiple times before he electrocutes all your lives away.
With the exception of these bonus and boss levels, the game’s stages vary more in looks and concentration of enemies than anything else. A snow level doesn’t make you slip; desert and cave levels aren’t especially bright or dark, and electricity running in one background doesn’t shock you. The goal in every stage is simply to eliminate all of the enemies before exiting, and the biggest challenge is figuring out how the enemies will react—or not—to your presence. Some move slow and seem not to notice you, while others move fast and give chase.
Though unlimited continues and a relatively low, unadjustable difficulty level across the first 15 stages make Bomberman a quick and relatively easy game to complete, there’s no doubt that this game is better suited to the iPod’s limited controls than many of the other action games Hudson might have plucked from its back catalog or the platform: occasional imprecision in the Click Wheel tapping scheme will lead to a loss of life and power-ups, but you can keep on continuing until you win. This technique is all but necessary to complete the final five stages and the boss level, where control precision and strategy become more important; thankfully, the game remains fun—if lightweight—at all points, rather than becoming frustrating. You can also go back and replay stages, including the bonus and boss levels, in a challenge mode.
It’s worth noting that more recent Bomberman title gameplay features, such as bomb-kicking, aren’t found in the iPod game; the number of stages is also smaller than in most of the series’ titles, and there’s no multi-player option, a feature that made post-NES versions of Bomberman popular as party games. Consequently, the iPod version of Bomberman is basically a 20-year-old game with 15-year-old graphics that benefit most from the iPod’s small display; as with many titles, nothing has been done to utilize the iPod’s better-than-Super NES visual hardware. Similarly, the synthesizer music’s only been slightly enhanced over 16-bit audio quality, with a repeating single drum and bass track during normal stages and other music for in-game menus, loading screens, bonus levels and boss confrontations.
All in all, Bomberman is another “good, not great” iPod game that feels like it’s just worth the $5 asking price but could have been even better. If overhead maze-style action games are to your liking, you’ll do better with Bomberman on the iPod than either Pac-Man or Ms. Pac-Man, assuming that you’re looking more for a fun experience than a really intense challenge. This one has us hoping that Hudson brings some of its bigger, better Bomberman innovations—and, of course, other titles from its considerable library—to the iPod in the very near future.