Two of the most respected and recognized video game franchises are undoubtedly Nintendo's Mario Bros. games, and Sega's Sonic the Hedgehog series. Both of these franchises have been around for many years, spanning many sequels and spin-off titles, and providing entertainment for a variety of different video game consoles. However, there is another prolific character in the video game world that is as old as Mario and has almost spanned more games for more consoles than both our beloved Brooklyn plumber and the blue hedgehog. His name is Bomberman, and he's making his debut on the Dreamcast with Bomberman Online at perhaps one of the oddest times.
Even though the Dreamcast draws little interest with the mainstream gaming community today, the system is not yet "dead". Hudson hopes to inspire gamers to support the Dreamcast with their latest release, based on the explosive party-game Bomberman. This is Bomberman's debut on a "next-generation" console, toting the ever-popular "cartoony" cel shading featured in Jet Grind Radio, and containing some vicious online play. But is it good enough to persuade gamers to shell out their money for a system that will be unsupported by 2002?
Until recently, I had never played a Bomberman game. Bomberman is one of those enjoyable party games that isn't recognized much by the mainstream gamers, and instead has more of a cult following. It has been around for many, many years, but never seemed to receive the same popularity that other video game franchise icons and mascots have. Perhaps that's because Sonic and Mario offer more adventure-style platform action while the Bomberman franchise has mostly revolved around fast-paced party/puzzle/action -- two completely different genres of gaming.
I remember seeing the games on store shelves of Software Etc and Electronics Boutique, and I remember seeing the Super Nintendo version of Bomberman, the game that came with the 4-player ("multitap") adapter, when I worked for Blockbuster Video many years ago, but I had never tried the game until 2001.
Even though I consider myself to be an educated gamer, there are plenty of classic games that I have never experienced, and I'm sure that there are plenty of gamers out there who may not know about the Bomberman series. I will briefly explain the style of the Bomberman franchise.
Bomberman is a mix of puzzle solving, strategy, and fast-paced action. The objective of the game is quite simple: blow up your opponents with bombs, however doing so will require a bit of strategy, some good hand-eye coordination, and quick reflexes.
The classic gameplay revolves around crate-filled arenas, consisting of four challengers: you and 3 opponents. Reaching your objective to blast your enemies to Kingdom Come, will involve using your bombs to break through crates. Crates don't exist in the arena only to block your progression. Some crates contain power-ups, which prove to be helpful in your mission to smite your rivals. The last man standing in Bomberman is the winner. Pretty simple enough, right? Well, the gameplay can become utter chaos when you've got 4 bomb-toting cartoon madmen running around the arenas tossing and kicking bombs around the playfield. Most games of Bomberman last only a couple of minutes, so the game is ideal for quick games with your friends.
Much like the classic Bomberman games, Bomberman Online features the same "party game" gameplay, and takes the series to a whole new level.
The first thing that you will notice with Bomberman Online is the way the game looks. This is Bomberman's first venture on the Dreamcast, and Hudson went out of its way to make sure that it took advantage of the Dreamcast's impressive graphics hardware, and chose to apply the Jet Grind Radio style of cel shading to its 3D polygonal characters and levels. Folks, it looks amazing! However, because the "game camera" overlooks the entire arena, the cel shading isn't really apparent until you get close-ups after a win or a loss.
This is by far one of the most pleasant and friendly looking game I've played in awhile, outside of Sonic Adventure 2, which translated means that the game is full of vibrant colors and cute little characters that might make you think this was a Nintendo game. If you're one of those "manly" gamers, who shies away from "cartoon" games like Mario, Sonic, Zelda, or Pokemon this will not win you over. Bomberman Online is a fantastic-looking title that benefits greatly from the cel shading, and if you think that simply because the game is cartoony, that it means that this is a "baby" game, then I am ashamed at your ignorance, because Bomberman Online's strength doesn't solely reside in its cel shaded graphics. Bomberman Online strength relies on its insanely enjoyable gameplay.
Bomberman Online is the perfect party game because it takes full advantage of the four controller ports on the front of your Dreamcast. You can battle it out with 3 of your friends for some fierce multiplayer mayhem.
If you noticed the latter portion of Bomberman Online's title, you'll also be pleased to know that you can also play by yourself against 3 online opponents using SegaNet. (More on that later.)
For those of you who enjoy the hermit lifestyle, you're in luck too, because you can make it a party-of-one, and play all of the great multiplayer games against computer-controlled opponents.
Because the Bomberman series is simplistic in nature, in order to keep gamers interested, game developer Hudson had to put a lot of thought into the evolution of the gameplay with the franchise, and it's especially noticeable in Bomberman Online.
Bomberman Online includes 5 different battle games and all of them are a blast to play (Oh, come on, you knew I had to throw that cliché in at some point)!!
Survival mode is perhaps the most popular game mode. This is the classic game that started it all for Bomberman. Each player begins in their own separate areas, and you use bombs to blast through crates, collecting power-ups, and hopefully laying waste to your opponents.
Power-ups come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them have existed since the beginning of the franchise, and some are new to the Dreamcast debut. I'll briefly explain some of the power-ups featured in Bomberman Online.
Fire power-ups will increase the length of your bomb blast. If you collect enough fire, you could theoretically toss flames from one side of the arena to the other. Bomb power-ups will enable you to place more bombs on the board, by default each bomberman starts off with one bomb. Speed power-ups increase your character's speed, which comes in handy if you need to quickly get out of an explosive situation. Kick power-ups are my favorite. With kick-power-ups you can kick bombs down pathways. You can use kicks for strategic purposes, or you can use them to help you in situations where you find yourself trapped by a bomb. The power glove, allows you to pick up bombs and toss them. This is an ideal power-up, because you can throw bombs over crates. You can also toss them out of the arena, where the bomb will then land on the opposite side of the arena. This is perfect when you're at the bottom of the arena and your opponent is at the very top. He won't expect an attack like that! Punch power-ups are similar to the kick, however, with a punch, the bomb will only move three spaces. Line bombs are a string of bombs, which as you can image, deliver some rather nasty damage. Lastly there is the bouncing bomb. Once you kick or throw the bomb it will bounce around randomly until detonation.
The game also has a "power-down" in the forum of the skull. The skull will "infect" a character with a variety of different "sicknesses". Sometimes the skull will slow your character down, or speed him up, disallow the setting of bombs, increase or decrease the fuse time, disorient the gamer by reversing the controls of their character, or my favorite, "diarrhea" which will cause you to set bombs uncontrollably.
Now that we've gotten the power-ups out of the way, I'll continue to explain some of the gameplay features you'll find. Hyperbomber is a faster-paced game, with gameplay similar to the Survival mode, but the objectives are different. When you first play a game of Hyperbomber, you will notice that the battlefield is significantly different from the Survival mode. In the center of the arena is an energy gate. The goal is to collect three "target panels" which look like little balls of energy. Once you collect three panels, you simply walk into the gate, which will then fill the arena with fire killing your opponents. You win!