On Poetry, Prose, and Videogames

JLawrence Kenny

Friday Night Retro: Bomberman 64

on September 3, 2011

The transition from the old 2-dimensional games of the arcade days to the new 3-dimensional game systems in the ‘90s was rough on a lot of game franchises. While some series, like Final Fantasy, adapted without sacrificing its identity, not every game was so lucky, and this led to quite a few game franchises to fail. The Bomberman series was of the few that managed to hang on through the transition, and though the games have recently become nothing more than a throwback to its 2-d days of fame, it managed to churn out two rather decent games for the Nintendo 64 game system, the first of which was Bomberman 64. It was a game I spent endless hours trying to beat, but never managed to finish, due to some fatal flaws in the gameplay mechanisms, but more on that later.


The original Bomberman game was nothing more than a maze where you blew up enemies and obstacles in order to progress to further dungeons, but Bomberman 64 underwent a major overhaul for the new game system. With a brand new dimension to explore, the intrepid little Bomberman found himself at the center of an invasion from a group of space pirates, Artemis, Orion, Regulus, and Altair. A warrior in white, Sirius, descends and explains that Bomberman must destroy the four pirates before they destroy his planet. He then proceeds through 4 terrarium-like worlds that are anchored to the main world, getting occasional assistance from Sirius, who introduces Bomberman to new power-ups and methods to use them. I found the story to be rather shoddily constructed and difficult to follow, and the objectives to complete a level sometimes insanely difficult to understand, but after successfully completing the four anchor stages, you moved to the main world and fought the leader of the space pirates, Altair, only to have Sirius swoop in at the last minute and steal the weapon that had been laying waste to Bomberman’s world and reveal himself as a villain, merely manipulating Bomberman so that he might steal the weapon for himself. After another stage, Bomberman confronts Sirius and, with help from one of the space pirates, Regulus, manages to defeat the powerful villain and save the planet.

This screen haunted my childhood nightmares.

Now, as difficult as that story may have been to follow, the gameplay suffered from similar inadequacies. The transition from 2-d to 3-d is apparent in the somewhat stiff and awkward controls for setting, throwing, and kicking bombs. Some bomb power-ups are also necessary for stage advancement, such as timer bombs needed to “jump” across large gaps, or firepower bombs, to blow down particularly strong barriers, but this can be difficult. Power-ups can be either dropped by enemies or found in crates, but after being found, they move around the map until they are picked up. Unfortunately, most stages do not have barriers, so there is a very definite chance that the power-ups will commit suicide and jump off the edge, effectively stranding you in a stage forever, with no way to advance until you kill yourself so that the power-up can respawn. Another huge problem is the difficulty of the bosses. Every other stage (four per world), you are thrust into a boss fight against an enemy you know nothing about, and are expected to immediately engage these bosses without dying, a difficult feat, when you can die with only two hits. It’s almost impossible to beat these fights without a strategy guide of some sort, as you frequently die without ever discovering the boss’s weakness. Similarly, in the regular stages, Bomberman can easily be thrown off an edge, or stunned right next to a bomb he just set, your death undoing a half hour’s worth of power-up collecting as they fall helplessly over the edge. Many controllers were thrown during such a time.

Many friendships were tested on this field.

However, the saving grace of Bomberman 64, as well as the newer games, is the multiplayer mode. The Nintendo company has always benefited from the fact that most of their games are great for friends to play with you, and Bomberman 64 is no different. The multiplayer mode takes place on a small map, reminiscent of the antique games, and the players compete to see who can blow up their opponents the most.  Power-ups will randomly appear on the field, and it was an overall fun experience, even if you wanted to beat the snot out of your friend who just trapped you in a corner with a giant bomb. In the end, this was probably the only feature of the game used on a regular basis by the player, as it was infinitely more enjoyable than the frustrating story mode.

There isn’t much more to say about this game, other than the fact that it was rather well-received by game critics. Despite its obvious flaws, the game was a very good effort, and genuinely fun to play, if only because you didn’t want to admit that a game could beat you into submission. It didn’t leave much of an impression on the gamer or the gaming world. Subsequent games reverted back to the original format of two-dimensional gameplay that the game was designed for, eventually fading into obscurity, a sad demise for a game whose potential was never fully realized.

Next Week: Fiddler on the Roof


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