The Bomberman series has had its ups and downs over the years, falling well away from the forefront of gaming as more modern generations have come along. That’s not to say it has disappeared entirely though and 2017 saw Super Bomberman R hit Nintendo Switch. Now it has arrived on both Xbox One and PS4, as well as seeing a release on Steam, with each version offering up exclusive characters to play as. So how does it stack up?
Straight off the bat you are given a choice between Standard and Grand Prix modes, with the former offering up a campaign story which sees the Bomberman clan taking on the Evil Emperor Buggler.
The campaign takes the clan through various environments that will see you tackle various levels and eventually a boss for each environment. Levels are mostly broken up in to three distinct categories; defeat all enemies, find all the switches and collect all the keys. This certainly doesn’t offer up much variety and it falls to the level design to keep you interested, something that it initially manages to do quite well. But soon it all descends into mind-numbing repetition, with bosses that are mostly set in open arenas leaving you to mash your bomb placement until defeated. It amazes me that after all these years the Bomberman series still feels like it is so against shaking up the formula of its campaigns in any way other than offering up the odd new power-up. It is no different here. Just rinse and repeat until you reach the end.
Alongside the campaign and the standard selection also offers up the classic battle mode, which comes in both offline and online varieties, supports up to 8 players and brings with it Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch modes. The options are a little thin on the ground for a Bomberman title, only allowing you to turn off various amendments like special abilities and skills, adjusting the match length and difficulty of AI. I would have expected a little more customisation here as you would usually have the option of switching on or off various power-ups and abilities. Initially you only have a few arenas unlocked too, but as you play you can earn coins to purchase more.
The arenas themselves offer up a decent amount of variety with many coming complete with environmental hazards like pitfalls or bomb attracting magnets. However each new arena costs 4000 coins to purchase, which requires a fair amount of grinding on the more standard levels to unlock – this means you are often pretty bored by the time you have purchased a new arena.
The AI does thankfully offer up a decent challenge on normal difficulty and will often push you to the last set. This makes matches against the AI tense enough to keep you entertained and, crucially, it never feels like you have been cheated out of victory. Meanwhile local multiplayer is a joy to play. It harks back to bygone days of all players sitting around a TV having an absolute blast and this is where Super Bomberman R is at its absolute best.
Online multiplayer is frankly a non-starter though. I would say this is due to a small playerbase as I found myself waiting upwards of 15 minutes for a match to start; it would be hugely beneficial if the game included AI players if you have been waiting a certain period of time for a match to gather players.
You will also find included a shop in both Standard and Grand Prix modes, offering up hats, characters and arenas in exchange for coins won during battles. There is a huge variety of hats and characters up for grabs including some really interesting cameos from the likes of Simon Belmont and Pyramid Head among others, whilst each version of the game gets an exclusive character. For the Xbox One version we get Master Chief and all characters are well designed and voiced pretty well, even if some can come across a little cheesy at times.
There is also a Grand Prix mode included and this is basically ranked play. It includes a loose plot which sees you trying to become the best bomber in the universe, defeating all evil along the way. You start off at the bottom of the rankings and need to win matches to work your way up. It comes in both local and online varieties, although the online mode is the only way to work up the rankings, and it also allows you to include local players in online matches. Once again however it is almost impossible to get in to an online match as there simply aren’t enough people playing, and due to the nature of the mode, if enough players don’t join the game it will automatically close the lobby.
As of the time of writing this review I have been unable to get into a single Grand Prix match. This is no fault of the developer as the mode itself appears well crafted and looks like it would hold any players attention much better than the standard multiplayer mode, but it must be pointed out that those looking to enjoy some online Grand Prix bombing action, may well be disappointed.
Presentation wise though and Super Bomberman R is pretty good with bright colours and nice blocky graphics that retain the classic feel, all while offering a really decent perspective that crucially doesn’t let you lose position of the character on screen. The sound is pretty good too, although some of the background music can begin to grate after a while.
In all, Super Bomberman R is just a bit of a non-starter. The lacklustre campaign is only good to hold your attention for so long and the modes that really matter are criminally held back by a low player count. Honestly, I think if Konami want this game to actually be played and to stay relevant then they need to seriously consider releasing the multiplayer portion as a free-to-play game with micro-transactions for the cosmetic items, otherwise it just risks being put out to pasture really soon.
And that is a shame as online multiplayer Bomberman is something I think many would enjoy due to its simplicity and short enjoyable battles. Super Bomberman R has promise, but it needs to adopt a new model to pick up players.