Every now and then, a game comes along with the most simplistic gameplay, but still manages to keep dragging you back for “just one more go”. The latest release from the good people over at Sudden Event Studios and Whitethorn Digital are hoping that their latest release, Bombfest on Xbox One, will be the latest entry into the party game Hall of Fame. Is it “Explosive Fun” as the title screen promises, or more of a damp squib?
Initial impressions are that Bombfest isn’t going to cause anything more powerful than a ZX Spectrum to break a sweat. The character models are seemingly made of wood, and hop about the place in an endearing manner. Controls are simple too, with the B button picking up and throwing the titular bombs, and the A button actioning a kind of jump/belly flop to clear a gap or jump out of the way of a bomb. And that’s it. The learning curve is not steep on this one, but to attain a level of mastery will require a large investment of time.
The arenas are tiny in scale, set in various places like a kitchen sink, a playroom table, a toy fort and so on. Seeing the little guys bobbling and flailing about the place while a toy train runs around on a track for instance delivers a charm that is missing from a lot of modern games. Victory is achieved by using the bombs that rain down from above to blow your opponents clean off the surface that you’re playing on. The arenas are all destructible as well, with houses made of toy bricks providing a little shelter until they are blown to pieces. There is a little bit of strategy too, with the aforementioned train being used to keep you in the game by bouncing you back into the field of play. If you do succumb to the explosive onslaught, it’s not game over; you can spawn back in as a mobile bomb, which can roll around the level and explode at hopefully the right moment to inconvenience your opponents.
As you play through, you will unlock new bombs, new arenas, and new outfits. The bombs are an imaginative bunch, with sticky, ice, bouncy and even bread bombs… as as we all know bread explodes on contact. The arenas all stick with the flavour of small and bijou, with the outfits themed around medieval ideas; names like “The Minstrel” and “The Wizard” manage to add a nice layer of customisation to the mix.
This then is the entirety of Bombfest. Enter a level, try and blow up the opposition, and try not to get blown up in return. The AI seem to be almost psychic though, and fighting in a single player game just devolves into a button mashing explodo-fest. It’s very hard to plan how to approach the levels, and the overall feeling when you finally come out on top is one of overwhelming luck. It appears that you win, certainly in the single player mode, despite the controls rather than because of them. With three AI controlled players in addition to your character, in tiny arenas, it is very hard to see what is going on and the markers which define each character get very muddled, making life a little more difficult. Even the different colours of the costumes don’t help massively in this regard.
Where Bombfest on Xbox One comes alive though is in the multiplayer mode. With up to four live people playing, the game becomes chaotic, but in a good way. With possibly the introduction of a pint or two of social lubricant, it quickly turns into a real laugh, with bombs and bodies flying everywhere. Even sober the game is a lot of fun with people, and even my younger foes turned out to be surprisingly good, even with AI in the mix. Maybe my ageing reflexes can’t keep up with the action, but there is still fun in the losing – and that really is the mark of a good party game. If you have friends and controllers lying about the place, then this game makes a lot of sense.
All in all, the recommendation for Bombfest depends on who is going to be playing it. As a single player proposition, it’s not the best. It’s too hard to win, it appears that luck plays far too big a role in the game and it’s most definitely too confusing. With a gang of friends, or even as a family game, then it all begins to make a lot more sense. Chaotic turns into hilarious and this is one of those type of games that I can easily see featuring on Dara O’Briain’s Go 8-Bit. Take from that what you will.