I remember paying many visits to the National Videogame Arcade years back, when it was based in Nottingham. On one particular visit, we stumbled across a huge screen with a complex looking bomb, and next to it lay a plethora of teasing switches to flick and wires to cut. Away from the screen was a big manual filled with diagrams and instructions. You can guess what we needed to do.
I am of course referring to the excellent Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes which, maybe partly due to the novelty, was a brilliant little game that offered something different. Them Bombs works in exactly, and I mean exactly, the same way despite a less attractive presentation. Instead of 3D rendered bomb parts which popped out at you, each module is presented in a typical but simplistic style. However, Them Bombs is somewhat cheaper than the game which inspired it, which helps in the event that the novelty wears off quickly.
There’s really only one way to play Them Bombs, which is as a two player cooperative team. You can get more people involved if you wish, but you can only tackle one module of the bomb at a time. One of you will need to read the manual and feed information to the player attempting to diffuse the bomb, this role is known at the “expert”. The player attempting to diffuse the bomb, referred to as the “unlikely hero”, will need to process what they hear and choose the correct actions to take in order to make the bomb safe, step by step. The expert should not be able to see the screen (I cast my partner out into the hallway) to get the full-on, authentic experience. Of course, players can then swap positions if you wish to get the most from Them Bombs.
You may not realise it, but the first bomb you’ll be attempting to diffuse is actually the game’s tutorial. This bomb remains the same on each attempt, so also acts as a good training ground too. There are three modules to disarm, with around ten minutes on the clock.
Beyond this there are different modes to play. Namely, Beginner, Normal, Hard and Custom. The first three speak for themselves, with the bomb being randomised each time. The greater the difficulty, the more modules the bomb has and the less time you have to disarm it. This is where things can get really tense.
The custom mode offers you the freedom to create your own fiendish devices. Well, by create I mean choose from various settings to decide on pretty much all the elements of the bomb you’ll be tackling. It’s a welcome way to mix things up if you don’t want to leave your chances of success wholly in the hands of fate.
As the “unlikely hero”, you’ll need to get used to being shouted at for not solving the puzzles quick enough. You may also bite back at your partner, when they can’t get to the information you require fast enough. It comes together nicely, working well to create some really tense moments. It would also make a good game to showcase at a party, as it can be quite entertaining watching both players stress out.
If things weren’t tense enough, at random points you will be prompted to hold LB to calm your nerves and RB to recharge your torch when its batteries run out. Each action will cost you valuable seconds, and most likely occur at the most inconvenient time.
There are several types of modules you will encounter, which range from simple to complex. One such example is the 15 lights puzzle, in which you will need to use a famous scientist and the Greek alphabet to figure out the correct code to disarm the module. Another will present you with a “pizza” containing flashing lights. Depending on the features of the bomb itself, this will determine the correct segments to press in order to disarm the module. Perhaps the most simple module, but also something of a trap, is the big red button that must only be pressed when all other elements of the bomb have been dealt with.
There are a fair few modules to master, and thanks to each bomb being randomised there are loads of potential combinations for you to tackle. This should keep you and your friends entertained for a while, depending on if you can handle the pressure. However, there is no getting away from the fact you will essentially be playing the same elements of the game over and over, which may wear thin for some.
The biggest gripe is grappling with a digital copy of the bomb manual when playing as the expert. Scrolling up and down eats valuable seconds, and it can be difficult to find the right page quickly. For the more difficult bombs, it’s advisable to print all the pages and have them at hand to increase your chances of success. On the plus side, you only need one copy of the game to play multiplayer as the manual is free to download from the official website.
You may have seen pretty much everything on offer in Them Bombs before, but that doesn’t detract from how enjoyable the core gameplay experience is. The nature of the game may mean it has a short shelf life for some, but thanks to its reasonable price point it’s worth the risk.
Disarm Them Bombs by visiting the Xbox Store