With over 30 entries in the Bomberman series, you’d be excused for thinking the formula would be getting stale and running out of ideas. However, Super Bomberman R proves that there are still a few tricks up those bomb-filled sleeves.
Recent years have seen a plethora of spin-offs released, but this year’s entry is a return to the franchise’s roots of traditional fast-paced explosive maze action. Like the dozens of games preceding it, you’ll be dropped into a maze armed only with bombs to fight off your opponents, picking up various power ups to give you extra ammunition, a bigger blast radius, and the power to throw or kick bombs as you progress. This is the crux of the gameplay for Super Bomberman R’s battle mode; the mode that popularised the series and where the game shines the most.
Bomberman veterans will feel at home here, but there are still a number of noticeable additions to shake things up. For the first time since Bomberman Tournament in 2001, the “Bad Bomber” ability returns with the more on the nose “Revenge Cart” name. Whenever a character is defeated in battle, they will be teleported to the outskirts of the maze in a cart, allowing the player to slide around and toss bombs back into the arena. If a felled player somehow manages to defeat a player that is still alive, they will rejoin the battle.
This mechanic is brilliant in a number of ways. Firstly, it ensures that players who get eliminated early aren’t just sitting around twiddling their thumbs. Giving players who may have accidentally blown themselves up at the start of a match goes a long way in making matches that much more engaging to play. Secondly, it adds a whole new layer of strategy to games. When fights get down to just two players left, things can get a little drawn out as it can be quite tricky to trap your opponent, especially with how big the stages are. The addition of revenge carts means surviving players are forced to play at a faster pace, which we felt was a welcome change. This mechanic could easily have felt cheap, but that has mostly been removed by Konami simply deciding that once you hit the final minute of the game the carts are removed – eliminating the ability to snipe a cheap victory at the very last second.
Another significant addition is the amount of unlockable characters. Not only do these characters pay homage to Konami’s other franchises like Castlevania, Gradius, and Silent Hill (as well as a nod to Sony’s history with Ratchet & Clank), but they all have special abilities. These abilities can be anything from being able to super dash, stunning enemies for a split-second, or destroying already placed bombs to get you out of a spot of bother. Extra layers are added to the gameplay here and you’re forced to think about your strategy a lot more based on who you come up against.
Outside of the standard battle mode there is also a story mode on offer to help hone your bombing skills. While the story is nonsensical and the cutscenes, albeit nice to look at, are unbearably long for a game like this, the actual gameplay here is a blast. Instead of typical matches you will play through stages that are a lot more focused on puzzle solving before reaching an end portal. Each stage sets a certain objective, with anything from the most basic “defeat all enemies” to searching the stage to find keys or leading helpless civilians to safety. While these objectives may seem quite basic on the surface, in action they require a lot of thinking. The combination of being locked inside a maze alongside a constant barrage of foes means brute forcing things is more often than not the most difficult way to tackle things.
During story mode you’ll be transported to six different worlds (and a seventh that unlocks after you beat the game), each with a new theme such as forests, snow, or technology, which brings unique gimmicks like sliding ice blocks or magnets. At the end of each world you’ll take on one of the five Dastardly Bombers in a traditional Bomberman battle. Despite these bombers possessing special abilities, these battles are ridiculously easy. Luckily, the real boss battle takes place after this, as the Dastardly Bomber jumps in a mech and you’re tasked with identifying their weak point. Each of these mech battles is unique and a rush to play through.
The biggest drawback of the story mode is that it’s rather short and the difficulty is rather low, which mostly stems from the fact that there is no consequence for dying. You have a set number of lives to last you for an entire world, with the actual amount depending on the difficulty setting you choose. Once you run out of lives you are given the option to refill them by spending coins that you earn by playing local or online multiplayer matches. However, once you run out of coins you’re given the option to just continue without spending anything. While this mechanic slightly affects your ability to purchase new characters and stages it’s hardly a deterrent. Combine this with the fact that you don’t need to restart a level once you die or run out of lives and you’ll find that it’s impossible to get stuck on any of the tricky parts as you’ll eventually overwhelm the problem by force. You can also run through the story in two-player mode, however this just exacerbates the lack of difficulty.
Outside of story mode your only other gameplay option is Grand Prix, which is a team based mode. Here your battles consist of two rounds, where the team that gets either the most kills or collects the most crystals is the winner. This seems like a good idea at first, but in execution it’s a bit of a mess and pales in comparison to the classic battle mode.
As we alluded to earlier, online play is available in this Bomberman entry and had the potential to be a huge selling point. Yet, when we attempted to take the explosive action online we ran into a multitude of problems. We discovered that it was an absolute pain to find a match, with most of our time spent waiting around in lobbies. When we did get into matches the lag was unbearable and unplayable at times, so much so that it actually became quite humorous to watch each Bomber jutter across the screen. It’s a shame that the execution here is so poor as there was stacks of potential, with a league mode being present where you can earn points and move up to higher leagues.
Despite a couple of flaws, Super Bomberman R is a strong entry into a long-running franchise. It doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, but offers enough variation to the gameplay to keep veterans of the series on their toes, while also helping newcomers ease into the format. It’s a shame that online battles seem to be such a mess at the moment, because with that up and running to its full potential this would easily be the definitive Bomberman game.