Bomberman 64
  • Genre:
    • Action Adventure
  • Platform:
    • Nintendo 64
  • Developer:
    • Hudson
  • Publishers:
    • JP Hudson
    • UK US Nintendo
  • Released:
    • JP 09/26/1997
    • UK 11/01/1997
    • US 11/30/1997
Score: 75%

This review was published on 06/22/2015.

Bomberman 64, named Baku Bomberman in Japan, is a video game developed by Hudson Soft and published by Nintendo for the Nintendo 64. It was released in Japan on September 26, 1997, Europe on November 1, 1997, and North America on November 30, 1997. Contrary to what you may think, this isn't the 64th Bomberman game, though there are enough games in the series to make it feel that way. This is the first 3-D Bomberman game ever released and also the first one on the N64. During the late 1990s, many franchises made the jump to 3-D for the first time. Some succeeded, like Super Mario 64, and some failed, like Bubsy 3D. In Bomberman 64's case, it's somewhere between success and failure. The game tried to adapt many of the series conventions to a 3-D environment, but it did so in a clumsy manner, resulting in a bit of a mess. It shifted the focus to aimless exploration and shoddy platforming, abandoning the traditional Bomberman formula everyone knew and loved. Bomberman 64 is an ambitious game, especially for the series, but it doesn't quite deliver on that ambition.

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A group of dastardly space pirates were attacking and sapping the energy of various planets in the universe. They referred to themselves as the Masked Trio and were under the command of a tyrannical individual named Altair. After conquering several planets, the Masked Trio then set their eyes on Planet Bomber, a place inhabited by bombastic people. The space pirates had their gigantic floating fortress of terror descend into the skies of Planet Bomber and began zapping the planet's cities with lasers. Planet Bomber's hero, known simply as Bomberman, witnesses the attack and decides to take decisive action. Before he departs, a cool dude decked in white armor shows up and offers his assistance to Bomberman. This mysterious new ally informs Bomberman that he needs to deactivate the barrier that protects the destructive fortress from intruders. The fortress has four chunks of previously conquered planets attached to it with large chains, and these chains must be severed to remove the protective force field. With this knowledge now in mind, Bomberman begins another explosive adventure.

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No longer being restricted to grid-like stages, Bomberman is now able to freely walk around in full 3-D, complete with a rotating camera. He's still able to lay bombs that slowly pulsate until they explode, just as before, but there's been a massive change: the bombs now explode in a spherical fashion instead of the cross shape from previous games. This was likely done to better take advantage of the third dimension. Bomberman also starts off with the ability to kick and throw bombs, both of which used to be temporary power-ups. Speaking of power-ups, they're still present in this game, and they do the standard thing of increasing the explosion radius and allowing for more bombs to be laid at once. A feature first introduced in this game is bomb pumping. When holding a bomb, you rapidly tap the A button to increase its size. Once fully pumped, these giant bombs have a much larger blast radius and can destroy special structures. Unfortunately, Bomberman still dies in one hit if he isn't equipped with a heart power-up. Of all the traditional Bomberman mechanics to keep, that wasn't a particularly good one, especially considering this game is geared towards exploration.

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At the outset, there are four worlds to explore, and you can visit them in any order. However, each world has four individual stages that must be completed in a specific order. Most of the time, the goal is simply to make it to the goal arrow alive, avoiding enemies and traps along the way. Sometimes you'll have to press switches, blow stuff up, or solve puzzles to open the path to the goal arrow, but these are merely variations of the same thing. Because of the 3-D environments, the stages are designed with exploration in mind, so finding the exit and figuring out how to get there tends to be most of the challenge. Unlike Super Mario 64, however, the stage design in this game lacks direction, which frequently results in aimless wandering. Also, despite Bomberman not having the ability to jump, the stages are often designed as if this is a platform game, with many tiny platforms that are super easy to fall off of and countless instant death pits. The game can't decide whether it wants to be Super Mario 64 or Bomberman, and it suffers because of that. On the bright side, the music gives the game nice atmosphere, and there's a sense of mystery to the environments.

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Every second and fourth stage of each world will pit you against a boss. The second stages are fights against smaller targets, like the Masked Trio, whereas the fourth stages are bouts against massive monstrosities. Fights against the Masked Trio aren't too different from the game's multiplayer, as they mostly kick and toss bombs at you, sometimes using a special ability or two. The big bosses are far more intense. You'll be given a detonator power-up at the beginning of major boss battles, which allows you to control when and if your bombs detonate, making these fights more bearable. Generally, the colossal bosses will attack you as the camera pans around in a cinematic fashion. The basic strategy is to throw bombs at the boss and detonate them at the right time. The bosses are all varied, from flying dragons to giant robots. One particularly cool fight has you fighting a giant fish boss as you ride a raft down a rapid waterway; the fish slowly destroys your raft, eventually leaving you only with a single log! While the bosses themselves aren't anything groundbreaking, the cinematic camera angles definitely make these battles more fun. The bosses are one of the few things this game does well.

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Bomb jumping is an advanced technique you'll have to master in order to access certain areas. Well, it's more like bomb bouncing. Even though Bomberman can't jump in this game, there are still occasional gaps he has to cross, and that's where this technique comes into play. Whenever Bomberman falls on top of one of his own bombs, he'll bounce a tiny bit, allowing him to clear small gaps. If another bomb is placed on top of that one, it'll bounce endlessly... place another on top of that one and it will also bounce. The basic premise is to use this phenomenon to construct elaborate bomb staircases to reach high areas that are normally unreachable. Doing this requires the detonator power-up, so your bombs don't explode while you're setting everything up. This is, quite possibly, the stupidest thing about the game. It's very easy to get Bomberman stuck in an infinite bouncing loop if he's in between two bouncing bombs. If that happens, you'll have to slowly maneuver him out by pushing the analog stick in the desired direction, but this takes forever and is infuriating. Additionally, Bomberman tends to get knocked unconscious by his own bombs, further adding to the frustration. Bomb jumping is incredibly awkward and makes absolutely no sense. The final world is nothing but nightmarish bomb jumping puzzles, ensuring that most players won't complete the game. This is not how you make a platformer.

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Gold cards are this game's main, somewhat optional collectible. Similar to Super Mario 64's stars, there are 120 in all, but obtaining them is a far worse ordeal. Every stage has five gold cards; in the regular stages, the first three are hidden throughout the environment, the fourth one is earned from defeating thirty enemies, and the fifth one is gotten by beating the stage in record time. Boss stages also have five gold cards, but they're obtained differently. When fighting something like the Masked Trio, you get gold cards for doing certain tasks during battle, like bouncing pumped up bombs on their heads, hitting them with a large bomb blast, etc. For the main bosses, you have to destroy different parts of their body. Many of the gold cards are frustrating to get, because they're either hidden in places that are nearly impossible to find, or you'll have to replay a stage repeatedly until you beat it quickly enough, or maybe you accidentally killed the boss before blasting all its parts. You need at least 100 cards to access the true final world of the game, meaning you can't see the real ending without suffering through excruciating torture. Getting all 120 gold cards will unlock some minor secrets, but these aren't worth it. Oh, and if you get all gold cards on hard mode within three hours, you get a special prize. I'm not kidding.

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Like the majority of Bomberman games, this game has a multiplayer battle mode. There are two multiplayer modes; Single Battle and Team Battle. Single Battle is a free-for-all where up to four players will attempt to blast each other to smithereens in an arena that comprises a single screen and the last lunatic standing is the victor. An optional option can be enabled in this mode to have dead players come back as ghosts, which will allow them to hinder the surviving players by briefly possessing them. Team Battle is a little different, as there are two teams and each one must destroy the other's crystals. A neat feature is how players can customize the look of their Bombermen with costumes found in the single player mode and save the results to Controller Paks, memory cards that attach to the backside of an N64 controller, for future transport. The problem with this game's multiplayer is that all the arenas are mostly empty. There are hardly any destructible blocks or power-ups, and that makes matches far less interesting. The lack of cross based explosions also takes some of the strategy away. Some arenas do have the added element of elevation to deal with, in addition to gimmicks like rising water, though this doesn't solve the problem entirely. Multiplayer in Bomberman 64 still has the potential to be fun, but that potential is greatly diminished when compared to more traditional Bomberman games.

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As is evident from this game, the transition to 3-D didn't go so well for Bomberman. In the interest of full disclosure, I want to say that I actually do like the game, even though it's admittedly not very good. There are certainly some good sides to it, like the ambient atmosphere, the sublime music, the cinematic bosses, and environments that inspire a sense of mysterious wonderment, but when it comes right down to it, the game play is heavily flawed. The bomb jumping thing is lame, the gold cards aren't fun to collect, the stage design is awkward, and the multiplayer is too primitive. Departing from the core Bomberman formula wasn't such a good idea; a lesson Hudson had to learn the hard way. It's a shame, too, because I could tell Hudson put a lot of love into this one, as it's pretty polished for what it is.

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