The Unlikely Revival of Bomberman

For decades, the Bomberman series was relied on as a moderately successful franchise for Hudson Soft. It was born well over three decades ago in 1983 (the same year some writers for this blog were born in) as a title for various Japanese PC platforms, and became successful worldwide when it was ported to NES/Famicom. This maze puzzle game and its progeny took a unique approach, where protagonist Bomberman either needed to bomb or dodge the opposition with explosives that created unique patterns. Its success started the long legacy of titles, as it became Hudson’s equivalent to Mega Man in terms of how many sequels and spinoffs it received over a lengthy period of time.

That especially applies to the Super Bomberman series for Super NES/Super Famicom, where five games were released on an annual basis from 1993 to 1997.

It’s been ages since there’s been a hit Bomberman installment, but it became a reliable niche franchise after its halcyon years — despite a presumed attempt to kill it with the misguided dark and gritty reboot Bomberman: Act Zero. But those who still played or paid attention to the franchise knew it would mean nothing good for its future when Hudson ceased operations in March 2012, leaving Konami to absorb their franchises. In true Konami fashion, they’ve used barely any of them for any purpose. Even Bomberman has only received ports and remixes of older games for mobile platforms. After Konami further solidified their exit from the gaming world with Kojima Productions’ shuttering in 2015, it seemed this was the most we could expect from this iteration of the company.

Or so it “seemed,” as they’re suddenly interested in reviving the brand on platforms outside phones and tablets. The first project coming is the HexaDrive-developed Super Bomberman R, a brand-new game due for release on Nintendo Switch at its March 3rd launch worldwide– just under three weeks from now. Like previous installments, it involves players moving on a 2D grid, where stages are completed using bombs and trap doors to defeat opponents. The Story Mode involves one or two cooperative players using those tactics, along with various environmental effects and items, across 50 stages to save the galaxy. Though you shouldn’t expect anything riveting, Konami’s promoting how it will have “all-star voice actors,” so they’re presumably putting some effort into it. Like the older games, bombs have explosions with unique patterns, adjusted to the similarly unique environmental designs.

Players don’t have to entirely rely on bombs, as secret items can be found within certain locations in most stages that provide extra powers. For instance, some can extend the range of the explosions, while others give Bomberman and his accomplices the ability to kick or throw bombs for longer distances.

There’s also a competitive eight-player Battle Mode that can be played locally or through online play. The Switch’s adjustable hybrid form factor should be great for setting up local games.

With this being a Konami project, there’s a catch. When this game was announced, plenty got the impression that this, and games like it, should cost around $20-30 depending on whether they’ll be released at retail. Clearly Konami disagrees, as it will retail for $49.99 in America, and at that equivalent in other territories. This is Konami’s way of trying to get as much as they can from those purchasing a Switch at launch, given how barren the software lineup will be, even though the game could be rewarding enough to justify that price to some. It could do a disservice to the Bomberman brand on dedicated systems if (or when) people skip it due to the price, though that means it should receive a price drop shortly afterward. Part of me hopes it beats expectations and doesn’t bomb (haw haw), but we’ll see.

Meanwhile, Konami has another Bomberman-related project in the works: Bombergirl. It’s a, let’s say, unique twist on the formula, where the main playable characters are all girls. Here, the objective is four-character cooperative versus play, where one team must destroy the other team’s base while protecting theirs to win. But there are some predictable quirks given how it’s a title designed for Japanese arcade players. Not only do the girls have moe-style designs and wear scantily clad outfits, but their clothes become tatters after taking too much damage. Konami has simply figured out how to sell the franchise to the modern otaku audience.

Bombergirl has no release date yet, but will be shown at the Japan Amusement Expo 2017 this weekend in Chiba. Perhaps a home console or handheld port will follow if it’s popular in arcades. For anyone who doesn’t like this: At least there’s a more traditional Bomberman game coming alongside it, which is more than you can say for many other franchises that receive this treatment.

While it’s partly nice that Konami remembered the brand existed enough to throw some money at new projects, this may not last given their usual tactics. If these are the kinds of games you like, I recommend enjoying them while they’re here.

Leave a Reply