With so many hardcore action games and first-person shooters the Xbox 360 can be an incredibly hostile environment for family-friendly party games. Microsoft's first attempt at the party game genre, Fuzion Frenzy 2, was a dismal failure and there aren't many gamers out there holding their breath for the upcoming Viva Piñata: Party Animals. But while the Xbox 360 is having a tough go at the party genre things seem to be looking up for Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade service. This year alone we've had the opportunity to go into battle with a bunch of Worms, learn how to play Catan, and fall in love with Small Arms. But don't look now, because the king of all multiplayer party games is back and ready to regain its rightful throne. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Bomberman Live!
Originally released for the MSX back in 1983, Bomberman is one of those classic game franchises that seem to find its way onto every console of the past 25 years. At this point it's almost easier to count the number of systems Bomberman didn't show up on (Atari Jaguar, WonderSwan Color ...), so it shouldn't surprise anybody that Hudson has decided to bring the cute little pyrotechnic to the Xbox Live Arcade.
Of course, this isn't the first time Bomberman has been released on the Xbox 360. Fans of painful video game experiences (or people that love to throw money away) will remember last year's atrocious Bomberman: Act Zero, a hard-edge Bomberman update that featured a mean looking robot-like character in a futuristic world. Bomberman Live wisely pretends that Act Zero never happened and offers us a chance to play the original Bomberman the way he was meant to be experienced - as an adorable character that you see from a distant overhead perspective. Not only is this a total return to form for the blue bomber, but it's also one of the best versions of Bomberman we've seen since Bomberman '93 on the TurboGrafx-16 (the game that many consider to be the definitive version of Hudson's long running party franchise).
At this point it's hard to believe that there are people out there who have never had the opportunity to play Bomberman, but if you fit into that category then here's a quick guide to everything you need to know about this exhilarating party game. In Bomberman the object is to be the last man standing. In order to win you navigate your bomber through a maze-like world where you can drop bombs and lay down traps. The bombs you lay down are easy to predict, when a bomb explodes the resulting fire jets out in four directions - up, down, left and right. It's your job to stay out of the way of that explosion and try to trap other players in situations where they can't help but be incinerated by the flame. Do this without dying and you're the winning and it's off to the next round.
While that's a quick overview of the game, there is actually a bit more to Bomberman than meets the eye. A large part of this game is learning what each of the power-ups do. As you blow up blocks and objects that litter the level you will find a number of power-ups, each one making it a little easier to blow up the other characters. Some power-ups will let you lay down multiple bombs at the same time, others will increase the size of your explosion, and others will make you speed up and kick the bomb. And that's just the tip of the iceberg, depending on which mode you play you will run into a lot of crazy power-ups that have the potential to completely change the flow of the game. Thankfully all of the power-ups are detailed in the instruction manual (which you can pull up at any time in the pause menu), so learning what everything does is only a button press away.
Like all great party games, Bomberman is an easy game to pick up and play. For the most part the game is controlled using one analog stick and one button. It's this simplicity that makes this such an attractive Xbox Live Arcade game, couple that with extremely short (yet action filled) rounds and you have a game that almost anybody can get into. There's a reason that the Bomberman franchise has been around for a quarter century, and this Xbox Live Arcade game manages to do the original game justice.
While there's a single-player mode available from the start, Bomberman Live is all about the multiplayer modes. Either online or off, there is nothing better than getting a bunch of friends together and blowing the snot out of them. The game gives you several ways of bringing your friends into the action, including both offline and online modes. The game supports up to four-players on one Xbox 360, so get your friends in the same room and huddle around your television and get ready for a lot of action. As the name implies, Bomberman Live also allows you to connect with your friends and random people via the Xbox Live online service, where you can play up to eight people in a room. Best of all you can have a few people over and take your local friends online to play against the whole wide world, a brilliant move when you only have one or two friends at your house but still want to go up against eight real players.
This Xbox Live Arcade game comes with eight unique levels, each with their own destructible environments and obstacles to overcome. The game features your basic Bomerman level that you get in every version of the game, as well as more interesting locations, such as a spaceship, the big top, a level entirely on ice, a strange Lost World-style level, and even a pirate level. While you can play the standard game in any of these levels, most of locations also have an Arena Feature which makes the level actually fight back and sabotage your character. For example, some levels will feature holes that open up and make you fall in, other levels will shoot out fire, and there's even a level that features quicksand that will make you stop dead in your tracks (leaving you vulnerable to any and all attacks).
Beyond the level-specific game modes, you can also play the game using slightly different rules. Perhaps the most exciting is the Zombie mode, which gives your Bomberman characters unlimited lives and requires you to paint (by blowing your bombs up) as much of the level as you can before time expires. There is actually another variation on that mode that isn't nearly as much fun, but is still interesting to play from time to time. While it's true that the Bomberman formula hasn't changed much over the last 24 years, Bomberman Live does what it can to keep the game modes as fresh as possible.
Since you're going to be playing the game online against a whole world of Bomberman fans you might as well show off your individual style. Bomberman Live actually allows you to customize your character in a lot of cool ways, from adding different hates to changing the facial expressions to trying on different clothes. As you play the game you will unlock new outfits to equip to your character, ultimately giving your Bomberman character a unique look when playing online (or offline with your friends or the computer). This is your chance to see what a Bomberman character would look like in a dress or as a cowboy or decked out in pirate garb (complete with a peg leg and eye patch). Not only does customizing your character make it easier to know where you are when you're on the battlefield, but it also makes the Bomberman character even more adorable ... something I didn't think was possible.
There's no denying the addictive nature of Bomberman Live, this is one of the greatest party games of all time and a must own for every Xbox 360 owner. But the game is not perfect, there are a few minor complaints that keep this from being everything it can be. One of the problems I had was the complete lack of a single-player campaign. While the Bomberman games have never had the best story modes, most of the past titles have at least tried to offer some sort of a single-player experience. Unfortunately Bomberman Live decides to ignore a story mode, settling for a single-player mode that is basically you against three to seven computer-controlled characters.
Another problem I had was the constant dropping of games in the online mode. Perhaps it's because people don't want a loss to be registered on their account or maybe they just hate playing a full game, but whatever the case is I found that most of the online games I played ended when the host left the room prematurely. It would be one thing if somebody else in the room was given the responsibility of hosting the match after the original host disconnected, but in Bomberman Live you just exit out to the main menu. This is especially annoying because of the frequency of its occurrence. I would not be exaggerating if I were to say that it happened at least 90% of the time, it makes playing random ranked players a much more frustrating experience than it should be. Hopefully Hudson can figure out a way of penalizing those gamers who decide to exit the game early ruining the game for the rest of us, because as it is I find myself praying to finish a game every time I go into a random room.
If you can get past those two minor complaints you will find one of the best Xbox Live Arcade games of the year. At $10 it's hard to imagine a better deal; the game is loaded with a ton of content and a great multiplayer experience making this a must-own party game for anybody who loves fast-paced action games. Best of all, Bomberman Live manages to erase the bad taste left in our mouth from last year's Act Zero. If you're looking for a great multiplayer action game for your Xbox 360 you need not look any further than Bomberman Live.