Bomberman wasn't the first competitive multiplayer video game, but for a generation of gamers it was the only one that mattered. These days we see ultraviolent first-person shooters with dozens of players, racing games with packed lobbies and MMOs with millions of monthly subscribers. Even with all the noise from today's competitive online games, Bomberman still remains king. And if you think his shtick has gotten stale, it's only because you haven't played through the bevy of exciting new modes found in Bomberman Live: Battlefest.
Fans of Hudson's long running franchise will no doubt point out that this is not Bomberman's first appearance on the Xbox 360. Thankfully this is not a sequel to 2006's Act Zero, but rather the four year old Bomberman Live that everybody knows and loves. In essence, this is nothing more than a level and mode booster pack for Bomberman Live. Not that there's anything wrong with that, Pac-Man Championship Edition DX did the exact same thing to exquisite results last year.
Bomberman has always been a simple game. The idea is to set down bombs to blow up the walls hindering your path. At first it's simple; you drop a bomb and hide. Whatever you do, you want to avoid getting hit with the fire and shrapnel coming from your bomb. Before long you'll start picking up power-ups, which allow multiple bombs, increased splash damage and other powerful assets. Your goal is to be the last man standing. If that means taking out a few of your friends along the way, then that's what you'll have to do. It's better them than you.
All of the intense action of the standard Bomberman game is accounted for in Battlefest. The game supports eight players over Live (four locally) and fifteen different maps to blow up. The game also allows you to customize your own bomber person, or simply use your Xbox Live avatar. I expected the worst when I selected my avatar, my character fit right in amongst all of the other psychopathic explosives experts.
The standard battle mode is fun and all, but the real excitement comes from the six brand new multiplayer modes. Outside of battle, we're treated to Zombie, Paint Bomb, Capture the Crown, Bankroll, Capture the Flag and VIP. Most of these modes offer both free-for-all and team variations, finally offering some much-needed variety to this twenty year old franchise.
Even if you don't recognize the names, fans of online games will feel right at home with most of these modes. Capture the Flag is exactly what it sounds like, a mode where teams have to race through a maze capturing and returning the enemy's flag. It's exactly how you remember it in Halo and every other first-person shooter released in the last ten years. Capture the Crown offers a similar goal, only this time you battle to hold on to a crown the longest.
Fans of the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series will immediately know what to do in Zombie and Paint Bomb, modes where each Bomberman tries to paint as much of the level in his color. VIP requires players to protect an important character from being blown up. And then there's Bankroll, which sees players earning money which can be exchanged for powerful items. Think Bomberman meets Counter-Strike.To make each of these variations even more challenging, the fifteen levels fight back. In one level players will need to dodge deadly laser strikes, while in another stage the wind will blow out the lit bombs. My favorite level involves a boat that sways back and forth, depending on the bomb placement. This means that an explosion can send crates and bombs from one end of the ship to the other, constantly keeping things exciting. Not every level is as creative as this boat stage, but I love what each and every one of them adds to the competition.
After twenty years, Hudson has never been able to figure out how to make a compelling single-player experience. In Battlefest it feels like they gave up, instead putting all of their energy to the multiplayer mode. Outside of sitting around and playing with bots, there isn't much for a single player to do. But who cares? After two decades, I can't imagine anybody buying a Bomberman game for the single-player mode. Thanks to the invention of Xbox Live, solo players will always be able to have another real person to battle.
Even with all of the new modes, I can't help but be a little disappointed that Hudson didn't go one step further. It would have been nice to see a graphical overhaul, perhaps something that would speed things up a little. It's amazing what Namco was able to do with Pac-Man Championship Edition, it's a shame Bomberman still looks like its ten years old. After all, this is still the same old Bomberman you grew up loving. Even with the extra modes, it still looks and plays the same. One of these days Hudson is going to add something to that gameplay that revolutionizes the whole franchise. It will be that one thing we can't believe we did without. Sadly, there's nothing daring or original in Battlefest, it's as safe as any game can be.
Bomberman Live: Battlefest offers just enough new content to warrant the purchase. It may not be the major upgrade some fans have been hoping for, but it does manage to scratch a very specific itch. The new found variety gives me hope that Hudson is on the right track with their online Bomberman sequels. Now if I could only figure out where my Xbox Live avatar was hiding all those bombs.