With a hardnosed punishment for dying and existence which hinges on the use of randomized items, Rogue-like mechanics play into our primal instincts for survival. As such, it’s not surprising that so many games integrate principles like permadeath and resource management into their experiences. From the twin-stick dodging and shooting of The Binding of Isaac to the historical-based dungeon crawls of Cladun Returns: This is Sengoku!, a multitude of titles draw upon the time-honored tenets popularized by the 1980 classic. With the release of Bombslinger, Belgium based developer Mode4 fuses these mechanics with Bomberman-inspired gameplay, extending an explosive but extremely challenging experience.
A fleeting cinematic sequence delivers the bulk of Bombslinger’s motivation, as retired outlaw McMean witnesses his house torched and his wife killed, flinging the explosives expert in retaliatory action. Like Mode4’s moniker implies, the game’s visuals pay homage to the Super Nintendo-era, with pixelated images tasked with doing the storytelling. Smartly, the developers ensure that the set-up is succinct and skippable, since Bombslinger’s main draw is the execution, not the exposition. But for those who do develop empathy for the wronged cowboy, a few bits of storyline are delivered during the boss battle that punctuates each stage.
Delve into the title’s Adventure mode, and you’ll guide McMean through a variety of western-themed milieus, with procedurally-generated stages made up of interconnected single-screen maps. Like Bomberman, your primary method of payback is an inexhaustible supply of explosives which send a streak of searing flame across empty spaces on the horizonal and vertical axes. And like Konami’s famous franchise, you’ll quickly become adept at seeking cover around corners, as you lay down time-delayed explosives to remove enemies and environmental obstructions.
Within minutes of starting Adventure mode, you’ll likely notice where Bomberslinger builds on the seminal multiplayer game. At the start of the game, you’ll be able to choose a perk, allowing McMean to do things like continue after death, take an extra hit point in battle, or automatically collect items after the last foe on each level is defeated. Later, you’ll unlock additional abilities and slots to put them it, by opening the sporadic treasure chest that appears on the battlefield. This plays into Bombslinger’s sole concession to permanence, diminishing the difficulty of the title for those who stick with it.
Expectedly, there’s the occasional randomized power-up to help even McMean’s odd. Pick up one of these and you’ll be one button press away from assistance, whether it’s shooting lightning at the pitchfork-wielding hillbillies that are in dogged pursuit. restoring health, or gaining experience. When the later occurs, a press of the plus button pauses the game, offering a selection of three boosts, which can do things like increase the number of simultaneous bombs you can drop or speed up old man McMean. Like any respectable rogue-like, decisions can be tough, and you’ll often feel like you need more than one of the level bonuses. But success hinges on evaluating the current situation and anticipating what you’ll need in the immediate future.
While the game’s first few levels get the attention of Konami’s legal team, gradually Bombslinger’s play diverges from the popular franchise. Enemies no longer just wander ideally, occasionally rushing players when they’ve seen them. Even more challenging are the occasional gun-toting adversary, who will take a pot shot at player. Satisfyingly, your arsenal grows as you progress, and you’ll be able to send projectiles at opponents too, which radically changes the way you’ll approach the game’s latter levels. But despite the variety and polish exhibited by Bomberslinger, some will find fault in the game’s challenge level. While reckless bomb placement and lower-tier foes will whittle away your health, the game’s boss battles can siphon vitality in a hurry. As such, it can be frustrating to spend half an hour making steady progress, only to have everything undone is a half-minute. Sure, you’re steadily learn the how to read each stage’s nemesis, but expect a few expletives to erupt.
Another mark against Bombslinger is the lack of any online play. Sure, you can play against local Switch owners, or take on bots, but these options lack the ease and energy of jumping into a net-based contest. To counterbalance that omission, Bombslinger has a reasonable price tag- so if you’re really yearning for competition, you’ll probably want to purchase Super Bomberman R which does have online play. Unfortunately, it’s more than double the price of Bombslinger.
Bombslinger was played on the Switch with review code provided by the publisher.
Platform: Switch, PC, Xbox One
Release date: April 11th, 2018
Price: $11.99 via digital download