Four years ago, I feared that Bomberman might have ignited his last explosive. As the once-vibrant franchise faced dwindling interest, Hudson Soft released Bomberman: Act Zero, a title which transposed the cartoonish series into a stark, robotic environment. Critical response was appropriately harsh, with a handful of reviewers referring to the game as one of 2006’s worst titles. A year later, the publisher solicited the assistance of Backbone Entertainment to develop Bomberman: Live, a downloadable title which returned the franchise to its vibrant roots, and potentially reviving the wayward dynamite-dropping dynamo.
Recent release Bomberman Live: Battlefest wisely doesn’t veer far from its predecessor’s formula. Although development responsibilities were passed onto PI Studios (Quake Arena Arcade, as well as the upcoming Bonk: Brink of Extinction) the title’s characteristic frenzied competitions have remained intact, as players attempt to trap opponents in an escalating barrage of combustion. Bomberman‘s potency stems from the game’s simplicity. Movement is relegated to the cardinal directions, while the game’s explosives detonate in plus-shaped patterns- only halting then flames come into contact with combustible, power-up concealing, walls. Battlefest‘s contributions to the popular formula are a handful of new weapons, modes, and collectables which add a bit of variety of the proceedings.
Both the Cluster Bomb, a device which releases three additional explosives when detonated, and the sluggish missile known as the Rocket Bomb are solid contributions to the series’ arsenal. Like many of Bomberman‘s ordnances, each is just as capable of killing an errant player as an opponent. Less successful is the Laser Bomb, which discharges when a player breaks one of the light beams radiating from the contraption’s core- too often these sat around undetonated. Luckily, players can customize the loadout of each match, adjusting the availability of perks and well as items which can temporarily handicap a player.
Most of Battlefest‘s new playfields have some type of nuance- from a pirate ship, whose seaward rocking shifts bombs back and forth to a time-tweaking arena which momentarily speed up or slows down the action. Each stage fits within the Bomberman oeuvre, as the nearly the entire game is brimming with bright hues while characters display typical enthusiastic cheer. The one visual outlier is the option to use your Xbox Live avatar- it’s a bit peculiar to see your likeness transported to the Bomberman realm.
Each of Battlefest’s new modes reveal a contemporary influence. Up to eight AI or real participants may compete in the title’s Capture the Flag or VIP modes, which encourage players to relinquish their individual aims in favor of supporting a team goal. Bankroll channels a distinct Counterstrike vibe, as players use found money or killing bounties to purchase their arsenal for future rounds. While setting up a customized game is fairly effortless, Battlefest should allow players to dictate winning options. How about a deathmatch where the victor is decided by the total number of frags, rather than just persevering to the end of each round? This small variance could incite a larger change in player tactics.
While veterans with an arsenal of Bomberman titles in their libraries may not feel that Bomberman Live: Battlefest offers enough bang for their ten bucks, 360 owners without a franchise entry may want to consider a purchase. There’s a reason the franchise is still active after nearly three decades of play- catching friends in an impromptu crossfire continues to feels satisfying.