While feeding my addiction playing Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, I picked up an in-game assist trophy to summon a character to aid me in my battle. For those of you unfamiliar with the Super Smash Bros. franchise, the player has the ability to pick up an item that will summon a character from one of dozens of game franchises to help. In this scenario, Bomberman came to my aid. As I watched him prance around the screen, leaving bombs in a meticulous pattern to catch my opponent in the crossfire, I thought “Why isn’t Bomberman playable in Smash?”
Seriously, though! With this game of ever-growing playable characters from almost every classic franchise to appear on a Nintendo system, why was Bomberman subdued to a role as an assist? That hardly seems fair.
And that’s how I picked this week’s retro gaming throwback: Bomberman.
The original Bomberman game was released by Hudson Soft for the home computer in 1983, entitled Bomber Man. Following suit in the same year was Bomberman for the Nintendo Entertainment System, which was also titled Dynablaster in Europe and Australia. Little did we know how many sequels Hudson Soft would produce in the coming years.
Bomberman focuses on a little robot guy who explores a symmetrical maze of obstacles, enemies and walls that block his path. Like most video games at the time, the cover art hardly reflected any of this. The NES title showed off a man in a space suit hopping across a barren planet while debris exploded behind him. The TurboGrafx sequel that came out in 1990 depicted Bomberman as a dude dressed like he was ready to go play a game of laser tag. Eventually they squared his design with how he actually looked in the game.
I didn’t own a copy of Bomberman growing up, nor did I have the pleasure of renting it from my local video store. My introduction to this style of gameplay was actually through a little shareware game for the Macintosh in the early ’90s entitled BOOM by Factor Software. It played identically to Bomberman, with slightly different enemies, better graphics, and some really cool PC gaming music. At that point, I went back and played the Bomberman games that had been released to the home console.
When I booted up the game this past week, I hadn’t played Bomberman for the NES in well over a decade. Memories came flooding back to me as the music started to play, and continued to play throughout the entire game. The gameplay was simple: Put bombs down, blow sh*t up, and find a hidden door to exit the stage.
Seems simple enough? Not really. Each level had a timer set to 300. It was a little too quick to count as seconds, so it was a simple timer. In that timeframe, I would have to blast my way through several walls to find my way out of the level. It was not an easy feat at first because all of the exits are randomized by the computer. The game would never play the same twice, which was increasingly difficult at first because it also doesn’t start the player with anything with the exception of one bomb.
Ironically, this game rewards its players for doing well by giving out new power ups in every level. The levels actually get easier as the player upgrades his arsenal of bombs and powers ups. At one point, I had a ridiculous amount of bombs that I could set off myself with a blast range that filled nearly half the screen. Enemies couldn’t stand in my way!
The enemies were all essentially the same with different variants on how they would move. Some could pass through blocks, such as the ghosts and slime, but for the most part the enemies would just bounce back and forth against walls, waiting for their inevitable demise. Eventually the only threat left would be myself if I had set a bomb trap wrong, and walked right into its blaze. It’s interesting how Bomberman starts the player off at the hardest point of the game, and works backward to be easy and fun.
Despite how simple this game was to play, I found myself addicted to blasting my way level through level. Eventually my eyes had glazed over as the clock hit 11:30 PM and I realized I needed to take a break.
The end of the game is almost completely absurd. After completing the final level, Bomberman turns into a human – but not just any human, oh no. He becomes the starring role of Lode Runner, a different game that had been a collaborative project between Hudson Soft and Broderbund. I stared at the screen for a few minutes after seeing this, wondering how this even fit the canon of the great Bomberman universe. The answer: It doesn’t. This doesn’t ever come up again after the release of the Lode Runner game. It hadn’t taken off like Bomberman had, so Hudson Soft stuck to what they knew and built a franchise of their favorite bomb throwing robot.
I don’t know how Bomberman manages to be such an addicting game. Maybe it’s just the simple mindless satisfaction of blowing up 8-bit blocks that is therapeutic in its own strange way.
There is still one thing that still remains in question: Why isn’t Bomberman playable in Super Smash Bros.?