One might be likely to approach Bomberman Land with consternation, immediately repulsed by the unimaginative box art displaying a dozen cute iterations of the iconic Bomberman robot, all floating amidst a horizontal rainbow. Ugh.
The player takes on the role of White, sometimes referred to as “Ever Cheerful White”, though I’m not quite sure how he can be seen as cheerful given his wooden personality, blank facial expression, and lack of a mouth. Believe it or not, he’s got a buddy named “Cool Black”. That’s right, the hero is named White, and he has a wise-crackin’, jive-talkin’ homeboy named Black. Unintentional racism aside, the story has no bearing on the gameplay. If you’re curious, though, a mean bomberman has taken over Bomberman Land, the “theme park in the sky”. He’s instituted martial law, and it’s up to you to stop him, restoring fair play to the land’s tournaments.
In order to advance to new areas of the theme park, you play through a series of minigames in an attempt to achieve higher scores than your AI contemporaries. Most of the minigames are tedious exercises that take a few tries to master. You’ll inevitably fail the first few rounds of minigames, which will doom you to replaying the same few games again and again. Rather than just stringing the minigames together like, say, WarioWare, Bomberman Land‘s developers created a bland overworld with a shopping center and training ground. You are banished to this purgatory-like overworld after each round of games while the judges “tally the results”.
You won’t be able to get back into the fray until you’ve engaged in conversation with one of the NPC’s, arbitrarily chosen by the game. This leaves you running around the overworld trying to find the “right” NPC for inane chit-chat, triggering the reopening of the minigame areas. Then, when you finally get access to the minigames, you waste all your time figuring out how to play them. By the time you’ve gotten the hang of it, you’ve wasted all your turns and have to do the whole thing over again.
All of those factors make sure that Bomberman Land‘s frustrating adventure mode is not worth your time, while the multiplayer battles, on the other hand, are the same as they ever were. There are virtually infinite variations on the classic “last man standing” theme, with several dozen levels, three size variations, and a multitude of item, time, and difficulty settings. Still, you’ll probably spend most of your time playing the decades-old classic version with all the default settings—something you can do for a fraction of the price on the Wii’s Virtual Console (Bomberman ‘93—six bucks, people).
Developers working on “classic” franchises should take a hint from the Mario Galaxy team. It’s likely that Galaxy will sell more copies over the next five years than the combined sales of ten Bomberman games. That’s because each Mario title is a micro-revolution in game design rather than a tired rehash of the same game with a fresh coat of paint. Video game reviewers have been enabling this for too long. Review synopses of games like this one usually read, “Yes, this game sucks, but it still has that good ol’ classic Bomberman flavor, so we’ll give it, say, a 6. Plus, at the bargain price of $30, we can’t complain.” Such a verdict is an injustice to readers and promotes lazy game development.
Two years ago, Konami tried to breathe new life into the flagging franchise with Bomberman: Act Zero, a more realistic take on the series featuring a gritty post-apocalyptic setting. Unfortunately, the title was a colossal failure, largely perceived as one of the worst games ever made. The game’s poor performance probably dissuaded Hudson Soft from embarking on any drastic departures from the proven formula.
Thus we are left with yet another collection of pointless minigames loosely based on a once-heralded franchise that has long since fallen from grace. The simplistic puzzle-based gameplay has been milked across over sixty sequels and offshoots. Even among minigame collections, Bomberman Land is a bore. Sure, it’s full of costumes, unlockable stages, music, and other assorted collectables, but it’s all breadth and no depth. It’s the same old Bomberman, but now you can give him a poodle skirt. Here’s to twenty-five years of game design evolution.