When my other half walked into the room and exclaimed “Bomberman!” with such glee, my reaction was surprised to say the least. My expectations for presuming she would never have heard of Bomberman were way off, but thinking that she had actually played it never crossed my mind, an assumption that proved most unwise. Having loaded up a battle against her and six more bots, imagine my surprise at being trumped in consecutive rounds before informing me that she used to play it all the time as a child. I blame my defeats on the nostalgia. In all honesty, Bomberman has not been on my screen in the best part of a decade, not since Atomic Bomberman graced its glorious presence on my Windows 98 PC during my teens. Perhaps my own lack of recent time with Bomberman aided my surprise.
Bomberman Ultra is just Bomberman; it looks, plays and feels like Bomberman, which is not a complaint as this it what had me sold immediately – it’s what we all love about the franchise: fast-paced, explosive, multiplayer fun. For those of you yet unacquainted with the series, the premise is simple. In a fixed-screen environment, you must eliminate the competition using a series of strategically placed bombs. In the process, you will be required to destroy obstacles in the form of blocks to open up the arena, which in turn drop power-ups (and power-downs). The simple mechanics and basic rules have helped make Bomberman a multiplayer favourite, allowing anyone to jump in and pick it up relatively quickly, whilst still allowing advanced players to relish in tactical bomb placing and over elaborate strategies. After a couple of battles, trying to sadistically trap your foes (who may actually be your friends) become common place.
With up to eight player battles (seven on a single console offline and four online) across 14 arenas and six battle modes, there is a wealth of variety available. The different set of modes helps mix up the play somewhat, with last one standing (Normal), most coloured tiles wins (Paint), Paint mode but with infinite lives (Zombie), superfast mode (Bombing Run), nowhere to hide mode (Friendly Fire) and Arena Feature on the 13 other wacky arenas. There is just a huge amount of longevity present to keep this game fresh and exciting, not to mention the customisable Bomberman (with apparently 150,000 combinations), widely adjustable settings for each battle and an assortment of collectable costumes to unlock as well.
The game retains its cartoony charm whilst looking lovely in its HD splendour, although at only 720p is feels a bit slack compared to all of the 1080p classics appearing, and whilst the chirpy soundtrack may bring back fond memories, the lack of custom soundtracks may see the music muted before too long. Multiplayer is all there is to offer too. Personally, the omission of a ‘story’ mode is a welcome one, as it was never more than just playing through all the arenas anyway, but some may feel the lack of a single player adventure odd given that there’s been one since the N64 era. With such a focus on multiplayer, it’s good to see an online multiplayer mode get an inclusion, as the lack of it would not only seem rather bemusing but a full blown mistake (I’m looking at you, Rag Doll Kung Fu). Online works exactly as offline does, but with the ability for four local players to go online and battle four more players. Leaderboards will also give those of you with an unrivalled competitive streak a chance to show off some more.
There’s not much else to touch upon apart from the price. At ten bucks across the pond, a £6.99 price seems likely to be the minimum, which before having played the game would have seemed quite steep. In retrospect though, play the demo, if you like it, you’ll love the full game. There is enough content to keep you amused for quite a while, and online multiplayer will just prolong your addiction. Bomberman Ultra is exactly as expected and should be merited for that, although it’s very similar to the Xbox 360 version if you have that already. Regardless, Bomberman is just like riding a bike, you may not do it for years, but you never forget how to blow stuff up. Nothing overly ground breaking, nothing unexpected, just great fun.