Before I start this review I feel I must admit to you, dear reader, that I have never really been a huge fan of Bomberman's exploits. If you were to believe the hype, then Bomberman is truly a multiplayer experience that has no rival. A multiplayer party game that will not only have you and your friends in fits of ecstatic glee, but will also gain you a huge following of new friends, all eager to experience the life affirming joy these games have to offer. As it stands, I think they're, y'know, alright.
Bomberman, in his pre-3d, pre-spinoff game days, has always stuck to a very similar, and simple, formula. A top down arcade game in which you use bombs to blow up blocks and the enemies that patrol the maze-like levels. The bombs send an explosion outwards both vertically and horizontally, so you must stand to the side of it to avoid the 'splosion. Explosion distance can be upgraded via randomly dropped powerups that appear when you blow up the scenery. Other powerups include the ability to drop more than one bomb at a time, faster running speed, an extra hit (from an enemy or your own bombs), and even remotely detonated bombs. Your adversaries will wander around the maze - with touch spelling instant death for you - and must all be vanquished to finish the stage. And that's about it really. As I said, simple stuff. But where the series has always shined is in the local (and online in later iterations) multiplayer. It is great fun to go head to head with one or more buddies, scrambling around the stage frantically trying to outsmart them by placing bombs nearby, being the first to grab the power ups to gain the advantage, and trying to avoid being blown to smithereens. It gets pretty manic and tense when you have four or more Bomberguys running around.
I'd always heard that Saturn Bomberman was considered one of the best games in the entire series, so grabbed it recently after acquiring a 60Hz Saturn. While it, initially, failed to blow me away (pun intended), it has grown on me a lot, and I can now see why it is held in such high regard. Saturn Bomberman's single player mode focuses around a wafer thin time travel story line, which is just an excuse to use levels set in different time periods - so we will visit a wild west stage, a dinosaur stage, a samurai and a high tech 'future' stage along the way.
The visuals are a real treat and, while they aren't a huge leap up from the 16-bit SNES games, they do make some use of the advanced processing power of a 32-bit machine, with large, colourful sprites and vibrant and lively backdrops. Each of the themed worlds are rife with small details and animated background antics - trains ride across the levels, ferris wheels turn and large snowflakes land around you. There is also an FMV intro cartoon that is utterly ridiculous and will make you laugh. The music deserves special mention as it is excellent throughout, from the cool drum & bass and breakbeat music that plays in the menus, to the wonderful tracks that play in each of the 4 worlds you traverse. I especially enjoyed the Samurai world theme tune, with its blend of traditional Japanese instruments and electronic beats, and the cool electro 80's beats of the future world, but every track is a winner.
Gameplay is business as usual, but with one small change - instead of having to kill all the enemies, you now have to blow up all of the red poles situated around the level, which in turn opens the exit portal. The cute dinosaur pals that you can ride make a return, and once mounted, give you an increase in speed, an extra hit, and also a special ability, unique to each coloured dino - from stunning a foe with a roar, to jumping over the scenery. The levels are of a reasonable size and get suitably trickier as you progress thanks to the more aggressive enemy types that are introduced, attacking or evading your bombs with new abilities such as ducking underground or firing projectiles. Each world is also guarded by a boss, who will take a fair amount of 'sploding before they give up the crystal they are holding, and are both fun and challenging to defeat. An additional bonus for single players is Master mode, which gives you one life to get through a selection of new and tricky levels - including boss encounters. This score attack mode awards you for quick completion of the stage, with your final score for each level being saved - giving you plenty of reason to try again and best your previous attempts. It's engaging, light-hearted fun and, coupled with the glorious retro aesthetics, will keep you coming back until you finish the game, at which point you can get involved in the addictive multiplayer.
As well as being able to play through the main campaign with another player, Battle mode allows a maximum of ten - if you have two multitap adapters, that is - to duke it out in one of 8 different arenas in an all-against-all deathmatch. If you have no friends then you can have the CPU control your opponents, meaning you don't miss out on the fun, despite some ropey A.I. Battles are chaotic and require a keen eye, quick reflexes and the ability to think ahead to succeed. A nice touch is the fact you can choose from a selection of characters from other Hudson games such as Master Higgins from Adventure Island and Bonk from the PC Engine's Bonk games.
After my time spent with Saturn Bomberman I can now join the ranks of those who claim it to be their favourite game in the series, and it is definitely a game I will be coming back to for more multiplayer shenanigans in the future. If you have a Sega Saturn then I strongly recommend that you grab a copy of this and see what the fuss is about for yourself.
Title : Saturn Bomberman
Developer : Hudson Soft
Year : 1996
System : Saturn