Saturday, November 07, 2009

Videogame Classics - Super Bomberman 2

March 10, 2003

Super Bomberman 2
Hudson Soft
Super Nintendo Entertainment System

I've been wondering lately, what appeal does the videogame hold for me? I'm not a kid anymore, and I haven't been a teenager for a long time. I've gone to college, traveled, become educated, dated a few beautiful women, learned some things. In short, I've grown up; and yet, here I am, still playing games. What's the appeal?

For me, what continues to make it all fun is the social interaction. With the few exceptions of the masters, the best videogames are the multiplayer ones. There is a certain competitive vibe in the air, as friends become blood enemies then become friends again in the same evening. The best multiplayer games offer that unique blend of matching cunning, skill, and quick reflexes. I don't know, maybe we're fighting to keep our youth.

Super Bomberman 2 is probably the best multiplayer game ever made. At its best, it is as fierce and emotional as anything before or since. The game is the creation of Hudson Soft, a development studio from Japan who is best known for its long-running series of Bomberman games.

One of the conventions of any Bomberman game is that the single-player mode should be extremely boring. There's really not much game for one person. Taking control of the title character, you set bombs in a series of mazes, destroying blocks and barriers, grabbing power-ups, and evading or destroying enemies. It usually plays like a sedate puzzle game, and is usually explored for only a few minutes before moving on.

The Battle Mode is where the real fun is. Even in the post 9/11 world, there is a simple, vicarious thrill in watching four cartoon characters blow each other up with bombs. The basic maze, a standard of every Bomberman game, is a large square field, evenly broken up with blocks that can be destroyed. Each player begins with his or her Bomberman on each corner, and proceeds to blast away at pathways to reach at the others. Last one standing is the winner. Simple as that.

And maybe that is the Bomberman appeal: its utter simplicity, harkening back to those golden days of the early '80s. Videogames were simple then; today, you often need to read a small textbook to understand what you're doing. What fun is that? I want to be able to beat up on my friends while diving for the chips and beer.

And you will beat up on each other, I guarantee it. Super Bomberman 2 is the cream of a select crop of multiplayer games (Chu Chu Rocket!, MULE, Mario Kart) so fiercely competitive as to start real fights. You don't merely beat your opponents; you screw them into the ground.

What makes this version of Bomberman the definitive version? I believe this game managed to achieve that perfect balance, that Zen quality where every element falls into place. Each of the game's power-up items - the glove (to throw bombs), the boot (to kick bombs), the skate (faster speed), the skull (curse item) - is perfectly balanced. Having one power-up never guarantees easy victory.

The game's variety of boards is also just shy of perfection. Previous installments in the series started to experiment with different level design; SB2 has the payoffs. In addition to the basic maze, there are nine other battlefields which offer a terrific amount of variety. One board is covered, almost completely, by mushrooms. Another level takes place on ice and features warp tunnels. One level features a conveyor belt; another offers a trench which can be detonated from afar.

My personal favorite is a Pac-Man-style maze with warp tunnels; the catch with this board is that players cannot pass through each other. You can imagine what usually happens: you drop a couple bombs, and then try to shove the other players into the explosions. Do this a few times, and chances are there will be some punches thrown in between the laughs. Great fun.

Later Bomberman games would needlessly tinker with the formula, either by changing the power-ups, offering mediocre boards, or altering the game's speed. The worst offense, however, are the animals, which your Bomberman would ride, giving you essentially an extra hit. Where's the fun of trapping someone in a corner then? Those stupid animals are a staple of every game in the series after Super Bomberman 2; quite frankly, they suck.

There have still been good games in the series (Saturn Bomberman is quite excellent, actually), but I fear the formula was already perfected, and Hudson was never one to figure that out. It's like watching a favorite aging rock band play. The new songs are fine, but we really came to hear the old classics. Sometimes timeless nostalgia is a thrill in itself.

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