I dont think anyone could have predicted how quickly the Game Boy Advance would develop a library of great multiplayer games. Super Mario Advance, F-Zero, and Chu Chu Rocket! lit up the launch with great features that allowed four players to play together using a single cartridge. But the reason you are probably reading this is to hear that Bomberman Tournament is nearly identical to the Super NES and Saturn versions, which would actually be great news for Bomberman fans and Game Boy Advance owners.
Multiplayer Bomberman involves players running around a battlefield dropping bombs to clear areas, collecting power-ups, and attempting to detonate opponents with the hopes of being the last one standing. In Bomberman Tournaments battle mode, players start in the four corners of the playing area separated by destructible blocks. Players run up to the blocks and press the A button to drop a bomb, and then run around a nearby corner to dodge the blast. Once a passageway has been cleared between combatants, players try to trap opponents by dropping bombs around them, all the while trying to avoid the other players traps.
Destroying a wall often reveals power-ups that players can collect. The three basic power-ups are increasing the number of bombs you can drop, increasing the size of your bombs explosion, and increasing your Bombermans speed. These power-ups are well balanced because they can actually give you more rope to hang yourself. The larger your bombs explode, the more likely you are to fry yourself, and the faster you move, the more likely you are to run into another blast. The other power-ups in the game allow the player to perform new abilities, such as to kick a bomb along the ground, punch a bomb forward in the air, or pick up a bomb and carry it around. These abilities are frequently used defensively to position otherwise threatening bombs safely out of the way. One of the most fun power-ups is the Skull, which afflicts the player that picks it up with a random "disease." Sometimes your controls will be reversed, sometimes youll have to move at half the speed, and sometimes youll have diarrhea and uncontrollably drop all your bombs at once. What makes this last power-up so enjoyable, however, is that it is contagious—tagging another Bomberman afflicts him with the same illness. So instead of the power-up rendering you a weakling just biding time until you die, you can actually use it like a nasty case of the cooties and spread your misery around.
The pacing of a Bomberman battle resembles Tetris; the games begin simply and slowly, but seem to always conclude in a fast and furious panic. In Bomberman, players are isolated from each other and can blow up walls and collect power-ups in peace with little interference from the other players. The intensity of the game increases as the walls between opponents crumble and more power-ups are collected. Holes are created that bridge the areas of two players who must then carefully watch their opponents if they want to stick around till the end of the game. When players fall to a bombs blast, their power-ups are scattered around the board to be collected, which creates a mad scramble in a power-up arms race. As the numbers start thinning out, the remaining bombermen have usually collected many power-ups and are extremely lethal to themselves as well as their opponents. Hence, the end of the game usually involves two super-powered players flying around the board dropping bombs with explosions that fill the screen. Once the last person is knocked out, the whole game starts all over again.
If the "revenge" mode is turned on, defeated opponents can appear on the sides of the arena and throw bombs at the remaining combatants. If the "super revenge" option is on, a player on the sidelines who kills one of the active players returns to the board. At first, these options appear to destroy the integrity of the game by allowing the less talented to, if nothing else, annoy those skilled enough to have knocked them out in the first place. But after playing a round without revenge, it is clear how boring a three-minute round can be when you accidentally kill yourself with your first bomb. And besides, plotting to get back into the game in a super revenge round is almost as fun as being in the arena.
The game features a number of battle arenas, most with a unique twist that modifies battle strategies. Conveyer has a large conveyer belt that loops around the middle of the arena, sort of like a dangerous airport baggage claim. Talented players can fool around with the controls found in the center of the area to change the speed or direction of the belt and deliver secondhand death. Landmine occurs in an underwater war zone (complete with a school of fish) that features nasty mines that make an unstable and random map. Hi Power removes all of the destroyable walls and places all four players back to back and completely powered-up, making it a fast-paced match of speed, power, and strategy. There is also a classic area for Bomberman veterans who miss the simple levels of old with the original power-ups. Of the 7 levels, only one is a dud (the Teleporter) and two of them may be too similar (the Ice level and the Pipes). Even with these issues though, there is enough variety in the levels to match almost any gaming mood.
Accompanying all this great multiplayer gaming is a solid set of features by Hudson. The most important one is the ability to play four players off a single cartridge. The 30-second pause between rounds is acceptable because it provides a great time to trash talk with your friends. You can even play the mode by yourself and have three AI opponents. While playing the AI is never as fun or tricky as playing with real flesh and blood, seasoned players can play a round or two by themselves without getting too bored. There are three difficulty settings—easy, normal, and hard—and they seem to only affect the AIs aggressiveness. At the easiest setting, the AI opponents lounge around and appear to be very inattentive, moving only every few seconds, infrequently dropping bombs, and ignoring nearby power-ups. Crank the difficulty up to hard, and the AI races to every power up and challenges the player fairly well. AI has a knack for avoiding bomb blasts at every difficult level, so the game is never a cakewalk.
If theres no one to play against and youre tired of battling alone, there is a single player adventure that is derived from two of the most popular Game Boy games—Pokémon and Links Awakening. The framework of the game is very similar to Links Awakening, where the player explores a vast overworld and fights through room-based dungeons with locked doors and super abilities that are acquired before the final fight. Like the bushes and pots in Zelda, the landscape of the Bomberman world is littered with destroyable walls that reveal power-ups when cleared.
One of the newest additions to Bomberman single player is the addition of Karabons, which are Pokémon-like creatures that the player collects, develops, breeds, and battles in the game. The creatures themselves are clearly derived from Nintendos best selling series, but are well drawn and easy to like. Even if youve felt like youve done it before, the little creatures work just enough that you could see yourself enjoying it. That is, until the first battle.
Typical Japanese RPG battle systems are insulting because almost every encounter can be completed using the fight attack and healing spells, reducing any complex situation to the same formula. Bomberman Tournament takes RPG combat to all new levels of pointless interaction. Instead of having a turn-based Pokémon-like battle where players choose unique moves for their characters to perform each round, the battles in Bomberman involve choosing from a set of three actions to do in order (attack, special attack, and defend). You can choose to do these in any order and the opponent chooses an order as well. The results depend on how the two choices line up. For example, if one player chooses to do a special move while the other chooses to defend, the defending player would take less damage than otherwise. But there is no discernable reason for an opponent to choose one order over another. As a result, the game is no more satisfying than playing Paper/Rock/Scissors for hours on end. While collecting and battling Karabons is not the primary part of the game, Hudson designed the characters so well that youd hate subjecting them to such insipid activity.
Historically, the Bomberman single player adventures have been forgettable experiences included for people who wont buy a game that doesnt have a plot. Bomberman Tournament is one of the better attempts for the series, with great art and a solid feel, but it fails in the same way that all the others have. The mechanics that work well in battle mode—dropping a bomb and waiting for it to explode—become surprisingly dull when you dont have three other demolition experts trying to blow you to bits. The pause between dropping a bomb and the explosion feels like an eternity, even though the delay is perfect in length for multiplayer combat. Bomberman multiplayer works because several simple elements work in harmony to create a great experience. The single player mode borrows a few of these elements here and there, but never reaches the crescendo of a typical multiplayer match.
Bomberman Tournament is one of the best additions to the dozens of Bomberman games currently available. The battle mode is the best version since the later Super Nintendo titles. The single player is refreshingly different for the Bomberman series, but remains a bad copy of better games. Even considering this, it is difficult not to give Bomberman Tournament a great recommendation. There are few games as fun as Bomberman, and even though it is just in a new shape, the refinement of the multiplayer battle mode makes you want to take it with you everywhere.