Bomb me up, Scotty.
In the age of the online connectivity, local multiplayer has become an endangered species. Playing with friends used to be an excuse for a “man date” at each others houses, now all you need is DSL cable and a headset. Having the whole screen to yourself is indeed a luxury, particularly with the field of view needed with first person shooters. But as recently demonstrated in Super Mario 3D World, having a friend or family member able to pick up a controller and play along is an experience that should not be lost to gaming’s history books.
Blowing up your friends in the most dramatic way possible was the reward for careful strategy and quick reflexes.
Playing head to head in the living room in the early ’90s was usually limited to fighting and sports games, but one title stood out both in originality and a desire to leave the campaign alone and focus solely on multiplayer. In Super Bomberman, blowing up your friends in the most dramatic way possible was the reward for careful strategy and quick reflexes.
While the game was one of the first to be 4-player compatible, my household never had the control adaptor to engage in the full 4-way battle. But even with a couple of bots, there was no other game that got my heart racing with the desire to vaporise my opponents. The AI bombermen were always quick to fall and the remaining time in the round quickly became a game of cat and mouse between the remaining players chasing power-ups, feigning attacks then boxing in your opponent with several types of explosives. There were simple bombs that could be powered up to reach all the way across the screen, nitro glycerine globs that could be kicked down the aisles, invincibility power-ups that would offer a short opportunity to rush your target. It was a game of tactics, one that has aged remarkably well.
There was a loose story campaign in the game, with a black and the white bomberman teaming up to face the evil Carat Diamond and his lackey scientist, Dr. Mook. Some stages that tested the two player co-operative were kind of cool, but I was never really engaged with the story or cared much about what happened to Bomberman’s home of Peace Town. In fact, after a while the only reason to play the game was to smack talk your friends and either jump up and down in victory, or tear your hair out after another unintentional self destruction. The helpless feeling of having trapped yourself next your own bomb – just seconds into the round – I remember as one of my all-time most frustrating gaming moments.
The multiplayer maps were a strategist’ dream; a maze of both destructible and non-destructible blocks littered the screen with power ups revealed with every explosion. You quickly gained the ability to lay multiple bombs at once and soon the screen was lit up with the orange glow of barrages from every direction. Every round was exciting, and if you were lucky enough to pick up the remote control detonator power up, other players cowered in fear at your deathly ability to explode bombs on cue.
Bomberman was first released on the NES, but it was the 16-bit version that perfected the multiplayer experience of consoles at the time. With resounding success the inevitable sequels rushed forth on various Nintendo platforms, but updating the sprites and moving the maps to 3D didn’t really change much. Super Bomberman was classic because of its simplicity, an elegant touch to multiplayer which was unprecedented in the early ’90s. The trademark antenna helmet with ball fists and pointed eyebrows became synonymous with fun to be had with your friends. For that reason, Super Bomberman will be remembered as one of the most outstanding titles on the SNES.