Friday, December 18, 2009

Bomberman Ultra is no Saturn Bomberman

Saturn Bomberman was released over 13 years ago, and despite regular sequels, including the online-capable current-gen Bomberman games, it has never bettered. Why is this?

With the reduction in price of Bomberman Ultra on yesterday’s UK PSN update (from £8 down to £4), I finally bought it. As expected it’s good, but nowhere near as good as Saturn Bomberman. In fact I’ve never found any other Bomberman game to even come close to the greatness of the 10-player Saturn edition.

Saturn Bomberman’s plus points are many: it has a really cool intro and ending, and throughout the game the audio is fantastic. It also has some truly beautiful sprite-based visuals, complete with rotation, scaling and really good animation. Jesus, this game is incredibly gorgeous. Also, for once the single-player campaign is as good as the multiplayer, with large sometimes multi-sectioned levels, a decent variety of enemies and maze-like layouts, and generally some excellent design. A lot of earlier Bomberman games were dull in single-player, but Saturn Bomberman really went all out to make this fun – I’ve completed it a few times. Oh, and let’s not forget that it used the Saturn pad, the best digital d-pad specific controller ever released (the Japanese one anyway – I have no idea what the hell Sega were thinking when they redesigned it to resemble a breeze block, those western pads are an oversized abomination like most western pads are).

The biggest draw though is the simultaneous 10-player action. It even features cameo appearances by other Hudson characters! Truth be told I’ve never experienced with 10 human players – the most I’ve managed is 6 humans, and 4 computer opponents, at the UK’s Game On museum exhibit, where the game was set-up on an enormous screen (it could have even been a projector). Otherwise a few years after it came out I spent a long string of weekends with 3 friends and the CPU set to best, bombing the hell out of each other.

Saturn Bomberman stands alongside MULE, Star Control 2 and Demon’s Souls as one of the greatest multiplayer experiences of my life. Cool retro chap Witchfinder (who brought the PC-FX to the Retro Reunited event) wrote this piece on it.

It’s said the 10-player mode was based on the unreleased Hi-Ten Bomberman for the PC-FX, intended for use on HDTVs, and the only other 10-player example I can think of is Atomic Bomberman on the PC. I've not played it, but allegedly it supported 10 players.

So here’s the pull people: Hi-Ten was meant for HDTVs in an era when not many people owned them. So why is it today I can download the latest Bomberman games, be it Ultra, or Live, or whatever, for use on my current-gen hardware and HDTV, and instead of 10 or more players, it’s been retrograded back to only 8 players? PRs can harp on about 150,000 character combinations in Ultra all they like, the fact remains it only supports a maximum of 8 players. This represents another example of videogame de-evolution – where progress is ignored and we take a step back to something less satisfactory. Considering Ultra and Live were designed for HDTVs and online play, this feels like such a wasted opportunity.

Furthermore, I don’t like the graphics. The polygons and odd overhead camera angle make it difficult to follow things, and I miss the sprites from before – also, how much screen real-estate is wasted on that stupid border? 40% or more? Look at the cut-up I made of one stage, you lose about half the screen due to borders. With a hi-def resolution they could have easily remade the 10-player mode from the Saturn game (which felt cramped on a normal TV). Instead they waste screen space and create an inferior product. Plus I didn’t see any Hudson cameos, and the poly-models are just plain ugly (though not as ugly as the living abortion that was the Act Zero clusterf**k).

Maybe I’m complaining too much. Ultra was a lot of fun online. I played against some Scandinavians (I think they were Scandinavian), and lag was reasonable when I joined instead of hosted a game, and it was fun. People with a PS3 camera even showed up on the victory screen doing naked dances. But it was only fun because the original formula from way back when was fun – it wasn’t fun because Hudson did anything interesting with it. Another thing that disappoints me is, as stated on IGN: “Ultra doesn’t mess around with any story or adventure. It cuts right to the heart of what we all love about this franchise: fast-paced, frantic multiplayer action.”

CAPTION: cameo appearances from obscure Hudson games (Kabuki Dan!) in Saturn Bomberman!

Now, I must be one of the few who like the Bomberman games for their silly stories and adventure mode, and its omission, along with the fact people are rejoicing in its omission, makes me sad. Saturn Bomberman showed that this could be substantial and worth playing. I mean, it was really good – fun, lighthearted, blithe, just really neat! Two people could play co-op to finish it! Obviously it would have increased development times to implement a decent single-player campaign in these recent instalments, so fair enough. But still, the multiplayer mode also feels lacking.

Will we ever see another Bomberman of the quality of Saturn Bomberman, marrying 10-player multiplayer with a rich, lavishly made single-player campaign of genuine merit? I don’t think so...


  1. Yeah, I had Atomic Bomberman, and you could set 10 players if you had enough controllers. Otherwise you could set them all as computer characters. I think you could do this via LAN play as well, but I was not able to play that way.

    Either way Atomic Bomberman felt broken and loose unlike the console versions. It also had incredibly obnoxious audio, like Gex times 10, and looked ugly.

  2. And it was never even released in the US, was it?

  3. Atomic Bomberman and SBB both came out in the US.
    I got to play 10p SBB once at an anime con on a 7'-ish projector. It took about ten minutes to get to the game's start as most of us were drunk and unfamiliar with the Saturn version, but it was pretty cool.
    I ended up spending more on the 10 controllers and two multitaps than I did on my Saturn or SBB.

  4. Atomic Bomberman definitely was - I believe it was made by an American team. I never played it but I remember the CG artwork looking really bad.

  5. Wasn't Atomic Bomberman also for Dreamcast?

    And yes, nothing can ever beat Saturn Bomberman. The max people I've played with though is a lowly three.

    1. Never. It was "bomberman online" only for dreamcast, exclusively in jap version. The only common factor between DC bomberman online and atomic bomberman was the fact both games used cg graphics.

  6. I didn't realise this when I loaded it yesterday, but this is actually developed by Backbone Entertainment Vancouver. I wonder how involved Hudson was with the design?

  7. I don't think Hudson did anything with Atomic other than give permission to use the name and concept.
    The DC version was different than Atomic. I played a bit of it. Some of the controls were different than usual Bomberman to avoid glitches online. I forget exactly what off the top of my head. Might've been something with the glove.

  8. You should check out TransBlaster!
    Capable running up to 16 players!
    Great fun!

  9. 1st best multiplayer bomberman :
    -Super Bomberman 5 Gold Cartridge (Super Famicom) EX AEQUO with Saturn Bomberman.

    2nd: Neo Bomberman on Neogeo (best 2d graphics for bomberman game ,even better than saturn version) . Lack of real multiplayer mode though (4 in protoype, 2 in arcade and home cartridge)

    3rd: Bomberman '94 (on PC engine) ex aequo with Bomberman Online (Dreamcast: not a big fan of pastel-watered down CG graphics ...tons of options though)

    Conclusion: I would like to see a game with the speed and simplicity of Super Bomberman5
    , multiplayer capacity of Saturn version and 2d quality graphics of Neo Bomberman.

    Note, the glove option in neogeo and saturn sucks: you easily get stuck while picking up a bomb -sooo slow- and keeping it overhead, while in super bomberman 5 you can repetitively hurl bombs once you acquire the glove,the action is immediate sicne bomberman doesn't keep it overhead, accelerating the game pace to a frantic level!