Bomberman: A Look Back at Explosive Multiplayer Madness

Bomberman: A Look Back at Explosive Multiplayer Madness

Playing with bombs is a blast

A.J. Maciejewski

Written by for Retrospectives on

Throughout gaming history, few games have perfected timeless multiplayer gameplay. Bomberman is unquestionably one of these select few, so I decided to write about the series to remember a time when blowing up your friends wasn't done in first-person.

Bomberman (NES) screenshot
The original NES version may only be for one player, but that doesn't mean that it isn't any fun!

Before we get into why Bomberman is so awesome, let's look at a bit of its history. The original was released in Japan and Europe for MSX back in 1983. Believe it or not, it was called Eric and the Floaters in the UK. Anyway, it wasn't until 1989 that North American gamers would finally get to play it on the NES. The gameplay was simple yet required a lot of skill. The fact that you can blow yourself up with your own bombs created an intriguing strategy dynamic. In order to succeed and progress through the campaign's 50 levels, you'll need to learn how to trap enemies, time explosions, and survive in order to keep all of your handy power-ups. One year later, Bomberman was released for TurboGrafx-16. This version included the most memorable aspect of the series; multiplayer! As the years went on, Bomberman found his way onto almost every console with a staggering amount of sequels and spin-offs. It's too bad that Hudson Soft is now defunct, but hope is not entirely lost since Konami (who now owns Bomberman) released a new Bomberman for Android and iOS devices last year in Japan. Will we ever get to play a new sequel here in North America? Only time will tell.

What makes Bomberman an unbeatable multiplayer experience is its simple yet chaotic gameplay. As you and a few of your gaming chums run around the maze-like grids while planting bomb after bomb, you'll delight in every victory and feel encouraged to try again at each defeat. Unforgettable moments such as when someone gets trapped before a bomb inevitably blows them to high heaven or when you simply don't see a bomb and run straight into its blast radius will keep you playing on the edge of your seat just waiting to see what comes next. There's nothing more satisfying than collecting a huge arsenal of power-ups that make your bomb blasts fill the screen as all of your opponents scurry away to safety. Some won't be so lucky, but in later games they can seek sweet revenge! This gameplay mechanic serves as one of my personal favourite gaming memories. Being able to throw bombs from the side of the arena at the player who just ended your life and then take their place if you're successful is an incredibly satisfying moment.

Bomberman Live: Battlefest (Xbox 360) screenshot
As one of the most recent titles, Bomberman Live: Battlefest delivers some great multiplayer gameplay

Another component that Bomberman implements wonderfully is the vast assortment of options available to customize each battle. Depending on the particular title, you can choose which power-ups will be in play, decide the winning conditions, and enable or disable computer players. You can also choose special rules in some games such as having to paint the most tiles, keep a crown on for as long as possible, and of course capture the flag. That's not all since changing the arena also changes the gameplay dramatically. Some stages feature conveyor belts, seesaws, warps, hidden passages, and hazards that may end your life before other combatants have the chance. A few games even allow you to ride a kangaroo-like animal named Louie! Whether you're playing in a battle royal match or on teams, there are so many variations that you'll play for hours at a time before the fun starts to die down.

With every moderately successful game franchise, there must be plenty of spin-offs. Bomberman has seen many highs and lows when it comes to his journeys into untraditional territory. One of the most popular spin-off series is Bomberman Land which features both multiplayer mini-games and a laidback single player story mode. Only a few of these games made it to the west, but thankfully at least they did. Japanese gamers got to experience an enjoyable puzzle game known as Panic Bomber. This game combined elements from Columns and Pac-Attack to form a pretty solid puzzler. It was released in North America, but only for Virtual Boy, so does that really count? Anyway, our favourite bomber also had a few racing games in both karts and on Louie's back, and a sports compilation that featured Baseball, Golf, and Tennis. Although it was released in Europe, we weren't so lucky in the western hemisphere. Probably the strangest spin-off comes in the form of the Japanese-exclusive tactics-style RPG entitled Bomberman Wars. Who knew the little guy had that much adventure in him? He really is a Jack of all trades.

Bomberman Land (Wii) screenshot
Fun fact: Bomberman spends his downtime practicing archery

Over three decades after his debut, people are still talking about Bomberman (or at least, I am). My ramblings might not have summarized everything in the Bomberman universe, but hopefully I've made fellow fans relive some memories and unfamiliar gamers curious about this classic series. Bomberman may be in the industry's rear-view mirror but he sure is long from forgotten.

Gameplay video for Bomberman '94 2:04

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