Version tested: DS
Poor old Bomberman. No matter how hard he tries, nothing's good enough. "JUST LOOK AT YOU," bellows Mrs. Hudson, as he stands shame-faced in the doorway. "Millions of sales? You're just a party game. Mrs. Square round the way has RPGs and all sorts. She even has a 'chocolate bow chicken' and he's more popular than you. Dennis? Come downstairs and tell Bomberman about Mrs. Square's chocolate bow chicken." "Aye - very popular." "YOU'RE NO SON OF MINE."
And so - after more than a decade of getting it wrong - the poor little fellow persists in throwing himself across the path of any genre that can't get out of the way in time. He's been a kart racing game, an RPG, and now he's a tedious collection of crap mini-games pretending to be an isometric adventure. All the while the actual Bomberman bit - the brilliantly hectic game of trying to fool your friends into the path of massive explosions while they do the same to you - is strapped on as insurance, just in case his latest attempt to break away from the shame of mere brilliance isn't enough. Why not invest in the bit that's already good?
Whatever the reason, turning on Bomberman Land Touch! inevitably presents you with a choice: "Story Mode" or "Bomberman Battle Pack". Story Mode, then, starts off on a boat, where apparently you've been deposited somewhat against your will. It's as if they know.
Cool Black: Let me get this straight. He had a bunch of staff dudes dressed like pirates come drag us out of bed to go to the park? Dang.
Cheerful White (you): (Well, Gold's dad is the president of a big company. That's why he was able to hire those "pirate" people.)
Cute Pink: What are you talking about? A big limousine came to pick me up at my house? Heeheehee!
Giant Gold: Heheh! Of course, Pink, my dear. Nothing but the best for my sweet little gumdrop.
Cheerful White: (Everyone thinks Pink is the cutest girl around. No wonder Gold sent a limo to her house.)
There's no escape. When you land on the island theme park that acts as a hub for the mini-games, you realise you will need to continue talking to NPCs, clicking on emails from other characters and generally interacting with the rest of the "cast" in order to make progress. Besides that, the idea is to wander around the island competing in a few dozen stylus-driven mini-games, earning stamps and tokens as you do, accumulation of which helps you buy your way into new areas. There's some light puzzling, too - usually a case of finding and equipping an item in order to access a new section of the map. It's all easy enough to get your head around with minimal instruction, and the DS' two screens mean you can always view maps and item totals at a glance, but it's pretty numbing to play.
Likewise the games themselves. The best you can say is that they're over quickly. There are flicking games, scribbling games, line-drawing games, bowling games, and games about positioning something on the touch-screen to catch or fire something off onto the top screen. Sit back from the computer for five minutes and make up, in your head, a basic activity that involves little men, bombs, a time limit and a stylus - you'll probably come up with something just as good as the best on offer here. (I did: in my game, you have to scribble "I will not ask the player to blow into the microphone to defuse bombs" 100 times or until I am satisfied you have learned - whichever comes first.)
Of course, mini-game compilations are often a bit crap on the DS, despite everyone's apparent affection for them, so if you must have one then try Rub Rabbits/Feel the Magic, the games Nintendo bundled with New Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario 64 DS, or even the otherwise-forgettable Point Blank DS. In fact, what am I saying? Buy 42 All-Time Classics instead.
Fortunately, after all that, Story Mode is easily ignored in favour of spending time with Bomberman Battle Pack. You could be forgiven for thinking this bit's just Bomberman DS repackaged, but this isn't the kind of review where I forgive people. In fact, you will now be punished with a page-break.
Common to both Bomberman Battle Pack and its predecessor is the premise, of course, which probably qualifies for timeless status given its longevity and the fact I still have nice things to say about it: starting at the corner of a large grid, you have to plant bombs with the A button to cut a path through soft brown bricks that separate you from your enemies, uncovering power-ups that increase speed, the number of bombs you can plant at once, and the number of squares each of their explosions will cover, as you go. The idea is simply to blow up the enemy, but the difficulty is in trapping them while they're trying to do the same to you, and of course as explosions grow in length, so too does the likelihood of wandering into somebody else's without realising what's happening.
Fortunately Bomberman Battle Pack shares most of the last game's commendable features, including the option to play wirelessly with up to seven other people using just one copy. Action is split across both screens, meaning that it's quite capable of supporting that number without crowding. There are tunnels to separate top and bottom, and you can vary the number of these so that bombs exploding on the screen you weren't looking at won't necessarily poke their fiery noses across the divide and cause you unexpected problems.
Not only that, but you'll find every conceivable level design stowed away on the cart. There are normal and small stage designs, some blanketed in tunnels and 'kicking' squares, some with conveyor belts, others with spikes and trap-doors, and others where you fight for the crown or sup on an endless supply of power-ups. There are land-grab games where bombing changes the colour of the ground, and if the playing areas don't sort you out, the wealth of options on the next screen probably will; you can compete for trophies or points, change the number of sets and time limit, toggle sudden death and revenge, and even set a handicap. You can of course fill empty player slots with AI-controlled bombermen, too, ensuring a decent scrap even if it's just you and a couple of friends.
But the even better news that I've been keeping quiet about until now is that you don't even need to play with the AI : you can go online through Nintendo's Wi-Fi Connection and play with up to three of those magical Internet people. The usual friends-code stuff applies, so be prepared to go through all that again, and lag certainly creeps in if you broaden your net and end up with somebody tossing you bytes from 10,000 miles away. But hey, you should know what sort of performance to expect by now.
Still the best way to play Bomberman, of course, is with your friends in the same room, because then you can form little bombing trysts and avenge one another face to face. I met one of my best friends teaming up in Bomberman: we blew up a ten year old and then went for pizza. Sadly, your anecdotes will struggle to include the boxing glove and remote detonator, as neither power-up is included here, but otherwise there's little to separate this from its predecessor's excellence.
Sounds like a recommendation, then. Only the relatively low price of the original DS game holds it up: if you reckon you can live without the online play, ten quid should be all you need to invest, rather than 25. Either way, it might not be what Mrs. Hudson wants for him, but Bomberman's still one of the best multiplayer games you can buy, and whether or not you want another version you should at least dig out one of the ones you already own and raise your rollerskates in acknowledgement.
7 / 10