Version tested: Xbox 360
If one game makes absolute perfect sense on Xbox Live Arcade it's Bomberman. Taking the age old concept of blowing the bejesus out of one another in a series of top-down arenas, and then expanding that to an online-focused game could well make it one of the most essential titles to go ahead and download.
If you've somehow managed to miss the dozens of previous Bomberman releases down the years, then here's the deal. You're one of up to eight players in a single screen-sized maze like arena, and the end game is to be the last man standing by using your bombs to blast them to kingdom come. It's simple, but hugely, life-sappingly addictive. Truly, it's one of those easy-to-learn, hard-to-master games that always has been and always will be a classic.
Still don't get it? Ok. Initially you're enclosed by destructible blocks, and some that resist explosions, but quickly you'll be able to not only gain access to a larger portion of the arena, but start to accumulate power-ups. Most commonly these will be speed-ups or flame extenders that ensure that the blast radius of your bombs increases (and thereby increasing your chances of killing an opponent).
Beyond that, you might get Power Bombs, which, as the name implies are more devastating versions of the ones you have in stock by default. You'll also quickly increase the number of bombs you can carry at once, allowing you to lay bombs in quick succession: In tandem with your flame extender, you quite quickly become a bit of a badass as you duck and dive between pillars to avoid the traps that you've lain - and the ones being peppered at you in response. But with so much general craziness going on in such a small play area, games are inevitably short-lived affairs, which is precisely one of the reasons it's such a moreish multiplayer affair. Played over several rounds, it's one of the most perfect quick-fixes around, and you'll quite easily clock up hundreds of matches in a matter of hours.
The best way to play is, of course, with some friends - but a collection of random online strangers will do just as good a job in most instances. But even if you're offline, the game works just as well, with support for up to eight players on one machine, comprised of as many or as few AI opponents as you prefer. So, for example, you prefer the less manic four-player matches and you've only got one mate 'round at the time, then you can fill the remaining slots with CPU opponents. They do a pretty decent job, too, and with multiple difficulty levels and a ridiculous number of sub-options to tweak, you can set up matches or tournaments to your exact requirements. Want nine minute matches instead of two? Random start positions? Revenge mode so you can bomb from the sidelines even in death? Sudden death mode off, so that blocks don't rain down from above? It's all there to tweak if you want.
In terms of modes, Bomberman Live has four to choose from, The 'main' one is the classic last man standing Normal mode, and probably the one people will play most. Outside of that is Paint Bomb, where the winner is the player with the most painted tiles (where you bomb tiles to claim them), Zombie, a variation on Paint Bomb where you have infinite lives but lose all your painted tiles if you die, and Bombing Run, a super-fast version of Normal mode.
Back to life
But while Normal mode and Zombie mode appear to be the ones with the most staying power, the amount of gameplay variety increases immeasurably once you factor in the eight different Arenas you can choose.
The Classic arena is a simple, regulation, no frills grid, with no 'special' tiles to further complicate matters, and the one that the purist will probably prefer because there's nothing left to chance. Elsewhere, Lost World introduces quicksand tiles which you, durr, sink into if you stumble across them, leaving you exposed to bomb blasts. Ghost Town has fire-laden trap doors, Thin Ice has cracking ice tiles, Big Top has 'kick arrows' that send bombs flying in a specific direction if you kick a bomb towards them, Plunder Isle has an enormous stash of power-ups in the middle that you must try and gain access to ahead of your opponents, Spaced Out has random teleporters, while Blast features mine holes that provide an extra obstacle in your path.
Aside from all that, there are a few neat extras, such as Xbox Live Vision Camera support, with the end of a round capturing your disconsolate mug in defeat (in my case), Xbox Live Communicator support so you can bellow obscenities at one another, as well as a ton of customisation options for the look of your chosen character. As you play through, you'll start to unlock all manner of costumes, hats, hairstyles and body types, with up to 10,000 different permutations on offer. All totally pointless fluff, of course, but what were you expecting for £6.80/800 points?
Want want want
Hmm, well, since you asked, maybe it would have been nice for some sort of single player-only campaign mode to be included as well. As much fun as Bomberman Live is in multiplayer (and the entire point let's not forget), the absence of a structured mission mode is a bit of a shame. I, for one, would love to have played through some of those as well, but there are plenty of old versions on sale that cater for that side of the game very well indeed. With the tantalising option of downloadable content in the main menu, maybe this is something that can be added at a later date...?
As usual, there are the usual online leaderboards, but in this case, Backbone has gone absolutely berserk, offering high score charts for all manner of modes and maps. For the truly dedicated, there's an awful lot to work towards.
One thing you might want to know is how it looks - after all, it's not the most sophisticated game that's ever been. Happily, Backbone Entertainment has made full use of widescreen displays and come up with simple yet attractive high-def arenas that look great. Everything's simple and scaled down, of course, but there's plenty of character infused into it, and even die-hard fans will be delighted that the art style has been faithfully reinterpreted for the 360.
So that's Bomberman Live, then. A cheap, polished online-enabled offering that fans and newcomers should embrace heartily to their bosoms. It's exactly the sort of quality offering that Microsoft should be extracting from developers of Live Arcade titles and one that should bring a smile to the faces of any right thinking gamers. More of it, please...
8 / 10