Hudson Soft's much-loved series gets a surprise revival where great local multiplayer is balanced out by weak online and a premium price.
Some comparisons can cut both ways. Super Bomberman R, an unlikely revival for Hudson Soft's classic series as it celebrates its 33rd anniversary, feels like the product of another age. In its power pop colour and with its kernel of proven multiplayer brilliance, it's every inch a forgotten Dreamcast classic that's been freshly unearthed. With its blunt simplicity, though, it can be left a little exposed in these less forgiving times.
There's a weight that's been placed on Super Bomberman R, one that it's not always able to shoulder. First, its profile has been raised by one of the few physical retail games accompanying the launch of Nintendo's Switch (with a sizable price-tag to boot, something at odds with more recent Bombermans, such as DSiWare's Blitz or Xbox 360's Live: Battlefest). Secondly, it's the first game to showcase Nintendo Switch's online offering. And in that regard, it's not pretty at all.
Whether blame lies with developer Konami (who bought out Bomberman's creators Hudson Soft in 2012) or with Nintendo's own service or hardware isn't exactly clear, but playing Super Bomberman R online can be horrendous. Even when you've fiddled in the settings to make sure you're only playing against people with decent connections there's a sluggishness that often devolves into a stuttering mess. It's early days, of course, but there's a real danger that most players will have moved on by the time Super Bomberman R gets its act together. Needless to say, if you're out for a replacement for the sturdy and enjoyable Bomberman Live: Battlefest, you're best off looking elsewhere, and here's hoping Nintendo's own online debut with Switch in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is on firmer footing when it comes out towards the end of April.
A small shame, as elsewhere Super Bomberman R fares much better. Bomberman's formula remains exquisite, and in paring it back to basics Konami serves up a warming reminder of its charms. Gone are the more hyper power-ups of latter Bombermans, and absent are the Louies, the kangaroo mounts that have been a series' staple since Bomberman '94. This is a throwback to Bomberman when the series' popularity was arguably at its peak, and when four people would huddle around a SNES with a multi-tap to enjoy the knockabout thrills of one of the era's finest multiplayer games.
Super Bomberman R does a great job of delivering on that nostalgia, leaning on the Switch's ability to host local multiplayer on the go. You can hook up to eight different controllers to a single unit, falling short of Saturn Bomberman's high score of ten players but more than enough to fit around a screen. The online might falter, but this is how Bomberman's surely meant to be played; jostling for position on the sofa while chipping through blocks as you size up your quarry, devouring power-ups as you go. It's as entertaining now as it was back in 1993.
Super Bomberman R is well served for local multiplayer too, even if it's still a little slim. There's only the one game mode - though it's easy enough to argue that, when it comes to Bomberman, there really only need be just that one mode - with eight maps available from the off. Another 10 are available via the in-game shop, a feature not fueled by microtransactions but rather through the currency you earn as you play.
It ties neatly enough into its campaign, where you earn continues by pumping in some of that same currency. For a series that never really found a foothold in the arcades in all its years, there's a punchy heart to Super Bomberman R's story mode that harks back to bar room classics; across its 50 levels, there's a readable simplicity to the enemies you clear off the screen, while the deliciously complex mecha boss designs bring to mind some of Psikyo's work at the turn of the century.
Super Bomberman R's story mode is also playable in co-op - and, indeed, it's much more fun when played with a friend in tow, where you can see it off over the course of an afternoon. It's light, it's breezy and it's fun, bookended by cutscenes from a kid's TV show take on Bomberman I'd happily share a hangover with on any given Saturday morning. You certainly can't fault it for its enthusiasm.
There's plenty else to find fault with, whether that's with its price tag, it's online or how slim it all feels. Or, for that matter, how Unity doesn't seem capable of providing the gloss in what's a technically limited showcase for the Switch. For all that, I've got a huge soft spot for Super Bomberman R; it's a gentle throwback to simpler times, and a welcome revival for a local multiplayer classic for what's set to be an outstanding local multiplayer machine. An effective slice of nostalgia, then, albeit one that comes at a considerable price.