In the mythical "good old days", decent puzzle games were all over the place. Zolyx, Tetris, Puzzle Bobble, Puyo Pop, the list goes on. But what have we had in the last ten years that can stand tall with such timeless greats? Maybe ZooCube and Chu Chu Rocket, but neither of those exactly sold in abundance. What about Tetris Worlds? Super Bust A Move 59? Sega's remake of Puyo Pop? Hrm. It seems such an obvious genre to explore, yet most publishers simply don't bother with them anymore, and that's a shame. Not only are they instantly accessible, they have a broad appeal (so you can even play with the game-hating women in your life) and almost without exception they're endlessly replayable. Yet in the last five years it's a style of game that seems to have almost become extinct.
They call him Mr...
So imagine our delight when Capcom decided to release the cheap and cheerful Bombastic, Sony America/Shift's sequel to 1998's Devil Dice, a well-regarded but very obscure PlayStation puzzler of its time (having sold all of 3,000 copies to a few determined souls in the UK, fact fiends). Not only is it very good indeed in both single and multiplayer mode, but was released last Friday at the bargain price of Ł24.99. Good thinking.
In gameplay terms it's one of those classic puzzle games that's simultaneously beautifully simple and mind numbingly tricky, but rewarding in both single and multiplayer mode. Your knowledge of dice rolls and the behaviour of a few key baddies is the key to your success, but the concept at the heart of it is ridiculously easy to pick up.
Presented in old school isometric format with graphics that 16-bit console would have no trouble coping with, each level is laid out in a grid format that leaves no room for dodgy camera angles or any facility to show off flash character models for the sake of it. It's simple, back to basics playability that will come as a cool breath of fresh air for many gamers fed up with the overly complex and self-indulgent game design that has become the norm. Either that, or you'll just be completely turned off by its ostensibly retro-styling. In fact, when Rupert walked in during the play test, his first question was "Is this on the Game Boy Player?" Beautiful.
It's best to think of Bombastic as several entirely separate games that merely share the same central rule set. A good starting point to get familiar with all the basic rules and so on is the rather simple single player Quest mode. This acts as a basic tutorial, and introduces you to how to take care of all the baddies, as well as coming in handy for working out how to set up explosions and chain reactions.
In the Quest mode your task is simply to find the exit in most cases, and this involves moving your Telly-Tubby-esque creature around a grid - sometimes on a die, sometimes pushing them. If you're actually on the die itself (which you'll reach via a set of steps) you can walk the six-sided cube around a square at a time. This will have the effect of rotating the die in the direction of your choosing and determine what number is facing the top.
Now, the name of the game is to set off chain reactions with the other dice scattered around, and this can be achieved by matching up numbers appropriately. For example, if you roll your die next to a two, and both dice match, both will flash to indicate they're on fire and explode in a matter of seconds, and it’s up to you to get out of range of the blast by quickly scampering to a safe die, or platform.
Still with me? To blow up a six, however, you'll have to line up six sixes together, and the distance of the blast will be six squares instead of two. Not only that, an explosion of sixes will take out any fives in the vicinity, which in turn will take out the fours, and so on.
Die can't think of a header
So what you end up with is a series of levels over five worlds that generally involves either avoiding or destroying various endearing enemies (such as the amorous Miss Cling, who chases after you should you get near), and then legging it to the exit. After three levels you then encounter a boss, which can be disposed of by setting up chain reactions when they're in the vicinity. All told, you'll whizz through this mode in a matter of a few hours, although some of the bosses outstay their welcome. You can return to get Perfect rankings, but the unlockables don't amount to more than a few tutorials or demos, sadly.
Much like the Bust-A-Moves of this world, it's some of the other modes that'll keep you coming back for more for months to come. In particular, the Trial modes are well worth investigating, and are arguably where you'll be coming back for more, being playable in one or two player mode. Standard works in a similar way to Tetris, in that you have to keep the play area from filling up with dice. The key is simply to set up as many chain reactions as you can and try and cope with the constantly respawning die. Standard mode (for one or two players) tasks you with clearing 100 levels, but that's one hell of a tall order. Limited mode has you going for the high score within three minutes, while Attack lets you change the play conditions to your own requirements.
Wars mode, however, supports up to five players, and from our limited experience seemed too random and chaotic to be playable for lengthy periods. Playable with a mixture of human and CPU bots, it's basically a last man standing affair, with everyone running around a small grid attempting to set off chain reactions in order to wear down the health of your opponents. But even with two players, the action is so frenzied and lacking any breathing space to plan attacks, they quickly degenerated into farcical headless chicken affairs that were great fun, but not the standout part of the package.
The devil's in the dice
If you're pining for something with charm, accessibility, instant playability, hidden depths, and above all else fun, then for twenty quid you can't go far wrong with Bombastic. Sure, it's the kind of game that could've been made ten years ago, and is as basic as games get these days, but that's exactly what appealed to us. Add a mate to the equation and it's likely to be one of those puzzle gems you'll treasure for years to come.