Bomberman: synonymous with multiplayer greatness, and equally synonymous with pointless, uninspired single player quests. The world has been waiting a long time for Hudson to take the 'bombing blocks on a grid level' premise and turn it into a decent single player game, and thankfully that time has finally come. Oddly, the way it's been pulled off is so obvious that it beggars belief, but first of all: the plot.
Bomberman and Max are once again (the original BM was on Game Boy Color) trying to stop the nefarious Mujoe from causing mayhem, but before they can do anything, the evildoing uber-boss shrinks them down to the size of an ant in one of those peculiar scrolling text/still image story sequences the Japanese seem to love so much. Now their challenge is much bigger, and starts off in the garden, progressing across five worlds and roughly 80 levels.
Honey, I shrunk the bomb
Bomberman Max 2 comes in two flavours, giving you the chance to play the game as either of the two heroes; Bomberman (Blue) and Max (Red), and the idea of two versions is to restrict certain levels, power-ups and so on to each cart - the Pokémon principle, if you like. So far so good.
The levels work in a fairly obvious way, as we said. All you have is a familiar grid layout with an arrangement of immovable chunks and a number of 'soft blocks', which can be destroyed by laying a bomb next to them. The idea is to complete a particular objective on each level - be it destroying all the soft blocks, killing all the enemies, etc - whilst avoiding various obstacles, like the hot-footed and hot-tempered sunflowers, army ants and even blob-spitting shrubbery.
As you work your way around the board, freshly blown up soft blocks yield various power-ups, which do pretty much anything; allowing you to take a hit from an enemy; giving you the chance to walk over a planted bomb (useful if you've boxed yourself in); speeding your character up; increasing the explosive radius of your bombs; and of course allowing you to plant more of them at once. A handy status bar along the top keeps you abreast of any time constraints, and reminds you of how many blocks your explosions span and how many bombs you can plant simultaneously at any given time.
The latter elements are, as always, best used in combination. Once your bombs span several spaces, you can set up chain reactions to take out many soft blocks and/or enemies at once, as bombs will explode if enveloped by other explosions. This is also useful in dealing with persistent enemies, as many of them cannot skip over your bombs. Managing to box in a particularly nippy enemy with a bit of quick finger work and then retreating to watch the fireworks is incredibly satisfying.
Cook'd and Bomb'd
However, the level design can be a little confusing. Often there are a number of portal-type gates which open up when you complete the objectives, and as the game is fairly non-linear, you often have no idea which portal goes where - unless you've already been to one of the levels. Nevertheless, it can be frustrating if you think you're getting closer to a boss battle, only to find yourself transported to a level five numbers prior or something like that.
Equally annoying is the reliance on one-hit kills. Although you can get the odd shield power-up, it's still very frustrating to find yourself dead after sharing a pixel or two with a roving worm, and having to start the entire level over again. Admittedly, most levels are only meant to last a few minutes, but they can be very tricky and it's really annoying when you overcome all the tough bits only to stumble on something elementary. Particularly if the enemy appears from beneath a bit of foreground scenery before you can do anything…
Then again, some effort has been made to keep you happy in this regard, with Cheraboms (Bomberman's version of Chocobos, really) popping up occasionally to offer a ride, and on some levels, an AI-controlled Bomberman or Max (depending on the version) will pop up to offer a bit of co-operative assistance. The AI for these characters (and indeed the enemies) isn't brilliant, but at least you don't get bombed by your silent partner… very often.
Blue. And Red. But why!
On the whole, the single player game is pretty playable. It's tough, no doubt about it, but then again Bomberman is a game about quick reactions and thoughtful gameplay, so that's hardly surprising. What is surprising, though, is that Hudson has messed up the multiplayer!
Honestly. It finally manages to produce a single player Bomberman adventure worth its salt (well, more salt than any of the other 'okayish' attempts), and then it throws in a rather lame 'Mario Bros. meets Bomberman' attempt at single-cart multiplayer. Instead of the traditional top-down game, we're limited to a 2D, side-scrolling platform game with the odd soft block and the same Bomberman ingredients.
You get to choose from some funky characters (including monkeys), but that can hardly make up for the dullness. Hudson almost gets off the hook for making it single-cartridge, but not quite, because there isn't even a proper multiplayer mode for those of us with both Blue and Red cartridges! The interactivity between versions is limited to swapping items unavailable in the respective single player games, and battling Cheraboms. Whoops, eh?
Bomberman Max 2 is one of those games which stands inches away from greatness. Given it a single-cart multiplayer game of traditional Bomberman, we'd be adding a couple more to the score. Heck, even a multi-cart version would be nice, but on its own the single player version really is only just about enough to carry the package. If you've played Bomberman to death and fancy a bit of a change, this might be just the thing, but if all you want is a decent multiplayer game for your GBA then look up Bomberman Tournament, released 18 months ago and give this a miss.