Battle Of The Bombers
Bomberman has appeared on almost every platform since the NES, taking in the N64, Genesis, Saturn, PlayStation, GameBoy and PC along the way with varying degrees of success. So it was only a matter of time before the ubiquitous pyromaniac appeared on Nintendo's new GameBoy Advance. For those of you not familiar with Bomberman, the game boils down to running around the screen dropping bombs in an attempt to trap your enemies with the horizontal and vertical explosions they cause. Matches begin with a liberal scattering of crates, tyres or other obstructions to blow up, and these sometimes reveal power-ups that increase the number of bombs you can have on screen at once or the range of the blasts they produce, or offer special powers such as the ability to shove bombs across the screen. It's a simple concept which can prove strangely addictive, particularly when played head-to-head against human opponents, and thanks to the wonders of the GameBoy Advance's link cable up to four people can play Bomberman Tournament using a single cartridge. Solo gamers can test their skills against three difficulty levels of AI opponent, although this can be a little boring if you find yourself knocked out early in a round and then have to watch the rest of the bombermen battling it out for another two minutes.
Bomberman Tournament comes with eight maps, which might not sound like much until you realise that although the fixed scenery is constant, the positions of the power-ups and the destructible objects that conceal them are randomly adjusted every game. All of the maps offer a change of scenery, ranging from lunar craters and go kart circuits to a winter wonderland of igloos, fir trees and snowmen. Some of them also radically change the gameplay, adding landmines, teleporter pads and conveyor belts into the equation. There is even a "hi power" map which starts with no obstructions apart from the fixed grid of permanent blocks, and gives every player the most powerful bombs from the outset, leading to explosions that can span almost the entire screen. Personally I found this map a little too frantic, but there's plenty of choice on offer. This is aided by a range of options which allow you to set everything from the number of rounds and the time limit for each to more bizarre offerings such as "fishing" and "revenge". Enabling fishing allows the winner of each match to indulge in a little angling, using a fishing rod to grab a power-up floating beneath their boat which they will then start the next match with. Meanwhile the revenge option causes dead players to appear on the sidelines of the arena, from where they can lob bombs at the living to get their own back. Switching this to "super revenge" even allows fallen opponents to get back into the game if they can blow up one of the remaining players.
What Is Your Quest?
It's not all about multiplayer mayhem though, and Bomberman Tournament also includes a Quest mode. This is essentially classic Bomberman gameplay married to a Japanese-style role-playing game, with added Pokemon elements thrown in for good measure. Instead of limiting the action to a single small arena, the Quest mode allows you to wander around villages, forests and mountains in search of a missing colleague. There are shrubs to blow up, buttons to activate, blocks to push around, a variety of characters to talk to, monsters to kill, fortresses to explore and bosses to destroy. Annoyingly though the game often forgets the scenery and enemies which you have destroyed when you travel between zones, and as the game world is fairly open and a fair degree of backtracking is involved you can find yourself battling through the same locations two or three times. You can also abuse this "feature" to gather more power-ups, which can be found by blowing up obstructions, much as in the standard battle mode.
These power-ups don't effect your own character, but the "karabon" which you carry. These are essentially Pokemon clones which can be found scattered throughout the game or created by merging two you have already collected, and each has its own unique special ability, allowing you to kick bombs, teleport between villages and push special blocks around. The power-ups uncovered by blowing up the scenery can boost their defensive, offensive or special attack skills, but these stats are only used in rare and pointless karabon duels. Theoretically the outcome of a fight is determined by the sequence of moves you select at the beginning and the elemental nature of the karabon involved - fire, earth, water and electricity. All of this is largely academic though, because if you are reasonably conscientious about clearing the scenery to discover power-ups your karabon will often be so much more powerful than your opponent that the battle is over after a single blow. Overall though the Quest mode is fairly entertaining, with all kinds of bizarre sub-missions to carry out, including photographing a giant green rabbit and recovering a lost fishing hook. There's a wide selection of enemies to blow up and varied scenery to explore, as well as a handful of mini-games to try your luck with. It's hardly groundbreaking stuff, and indeed Quest modes have appeared in various forms in previous Bomberman games, but it does provide a welcome change of pace if you want to waste half an hour on the way to the office. Which pretty much sums up Bomberman Tournament. It's nothing we haven't seen before, but the simplistic gameplay and cute cartoonish graphics work well on Nintendo's new hand-held. Solo gamers will miss out on a lot of the fun, but even the single player modes are enjoyable enough. And if you have one or more like-minded friends with a GameBoy Advance then it's a bit of a no-brainer, especially as you only need one copy of the game for the link-up multiplayer mode.