Easily the biggest difference between Bomberman Live and Act: Zero is the return to the traditional graphics. Gone are the brooding cyborgs and desolate future. Instead, we are treated with the cutesy bombermen (and women) of old, along with plenty of adorable arenas to boot. The character models are very simple, clean, and well animated. Essentially, it's just a 3D version of the classic 2D presentation. There are a few nifty effects, especially when it comes to explosions (check out a full powered Dangerous Bomb if you don't believe us). The graphical style is perfect for Bomberman and more than adequate for an Xbox Live Arcade title.
But, as gamers so often profess, gameplay trumps graphics any day. In that area, Bomberman Live absolutely delivers. For the uninitiated, the object of Bomberman (in normal mode) is to eliminate your opponents. You do this by setting bombs on a grid. When a bomb explodes, it sends columns of fire in four directions. Get hit by the fire and you're dead. Easy right? The challenge comes in careful positioning of your character and bombs. The best way to win is to trap an opponent between a wall and a bomb, or, if you're fast enough, to sandwich an opponent between two bombs. There is also a revenge option which allows dead players to skirt the sidelines and take potshots at the remaining players.
There are two other gameplay modes aside from basic deathmatch. The first, called Paint Bomb, tasks players with painting as many squares on the grid as possible. For example, every square touched by one of the Red Bomber's explosions will be colored red. Of course, bombs can still kill you, so you have to be careful. In fact, we found something of a glitch in Paint mode. See, the winner is always determined by who has the most squares claimed. This is true even if the person with the most squares is dead. So, if it's down to two people and you have the most squares, all you have to do is suicide and you'll win. Hopefully, this will be addressed in an update. The second mode is Zombie, which works just like Paint Bomb except that you can't die. If hit by an explosion, players lose all their power-ups and the squares they have claimed. This gives Zombie a tug-of-war quality, which makes for fun and intense matches.
Of course, without power-ups, it wouldn't be Bomberman. Power-ups cover a broad range of abilities culled from different iterations of the series. On the most rudimentary level, power-ups increase your speed, the amount of bombs you can set, and the range of your fire. More advanced power-ups allow you to kick bombs back at attackers, pick bombs up and throw them over barriers, or punch them out of your way. Other power-ups give special qualities to bombs like remote detonation, explosions that break through multiple walls, and more. Our favorite is probably the Dangerous Bomb, which explodes in all 8 directions, ignoring obstacles in its path. At full power, a Dangerous Bomb takes out nearly a quarter of the screen.
There are a few power-ups from older versions of the series that we wish were included here, though. There are no rubber bombs, for example, which would bounce crazily when kicked or thrown. There are no animals to ride either. Previous versions of the series included animals -- kangaroos or dinosaurs -- that granted players extra powers. They also gave players an extra hit, allowing them to survive two bomb blasts without dying. Still, many Bomberman purists disliked them in the first place, so perhaps it's for the best.
The game is as fun as it ever was when played against friends. There are several arenas from which to choose, each with a special feature of its own. The ice level features quickly appearing cracks in the ice that will impede player movement (which can easily slow you down long enough to die). Other levels feature teleporters, trap doors, and even quick sand. If you prefer to keep your bombing pure, you can turn arena features off, too. You can also customize which items are available and whether or not they can be destroyed. If you have a map and item configuration that you particularly enjoy, you can save it for future use (we usually run with a random map and all items on).
Our online games ran without a hitch. Both single matches and tournament play are available. Online play allows players to utilize the Vision Camera, too. The Vision Cam does two things in Bomberman. First, it snaps a picture of players the moment they are eliminated. As you might imagine, these images can be pretty funny. The Vision Cam also allows the winner of a match a few seconds to gloat, similar to Command & Conquer 3. Guests are allowed in online play, too, which is a nice bonus. Up to four people on one Xbox can go online and play in 8 player matches over Live. It's a great feature and one that should be included in all multiplayer titles, honestly.
The last feature of Bomberman Live is the ability to customize your avatar. The game includes dozens of unique items to customize the body, face, and headgear of your Bomber. These items are collected by finding Costume Balls that appear a minute or so into every offline or non-ranked round. Want to make your Bomber into a punk with nerdy glasses and bear ears? Go for it. This little feature in particular gives players a reason to keep playing, and does something to alleviate the lack of a single player campaign.
All in all, Bomberman Live isn't perfect -- there is no campaign mode and we mentioned the Paint Bomb exploit above -- but it's easily the best version we've played in a while. The graphics are nice and the gameplay is as good as it's always been. If this is Hudson's apology for Act: Zero, then we accept. For 800 MS Points, you couldn't do much better, and the promise of downloadable arenas and costume pieces makes it even more enticing.
We missed you Bomberman. Welcome back.