How many years does it take to perfect a game? Bomberman has existed in some form since 1983. Is almost 25 years enough?
Apparently it isn't. I had high expectations for Hudson to create the perfect version for Xbox Live Arcade, especially after the company recognized the mess of Act Zero. The 800-point ($10) Bomberman Live was supposed to be the series-defining version: 4-player local games, 8-players online, HD graphics, all of the favorite old power-ups, and the classic gameplay. Sign me up, I thought.
To test this group-based game, I gathered six friends, two 360s, snacks, and plenty of beer. People complimented my chicken wings (thanks for the recipe, Mom), but few positive words were said about Bomberman. Where did this title go wrong?
Bomberman Live captures the classic top-down gameplay of the series. Your pyromaniac character runs through mazes, dropping bombs with a brief delay before they explode. The object is to trap and blow up your opponents.
My favorite power-ups are included in this version. A glove lets you carry and toss bombs, a foot power-up kicks them away, and other prizes enhance your character. Power-downs reduce abilities. Sounds good so far.
With the newbies having a vague understanding of these rules, the seven of us played a series of games, and problems immediately arose. It took about twenty minutes to even figure out how to network the first game. We stumbled through a ridiculous process of logging players in, logging controllers in, inviting the other console to play a game, then defining game settings.
Every time we tried to change game settings after a match -- even just adding another map to the mix -- we went through this entire process. Once we knew what to do, it only took a few minutes each time, but we spent about a third of our Bomberman night in these screens or yelling between the bedroom and living room to accept game invitations. (Too much beer? Not enough beer? Hard to tell.) Or we'd shout to hit A to be ready for the next game. Why does the interface have to be so annoying?
We had moments of fun when actually playing games, shouting taunts between the rooms. Customized characters helped us figure out who controlled which player, although few hats, shirts, and other items are unlocked immediately.
But the disparity in our abilities quickly made the game boring for the winners and losers. Many of us had never played Bomberman and needed more information about the power-ups and game controls. Why couldn't we divide into teams? Other recent versions of Bomberman have team play -- why not Live? This felt like a major oversight, with the same losers always dying quickly, and the same winners always dominating.
We eventually worked together between the two Xboxes, but it wasn't as fun as a built-in team mechanic. And after my frequent attempts to explain some of the advanced, poorly-documented controls -- hold the left trigger to move faster in revenge mode -- we got tired of trying to enjoy the game.
Even with a party atmosphere, Bomberman Live bored us. And it's not because the Bomberman gameplay is old. Some of the great gameplay still shined through this frustrating version. Bomberman Live fails in its weak interface design; limited documentation; and omission of critical, party-centric features, like team play. Hopefully these could be added, but Hudson didn't comment on any official plans when this post went live.
The game bombed at our gathering, the party didn't. We popped in Halo 2 for another couple hours of explosive networking. It was like Bomberman Live, but with guns. And teams. And a simple way to change and restart games. Okay, it wasn't like Bomberman at all.