After a few weeks and many, many deaths by fire, how does Bomberman Tournament hold up?
No game system should be without Bomberman, and Game Boy Advance will probably see several games in the series over its lifetime. The first is Bomberman Tournament, and if games were people and I was a psychiatrist, I’d say BT had a split personality. The main menu has two choices, and those two choices define the entire game: Quest and Battle.
The quest mode is a competent but dull rip-off of every real adventure game ever made, especially the Zelda series. You can tell that Hudson really tried to stretch out the experience and make the quest mode too long to seem thrown in as a matter of course. Unfortunately, the quest just got stretched even thinner than it would have been, and what you end up with is the ten-hour-long but rarely entertaining adventure, featuring about ten towns that are all the same and countless characters who offer you useless advice for no apparent reason. The story is a joke and is never really explained very well anyway. You trudge on to the next world in search of Brain Bomber mainly because that’s what you’ve been doing in the past eighteen Bomberman games.
Is it all bad? No. The dungeons are a pretty good mix of combat rooms and puzzle rooms, and they work pretty well because they’re patterned after the Super Bomberman (SNES) gameplay more than Zelda or any other template. Some of the dungeons are quite large and even challenging, and there are lots of secret rooms worth finding. The bosses are also quite difficult; too bad you have to start over at the beginning of the dungeon if they kill you.
The Karabons are also done pretty well. Despite being collectible monsters, they’re really not executed like Pokemon at all. Instead, you’ll find most Karabons automatically as you progress through the game, and there are several hidden ones too. Each one can be “trained” by collecting icons hidden in bricks. (Too bad that’s the only thing you’ll ever find in bricks...it gets really old towards the end.) The training only matters in Karabon battles though, and the story mode only requires that you win two of those total. You can enter a gym in most towns to fight if you want, but there isn’t much incentive to do so. Instead, the cool thing about Karabons is that they can alter the regular gameplay. For instance, one of the early ones lets you press B to put up a shield as long as it’s equipped. Other ones reveal secret staircases, create bridges, let you walk faster, or upgrade your bombs. Finding the Karabon who activates remote-control bombs will completely change how you play the game. Thus, the little creatures are actually the main source of variety in BT’s quest mode. It’s too bad that battling them in the gyms is so pointless and non-strategic.
Now put all of that out of your mind, because Bomberman Tournament’s battle mode is a completely different game. This is the only multiplayer deathmatch game that I’ve ever truly enjoyed by myself. The premise is rather simple: blow up everyone else. The one basic strategy of getting behind a concrete block for safety is always prominent, but extremely smart computer AI and quite a lot of crazy power-ups add many new strategies and a lot of spontaneity.
The battle mode has eight different levels to play, each one following a theme and containing at least one gameplay twist. Still, the Normal level is one of the best, and the brickless High Power level is awesome for testing your reflexes and strategery. The only new power-up is the Line Bomb, which is generally useless, but it’s hard to complain about the lack of new features when so many great classic features have been compiled into this one portable, extremely multiplayer cartridge.
Bomberman Tournament’s one-cartridge multiplayer is the most appropriate and wonderful use of the feature yet. The franchise is already renowned as arguably the best multiplayer experience ever...now you can have it anywhere, and without needing to convince your friends to shell out the money too. Even girlfriends and family members can get into the simple gameplay and quickly develop their skills. You can even play the battle mode by yourself against the computer and have a blast, and the games are quick enough that you don’t have to invest an hour into it. Just pick up and play, and when your plane arrives or you have to get the mail, turn off the game without fear that you’re losing any progress or achievements.
The little fishing game awarded to each tournament’s winner is pretty neat, although you’re not likely to catch anything useful. My favorite addition to the battle mode is the Super Revenge Bomber rule. In normal Revenge Bomber rules, defeated players can move up and down the sides of the level, tossing bombs into the fray in hopes of at least exacting vengeance on the bastard(s) who killed them. When cranked up to Super, defeated Bombermen who manage to kill someone with their dinky little bombs will be reincarnated! This adds a whole new level of strategy to the game, and is a fantastic way to keep other players interested after they die.