Not quite king of the Castle (mode).
I’m not sure that adding one new game mode and having the Story mode revolve around it is the right direction for Bomberman. For a series celebrating its 40th birthday in 2023, surely the titular hero deserves better than the meager offering that is Super Bomberman R 2. There’s just not enough of an upgrade to this package to justify the cost. The shutting down of free-to-play title Super Bomberman R Online obviously paved the way for the inclusion of its 64-player battle royale to be included in R 2, but it’s a shame that there was much better value in that now defunct option than there is in this half-measure of a sequel. Even though I’ve enjoyed Bomberman since I first got my mitts on the NES version (in all its rudimentary glory), Super Bomber Man R 2 feels like a dud.
It’s worth explaining the new Castle mode in some detail first because it’s the major difference between R 2 and its two immediate predecessors. In multiplayer, two teams face off with one defending a base and its treasure chests, and the other retrieving keys around the map to unlock those chests and win the match. The defenders have some special abilities, like a laser gun, that recharge over time, and matches generally last two minutes. The online Castle matches I entered were always won by the defender; in some cases, they had brought in a custom map that made assailing their base near impossible. In others, the sheer challenge of trying to avoid friendly fire from your fellow attackers is too much to bear.
The plot of Story mode centers on facing down a galaxy-wide threat while befriending and attempting to protect small, squishy creatures named Ellons. In Castle mode, Ellons aid the defending team in protecting their base, while in Story mode, you need to explore 15 map sections to find as many of them as you can, up to a total of 100 on each of three different planets. A handful of Ellons are scattered about each section, with some areas being locked behind a gate that requires you to have rescued a set number of Ellons. The map sections themselves are fairly lackluster, and the traditional Bomberman gameplay doesn’t quite mesh with the type of hide-and-seek Ellon retrieval task. There are enemies to defeat along the way, in addition to multiple Castle matches that have to be completed as the offense team before you can advance to the planet’s final boss. You’ll be forced to defend your own base at various times as the defender, too, and you can even customize your base before the match starts.
If you’re in it just for the multiplayer, there are a decent number of modes to choose from. These include the aforementioned Castle, Grand Prix (where two teams of 3 battle to collect the most crystals or explode the most opponents), Battle 64 (the battle royale mode), and Standard (the typical Bomberman last-person-standing experience–for up to 16 players). You can play in Graded Match to attain a higher rank, while also earning coins that can be spent on new characters, outfits, accessories, bomb skins, and more. There’s a fair bit to unlock if you’re trying to collect everything on offer. You can also create private matches and play offline locally, with the ability to customize rule sets to your heart’s content. Where online play becomes a bit of a drag is with the Graded Match being set to only one or two different modes per hour. If you’re hoping to play Battle 64 but it’s not one of the modes available, you’re going to just have to wait. Presumably this will ensure that it doesn’t take long to find a match, but it’s still a frustrating restriction to see.
The final main menu option is for Level Editor, which allows players to create their own stages for online or offline play. You start with one of 30 templates and add all manner of obstacles, traps, and conveyances as you see fit. There’s also sections where you can view popular stages that others have created, search for specific stages, or see ones you “liked” previously. Those with more creative juices will probably enjoy the tools on offer here, and it certainly does add some longevity to the package.
I’ll give credit where it’s due; I appreciate that Super Bomberman R 2 does try a few new things with its Story mode that we haven’t really seen in previous entries, including a progression system where you actually level up rather than just collecting the standard power-ups. Even though moving from area to area just to round up all the Ellons gets old pretty quick, it’s definitely novel for a Bomberman game. Unfortunately, what’s meant to be the star of the show, Castle mode, just isn’t a very compelling addition. Even for diehard fans, I’d find R 2 to be a difficult recommendation. I may break it out from time to time for a few online matches, but I doubt I’ll spend even a fraction of the time I did with Super Bomberman R Online on this latest game. It may just be time to re-invent Bomberman for the modern era, and while I’m eager to see what that might look like, unfortunately for now, your Bomberman is in another castle.