I felt a wave of nostalgia sweep over me upon seeing Konami announce Super Bomberman R for the Nintendo Switch. I can remember fawning over Bomberman Hero just as much as Super Mario 64 back in the era of 3D platformers, and while time has almost certainly been kinder to the latter than the former, there will always be a place in my heart for the adorable little Bomber and his friends.
Of course, as we all know, Konami’s handling of its blockbuster franchises has been a bit… dubious of late (and I’m being extremely charitable in that assessment). From shoving away top designers like Koji Igarashi and Hideki Kojima to reinventing beloved series like Silent Hill as pachinko machines, Konami’s actions have left many people’s faith in the company to do right by its big names has been at an all-time low.
Well, there’s no pachinko here, so I guess that’s a plus! Super Bomberman R is perhaps the first revived Konami property in a long time to take on its traditional form: for better and worse, the grid-based gameplay of the classic series — with all the goofy characters and traditional powerups — is here in both its single-player and multiplayer forms. This is about as simple and arcade-like as it gets: your only two options are to walk with the analog stick and drop a bomb with the A button, and the power-ups and course layouts provide the variation. That’s the theory, anyway — but I was a bit disappointed to find that this new take on an old classic seemed to miss on some of the fundamentals.
Specifically, I’m not sure how a game with such a simple control scheme manages to feel so fidgety. Even though each Bomber only has four directions to move in at a given time, I often found myself groaning at their reluctance to obey my analog commands. And since the game is often about split-second timing as you avoid explosion after explosion, the tiniest mistake can mean the difference between victory and, well, walking directly into the path of your erupting incendiary device. That left me with little patience when it came to either of the game’s multiplayer modes — whether I was going for “league” play or just trying a casual match, I didn’t have much patience for deaths that didn’t feel like my fault.
On top of that, I have to say I’m a bit surprised by the lack of options in the casual mode. One of my biggest frustrations with Bomberman multiplayer is the fact that, whenever you die, the game puts you in a largely passive (read: boring) role. Yes, there’s an option to move around the outside of the arena in a special vehicle that gives you a chance to jump back in upon bombing someone else, but I would have liked to see a point-based mode or something similar where killed players can jump right back into the action. Ah well.
The story mode is a lot more appealing, especially since it doesn’t seem to suffer from the same controller lag issues as competitive play. You’ve got the option to tackle this mode alongside a local co-op partner, but I had enough fun all by my lonesome. The actual narrative here is, well… it’s Bomberman. It’s pretty damn thin, but the campy voice acting and bizarre animation lent the cutscenes a sort of goofy, nostalgic Saturday morning cartoon quality. As a side note, just how many ways has longtime Bomber nemesis Bagura’s name been spelled in the West, anyway? Looking at the Bomberman wiki, I can see “Buglear,” “Bugglar,” “Bagulaa,” “Burglar” and “Bagular.” Well, now we can add “Buggler” to the list. Man, is that silly.
Anyway, the gameplay itself follows the same sort of mechanics as the multiplayer, but the stage design offers a good deal more variety (although I suppose that isn’t really saying much given the aforementioned lack of it). Most of the time your objective is simply to destroy all the enemies onscreen to open the portal to the next level, but there’s also the occasional maze based on escorting innocent bystanders to safety or hitting switches scattered around the map. Yeah, it’s nothing mind-blowing, but it’s exactly what I wanted — a bit of lighthearted arcade fun that’s best experienced in short play sessions.
From an audiovisual standpoint, I wasn’t exactly prepared to be blown away given the Switch’s limitations, but Super Bomberman R didn’t even meet my relatively low expectations. It’s not the ugliest game I’ve ever seen, and again, this series is known for its relatively simple look. But the low-poly models, just-adequate framerate and bizarre angle of view (why is the camera always so zoomed out, and why is it at a 45-degree angle during story missions?) only lend credence to an overall feeling I had about this game — that it was rushed out purely so Konami could have something to sell at the Switch’s launch.
Unfortunately, Super Bomberman R is going to do little to change anyone’s mind about Konami, a company that hasn’t exactly been known for treating its popular intellectual properties well lately. Though I can’t deny having a little fun with the campaign, there’s an overall sparseness to the offerings that makes the package very hard to recommend. While I don’t know for sure how this was put together, it sure feels like Konami rushed the game out just to have something in time for the Switch launch. Perhaps that’s cynical, but given the behavior of the publisher in question, I’m not inclined to be generous.
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch exclusive, which we were provided with.
I did have a little fun while playing Super Bomberman R, and it admittedly aroused my sense of nostalgia, but this revival feels too rushed and sloppy to earn a recommendation.