There aren't many systems that haven't been visited by Bomberman at some point during his 20-year history, and a couple of weeks from now the Nintendo DS will be no exception. Bomberman's upcoming adventure, simply entitled Bomberman, will add a number of new features to the classic gameplay that the series is known for, and, as we discovered during our time with a near-finished version of the game recently, it also takes advantage of the Nintendo DS's unique capabilities.
Regardless of whether or not you're familiar with Bomberman's previous demolition work, you'll have no problem getting into his latest adventure. Each of the game's levels is essentially a maze made up of two types of walls: those that can be destroyed, and those that can't. Your only weapons in the game are bombs, and your objective is invariably to blow up all of your enemies within a time limit. You'll usually need to blow up a lot of walls before you can get to your enemies, though, and while that can be a dangerous business in itself, the walls you destroy will often contain power-ups that make your job a lot easier.
The most obvious feature of the Nintendo DS, of course, is its dual-screen layout, which we're pleased to say Bomberman will put to better use than many of the games currently available for the system. In boss encounters and multiplayer battles, the two screens will simply be used to double the size of the mazelike playing fields in which the game takes place. But when you play through the single-player adventure (which comprises around 100 different levels), you'll use the touch screen to manage any items and power-ups that you've collected. Since you won't be playing the game with either the stylus or thumbstrap, you'll most likely end up covering the touch screen with fingerprints when you use it. But while the game's touch screen implementation is far from perfect, the gameplay ramifications of item management are really significant. Essentially, the item management feature means that you're no longer obliged to use power-ups as soon as you collect them. Instead, you can store them for use on later levels or to regain special abilities instantly after you lose a life.
Many of the power-ups (and power-downs) in Bomberman will be familiar to fans of the series, but there are also a handful of new ones for you to come to grips with. Returning essentials include items that increase the number of bombs you can drop, the power of your bombs, the speed at which you can move, and the ability for you to remote detonate your bombs. Other old favorites include land mines, and the abilities to walk through walls and bombs, pick up and throw bombs, and even to punch bombs. Items you'll be less familiar with include shields and temporary invincibility suits, glasses that let you see the locations of hidden items and the current level's exit, and rubber bombs that bounce around the level when you punch or kick them. It's possible to play through the single-player game without putting many of the new items to use, incidentally, but they definitely make the multiplayer battles (up to eight players with a single copy of the game) more interesting and, as such, they're worth experimenting with.
When you host a multiplayer game, you'll be able to customize your battles through the use of different time limits, different map types, different bot numbers and difficulties, and revenge options for deceased players. You'll also have the option to take advantage of Bomberman's microphone support, which forces players to speak into the microphone either to drop bombs or to detonate remote controlled ones. We found the microphone feature to be pretty unreliable, as one minute we'd be dropping bombs accidentally because we laughed, and the next minute we'd be screaming at the thing without it registering. Perhaps the best thing about the microphone's implementation in Bomberman is that its use is entirely optional, so you can try it once or twice, dismiss it as pointless, and then get on with the rest of the game--just as we did.
The Nintendo DS version of Bomberman looks to be every bit as addictive as previous entries in the series, and significantly more varied thanks to all of the new items and options on offer. The game will be best played with friends, of course, but the single-player adventure is a lot of fun, and we reckon the bots you can populate your battle games with are almost as much fun to blow up as your friends. Expect a full review of Bomberman as the countdown to its June 21 release nears zero.