Bomberman MAX 2 is an attempt to cash in on the Pokémon craze by adding a stable of cuddly and collectible characters to the world of Bomberman. They're called charaboms, and you're supposed to collect these critters during the course of the single-player mode of Bomberman MAX 2 and then battle them against one another in the game's multiplayer modes. To extend the similarities to Pokémon even further, the game comes in two flavors: blue and red. The blue version features Bomberman as the hero and has its own set of 30 charaboms, while the red version stars his rival, Max, and has a different group of 30 charaboms.
The adventure mode represents a step back toward the vanilla single-player offerings of mid-1990s Bomberman games. Unlike last year's release, Bomberman Tournament, which featured a lavish world to explore and many CPU characters with which to interact and battle, Bomberman MAX 2 simply ties together 100 different levels into five distinct environments. The charaboms--small Pokémon-like critters that give Bomberman and Max special abilities--are back, however, and are once again necessary to bypass a number of in-game puzzles.
Thankfully, Bomberman MAX 2 retains most of the basic gameplay that has made the series so popular over the years. Within each level, there are soft blocks and bandits. Your task is to lay bombs and detonate them to satisfy the goal of each level--which usually entails destroying a specific type of bandit or clearing away all the rest without harming a protected species. As in previous Bomberman games, a multitude of power-up items, including multibombs, remote controls, and explosion extenders, augment Bomberman and Max's standard abilities. There are charabom food items to gather as well, which improve their fighting statistics in the multiplayer battle mode.
Bomberman MAX 2 also has a few new features. At the end of each level, you can take an exit that leads to the next or backtrack to the previous level in sequence. This is handy for gathering those elusive charaboms, as well as taking part in a number of fun minigames. There are 20 such minigames scattered throughout the five worlds, including jump rope, hopscotch, and bowling--with prizes that range from useful items such as remote controls and shields to rarities such as extra lives and charaboms. The environment itself has undergone some improvements as well. These include puddles, where you can't place bombs; makeshift bridges, made of exploded cake or tipped-over bottles; and transportation, such as bubbles and forklifts, that move you from one end of the level to another.
Not to be confused with those in traditional Bomberman games, the multiplayer modes in Bomberman MAX 2 focus more on charaboms than on the bombers themselves. The two-player mode is similar to the one in Pokémon in that you and a friend each choose one charabom to fight in an arena. Before each turn, you choose a pair of attacks that the monster will enact during the fight. This gives the match some suspense, since you have to second-guess your opponent's strategy to do the most damage. Further, charaboms have various elemental attributes--fire, water, lightning, and so on--that make them strong or weak against other charaboms, and you can also mix two charaboms together to create a third unique species.
The four-player option is more in line with conventional Bomberman gameplay, but with one questionable twist. Each player assumes the role of a specific charabom and then tries to blow up his opponents while gathering power-ups. Here's the kicker, though--the arenas are all 2D side-scrolling levels instead of the traditional top-down perspective. As such, you can perform a number of actions not normally witnessed in Bomberman games, such as floating and jumping.
An additional link option lets you trade the charaboms and levels specific to your copy with another version of the game. Trading is necessary to fully complete the game, since each version has only 30 of the 60 total charaboms and 80 of the 100 total stages.
In terms of presentation, Bomberman MAX 2 also differs from past Bomberman games in that it doesn't use flat 2D tiles and sprites to portray each area. Instead, all the environments and character sprites are prerendered with computer-generated 3D graphics. Along with a few well-placed shadows, these prerenders create a level of depth that is uncommon in handheld games. The soundtrack too is less whimsical than in past years and contains a handful of soft dramatic melodies that contrast heavily with the constant "boom, boom, boom" of in-game sound effects.
On its own merits, Bomberman MAX 2 is a fun adventure game with a decent collecting aspect and a few fun minigames. But compared with meatier strategy RPGs, like Pokémon or Robopon 2, it is difficult to imagine the game keeping anyone's interest over the long term. There are only 60 individual charaboms to collect, and the quest and battle modes are much less lengthy than those found in Nintendo's Game Boy Color Pokémon games. At the same time, the absence of an original Bomberman battle mode is sure to disappoint longtime fans of the franchise.