The venerable Bomberman series has long been a staple in video games, providing players with frenetic, friendship-ending multiplayer sessions. The Bomberman Land spin-off franchise, on the other hand, boasts a distinctive single-player experience that emphasizes minigames, exploration, and scavenger hunts. Hudson has brought Bomberman Land and its adventuring ways to the PlayStation Portable, but if anything, it's the tacked-on traditional multiplayer battle mode, rather than the lackluster single-player mode, that makes the title worth even a passing glance.
Bomberman Land's single-player story mode thrusts you into the shoes of the game's protagonist, White. Occasionally referred to as the "Piece King," White has apparently saved the Bomberman Land amusement park from danger in the past. Now, almost all of the park's real estate has mysteriously disappeared--and the attractions with it--and White is called upon once again by the park's director to save the day. Upon crash-landing in the park, White meets the diminutive yet loudmouthed Mini Bomber, and sets off to bring the park back to its former glory.
Restoring the land and attractions to the amusement park is a matter of meeting the conditions set forth by the several "area gates" scattered about the map. Most commonly, you'll just need to match a certain colored "zone piece" to the gate. You obtain these pieces by beating the high score on minigame attractions, completing requests made by park inhabitants, and using clues to scavenger hunt for hidden pieces. Sometimes you'll need to meet other requirements, such as paying a toll, having a minimum number of total zone pieces, and wearing certain costumes that can be bought at shops or won at parlor games.
On paper, this mix of minigames and adventuring sounds like a well-rounded experience. Yet no single aspect of the quest is consistently interesting. There's a healthy variety of minigames, but many will fail to engage you. With the tedium of a jump rope minigame, overly long rounds of the Frogger-like "Log Logic," and the frustrating tank controls of "Parking II" (in which you have to park a clumsy semitruck in an exact parking spot from the top-down perspective), you'll find that around half of the minigames you encounter are just no fun. It's not a total waste, as there are a few games that require just the right level of dexterity, intuition, and observational skills--such as "Bomb Factory," for instance, which plays like a simplified version of Chu Chu Rocket. The casino games you play to earn money are also mildly amusing diversions. Overall, though, the whole minigame experience just isn't interesting for long.
Ideally, the scavenger hunting would provide some balance to the experience, but it often feels contrived and even a little ridiculous. Each map location clearly marks where a piece is expected to be found, but sometimes you'll enter a location only to then be told that there's nothing there after all. Other times, you have to correctly guess the answer to a series of yes/no questions to obtain pieces. It becomes even more nonsensical when you get pieces just for talking to a park inhabitant, no effort required. On a few occasions, White's friend Cool Black will offer tips on how to find some of the pieces, which keeps the scavenger hunting from being completely obtuse.
It's upsetting that the single-player adventure contains no incarnation of traditional Bomberman gameplay whatsoever. That's where the multiplayer battle mode comes in, though, and it's easily the best part of the package by a long shot. It consists entirely of old-school Bomberman mechanics, with four available modes to choose from (and one mode that mashes up the rules from every mode randomly with each match). There are also more than 40 different maps to choose from, with the more intriguing ones featuring such gimmicks as seesaws, conveyer belts, and a complete lack of blocks to hide behind. You can play along with three CPU opponents or match up against your friends locally for ad hoc play. Game sharing is supported if your friends don't have their own copies of the game. Unfortunately, online play is nowhere to be found. Furthermore, those who have grown fond of the new mechanics added to 2006's Bomberman for the PSP might find this version somewhat outdated.
There's certainly not much that's new about the game's presentation, either. It's plenty colorful, and there's nothing inherently bad about the visuals, but there's barely anything inspired--or even just wacky--about the world or its character designs (except maybe for Cool Black's nervous, twitching left foot). The music consists of short, looping, happy melodies that at best are nonintrusive but at worst will get on your nerves. The dialogue in the game stands out as the shining star in Bomberman Land's presentation, with quite a few characters providing a healthy dose of attitude. And, while there's admittedly a bit too much unnecessary reading in Bomberman Land for its own good, you almost get the sense that Mini Bomber is aware of this and is intentionally self-indulgent with his rambling as a result--should you choose not to skip it.
It's quite telling that what would normally be a nice bonus--the battle mode--ends up being significantly better than Bomberman Land's main quest, which might take you anywhere from 15 to 20 hours to fully complete. The story mode's focus on minigames makes it a somewhat passable time waster, but the lack of actual Bomberman-style gameplay within the main mode is definitely disappointing. Unless you're really itching for a PSP version of traditional Bomberman and have no interest in Hudson's earlier offering, this title is a hard sell.