Lots of classic games have been returning to our TV screens lately with mixed results, thanks to the advent of services like Xbox Live, Nintendo's Virtual Console, and the PlayStation Network. Not all of these old series have passed the test of time. Hudson's Bomberman, however, is a perfect student of modern gaming. This new version of the old classic doesn't just capture the series' antique essence; it actually makes more sense now as a casual online multiplayer game than it did in the late eighties when it exploded onto Nintendo Entertainment Systems everywhere. The only downside is that it's utterly boring to play by yourself, but considering that this game seems tailor-made for multiplayer action, that's perhaps understandable.
If you aren't familiar with Bomberman, it's pretty easy to understand. The game is played from a top-down perspective on a battlefield full of blocks--some destructible, some not. You run around planting bombs, collecting power-ups, and blasting your friends or foes. To drop a bomb, you simply hit the A button, and then get out of the way. This is usually pretty easy, since - power-ups notwithstanding - bombs only explode in two dimensions--vertically and horizontally. However, this gets a lot trickier when eight players are dropping them all over the board, especially since the bombs tend to increase in power toward the ends of matches, when all the players have collected bevies of power-ups. If a match lasts more than two minutes, the screen is quickly covered by dropping blocks that wall the remaining competitors into an ever-smaller space until only one remains.
That's all relatively old hat for Bomberfans. The neat features in Bomberman Live include a variety of game modes, customizable match options, and of course, the online play. The game modes all have names like Lost World, Ghost Town and Big Top, but tend to simply orbit around some type of power-up or booby trap. The most creative of these is Plunder Isle, where a huge collection of power-ups wait in the middle of the arena for someone to bomb their way in and collect them all, giving that player a huge advantage. It's a fun idea, and it distinctly changes the way the game is played. Other modes, however, don't do so much, and it's kind of disappointing that Hudson wasn't a little more ambitious with its level design.
Then again, the developer probably wanted to keep things simple to make the game more accessible for casual online gamers, and in that regard, it succeeded. The game is accessible, fun, and great for online play as well as local play with up to three friends. But best of all, you and your buddies can go online together and take on a world of competition, all from the comfort of your living-room sofa. You read that correctly: If you have three friends at your house, you can all go online at once and challenge up to four other players in some truly hectic bomber-matches. Online games are easy to get into, and come in Ranked or Player matches of the Battle (single series of games) or Tournament (multiple series) variety. A neat option is called Revenge, where players who die can then run around the outside of the arena tossing bombs in. If they kill someone, they get to take that person's place in the game. This is a good idea because it keeps everyone involved. Features like Revenge, the falling blocks that end matches, and power-up selections are all options that can be toggled and toyed with when setting up a match. In this regard, one Bomberman Live match can seem fairly different from another. But as with the match types, Hudson could have been more creative with the match options, especially since this game is so versus specific.
These aren't the only customizable features - you can also customize your Bomberman with things like cowboy hats and tutus. While the options aren't as deep as we'd like, customization is always welcome, and there may be more options in the future. The production values are also fine, with simple, smooth-running graphics and upbeat, unobtrusive music. The game never seemed to slow down or lag for us in any match we played, and that's critical, because timing is a major part of the gameplay. The Xbox Live Vision camera is not a major part of the game, though, in spite of the fact that it will take your picture and broadcast it to your rivals at the end of each game. This sounds cooler than it looks. The pictures tend to be small and grainy, and you still can't really see the people your facing. Still, you can't blame them for adding it.
If there's any umbrage to be taken with Bomberman Live, it is the lack of interesting things to do offline. The dynamism of online opponents is what keeps the game fresh and ever-changing, but if you aren't an online gamer, the simple gameplay, lack of progression, and dimwitted artificial intelligence will entertain you about as long as it takes to set off a firecracker. If you don't mean to play against other people, Bomberman Live will be a dud. But if you are competitive and love to have friends over for beer (real or root) and gaming, this ten-dollar game (800 Live points) will give you plenty of bang for your buck.