Sunday, March 30, 2014

Character Talk: Bomberman

"Boom goes the dynamite... with a pinch of Anime uniqueness!"

Another video game character we will talk about specifically here will be a character who has seen plenty of success throughout the years, but with success has also come a fair share of blunders, hiccups and "What the heck were you thinking?" events. At his core, Bomberman is a unique character who provides gamers with a variety of options in gameplay and some of the results of his games have been very reassuring. Bomberman is a generally appealing character who has the ability to throw bombs at his enemies, and he isn't limited to just throwing normal bombs. It has been shown in many games that Bomberman can deploy various kinds of bombs that can stun various enemies and this method of gameplay allows the player to use a broader sense of strategy when taking on a level.

Bomberman is simplistic in character design and he sticks out right away when you see a picture of him. Especially when he has a bomb in his hand, you know that this character means business and that you had better get away from the bombs that he throws or else... well, I think we all know what happens when a bomb hits. The world that Bomberman resides in is colorful and lighthearted but there is a sense of seriousness that is felt considering the storylines that Bomberman games work with. It's no walk in the park when you are in Bomberman's world. You have to be sharp and you have to throw your bombs at the right spots or else you won't be able to break open certain obstacles.

When Bomberman is mentioned to any hardcore gamer, the first thing that will most likely be talked about would be the old Bomberman games that were released for the NES. These games were simple since they were in the 2D, 8 bit format and they were solid hits to the gaming community. These games quickly became beloved and appreciated for what was made available in a gaming experience. You planted a bomb next to a stone-like obstacle and you blew it up to get closer to your opponents, which were other players in a Multiplayer setting. You had items to collect as well, such as the fire icon which allowed your bombs to become more powerful, or the bomb icon which allowed you to plant more than one bomb at a time. Also, there were icons you could collect that would instantly affect the entire field of play, and these events would be randomized so that none of the four players would know what was coming.

Bomberman was one of my influences in gaming growing up. I have fond memories of playing as Bomberman in a game where most of what I had to do involved blowing up things and causing chaos to levels that were filled with pesky enemies. I vividly remember playing Bomberman 64 and Bomberman Hero on the Nintendo 64 and I had a blast for the most part. These games were fun, innovative, challenging and they contained some sort of depth to the concepts of their stories, although I wasn't thrilled about certain things. I generally liked the designs of the levels in these N64 titles because they gave me a sense of what Bomberman's world was about. I was given what kind of identity Bomberman has and what environment he has to work with. The core concept of Bomberman made sense.

What went wrong for Bomberman?

I think we can all agree on where things started to unravel for the Bomberman series. A game that was released in 2006 made a ton of headlines that weren't kind at all. Critics generally thumbed down this game because of how different it was compared to past Bomberman games. This game was Bomberman: Act Zero and it was a complete re-envisioning of the entire Bomberman series. The vision implemented in Bomberman: Act Zero was a realistic take on Bomberman's world, eliminating the cartoony feeling of past games and replacing them with humanized designs. Needless to say, the reception to this was poor and sales for this game bombed. Yeah, that was a pun but it's true.

When we look back at it, 2006 didn't look like a good year at all for video games that were wanting to establish a new identity. Two examples of this would be Sonic 2006, released for the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3 and Bomberman: Act Zero. It is one thing to veer off and go into a different direction with a video game series, but if this new vision you are trying to establish is fractured and unstable to begin with, then you are going to experience resistance from fans and critics alike. Act Zero was simply way too different for gamers to handle because it didn't feel like a Bomberman game. It didn't feel like anything the Bomberman we all know would want to be in. This game was way too realistic and way too edgy for a series that relied on lighthearted elements and cartoony features.

What to do with Bomberman going forward...

Thankfully, ever since Bomberman: Act Zero's monumental debacle, Hudson Soft has thought better of this and chose to revert back to the familiar cartoony style that we are all accustomed to when it comes to Bomberman. Hudson Soft has gotten back to the roots of Bomberman and has made recent titles more enjoyable. This is certainly a good sign for the Bomberman series itself, but Hudson Soft is pretty much a ghost town of a company at this point. Publishers that have watched over Hudson Soft are pretty much running the show for most things Bomberman-related and it is anyone's guess as to what will happen next for the series.

The last game made for Bomberman was Bomberman Live: Battlefest which can be played on the Xbox Live Arcade. That game was released back in 2010 and not another word has been uttered about the Bomberman series since. There is the likely possibility that if the Bomerman series is to continue, then it would have to move forward under new developers at least. Provided that the lighthearted and cartoony features of the series stick around, I believe that the Bomberman series has a good future if it is controlled by a different developer that knows how to cater to what makes Bomberman go.

Bomberman isn't a failure of a character. I would consider Bomberman to be one of the more checkered characters in video game history, going on a roller coaster ride and taking some hits along the way. Bomberman has succeeded in certain areas of gaming that do need to be recognized. I sometimes get the feeling that Bomberman is an under appreciated video game character simply because he hasn't had as broad of a market compared to that of Mario, Sonic, Mega Man, Kirby, etc.

Bomberman is sometimes overlooked and there could be a wide variety of reasons as to why that is. One argument could be that while his games have been solid, Bomberman has never had his breakout moment in gaming history. While his games have been good and enjoyable, they have never really stuck out and "moved the needle" in the Video Game Industry.

I believe it's time to create a new adventure game featuring Bomberman. I believe it's time to explore other parts of Bomberman's roots, such as recreating some of the elements that made games like Bomberman 64, Bomberman Hero and Bomberman: The Second Attack work. We can throw in games like Bomberman Jetters and the Super Bomberman series to further establish an identity for this new adventure game. Here's what I mean by recreating some of the elements. I am not saying that we should copy and paste the things from past games, but rather we should be able to use innovation in the level designs. We should be able to make puzzles that intrigue the player and make the player think for all the right reasons.

We should include areas that allow the player to just blow up everything in sight. We should allow for variety in the kinds of bombs Bomberman can throw and plant down. We should come up with a storyline that will have the Bomberman feel but will also be something that is fresh and attention-grabbing. We should also introduce more personality in the side characters of the Bomberman series. So many times I have gone back to this series and I think to myself just why other Bomberman characters don't have fleshed out personalities. I could easily see different things going on for Black Bomberman, Blue Bomberman, Green Bomberman, Red Bomberman, Max, Pretty Bomber (female bomb thrower), and the like if some story elements were just catered to them.

The Bomberman series needs to expand and it needs to take risks that make sense. Bomberman: Act Zero was a risk that wasn't necessary and made very little to no sense at all. This new hypothetical game should take risks that gamers haven't seen before in the Anime style world of Bomberman. Following a formula that has worked for so long doesn't hurt in most cases, but sometimes when you need a kick in the pants, telling different stories and introducing some new gameplay elements could be exactly what the doctor ordered.

Let's hope the next new Bomberman adventure game won't blow up in everybody's face but rather blow people away out of pure joy.

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