Bomberman Land

Acquitted of conspiracy to cause an explosion

Classic videogame characters are a weird old bunch. A few, such as Mario and friends, have endured and thrived thanks to great art design, while lesser lights such as Pac-Man are foisted upon us, despite being rubbish. They may have no discernable personality but we tolerate them because they're part of history, and the world would be marginally different without the games that made them famous.

Bomberman belongs to neither category. He's nothing special from an artistic point of view - can anyone really thrill to the sight of his stupid pink bobbles and his family of multicoloured low-res clones? - and his games inspire little more than the occasional observation that they're not as good as they used to be. We've never heard anyone excuse another lacklustre outing with: "well, at least it has Yellow in it," or: "the bit where Black and Orange get horribly burned brought a tear to my eye".

Special guest stars
Which is why it has always struck us as odd that Bomberman continues to star in character-driven games. Games with plots. Games with unskippable cutscenes and a supporting cast of Bombermen made to look slightly different by slapping comedy spectacles on their featureless ice-cube heads. Games like this one.

It begins with our hero lounging on a beach, enjoying what's presumably a well-earned rest from a life otherwise spent causing and avoiding explosions. About five minutes and many screens of text later, he's in some kind of tournament, organised by an evil cowboy Bomberman and presided over by a friendly old Bomberman who looks like the Monopoly mascot.

There's also a fat Bomberman who has proper eyes instead of vertical slits, and a geeky little Bomberman who we marked for victimisation as soon as we saw him wearing those comedy specs. "Could this be the long-awaited Bomberman movie?" we wondered.

And then it all went downhill, as the game revealed itself to be another collection of minigames, and relatively poxy minigames at that.

It's incredible to think that anyone honestly believes this kind of thing is going to be appealing simply because of the characters contained within, and it gives us the dry mouth of fear when we remember that Mario Party 8 is a product of the same company.

You start out with a little version of Pang - the old arcade game in which you break large, high-bouncing balls into smaller, lower-bouncing ones. But it isn't a very good version. It's only one of around 50 games, so perhaps we shouldn't expect it to be fun.

Afterwards there's an awful one where you shoot incoming rocks using a cursor. Another involves directing a little Bomberman through a maze with edges of instant death - not much cop. There's the old compilation staple, the skipping game, too - funny and addictive in Wario Ware; in Bomberman Land, just another obstacle to overcome before you can see if there's something better around the corner.

Sadly it doesn't get much better. Even the traditional bombs don't play much of a part, other than as decoration in the halls where you have to speak to various Bombermen and women to further the plot and unlock more minigames.

Most unwanted
That you're obliged to roam around these mostly empty hubs, looking for things to do, is another indication that the game doesn't know what its purpose on earth is.

Even if you're genuinely interested in exploring Bomberman's world - or at least meeting some of its residents in colourful foyers - the controls are likely to frustrate. You can play one-handed, or with a nunchuk added, or even with a GameCube pad, and the number of possibilities confuses things in the numerous menu screens. Some support pointer controls for selecting options, while others force you to use the D-pad or the plus and minus buttons. If you want to walk around using the analogue stick, you have to keep the remote pointed away from the screen. If it picks up the sensor bar, as may happen when you're pressing the buttons on the remote, the analogue ceases to function.

As if in acknowledgement that the solo game is a bit dump and the minigames are nowhere near strong enough to merit much four-player action, Bomberman Land includes a fully fledged version of the original game1 - surely the only reason anyone still gives Bomberman (the videogame character) the time of day.

It's pretty good, too. There are loads of options, as well as new playing areas that aren't as gimmicky as the ones usually found in these updates. But then it only supports four players, and a superior five-player version is available for peanuts on the Virtual Console. Oh, Bomberman...

The verdict

We can't dismiss it entirely because it does have a nice-looking bonus update of classic Bomberman. But the adventure mode is seriouly poor. Think twice, bomberfans.

Nintendo Wii