It’s been years since we’ve seen a Bomberman on a dedicated gaming platform. With how much time has passed, and the absorption and subsequent death of Hudson Soft at the hands of Konami, it’s a small miracle that Super Bomberman R exists at all. I mean, Konami actually releasing a console game in 2017, and a Bomberman game, no less, is as weird as it is wonderful. But despite the story surrounding it’s release, the question remains: Is Super Bomberman R and it’s rockin’ cover art a worthwhile game to spend time with on your brand new Nintendo Switch?
The answer, unfortunately, is no.
Super Bomberman R isn’t vastly different from the games that preceded it; In fact, all Bomberman games are more or less the same thing. Not that this is a bad thing – it’s a tried and true formula that’s just as fun the first time you play it as it is the hundredth time. Long story short: I’m a big Bomberman fan, so my criticism comes not from a lack of understanding or appreciation of the Bomberman formula, but more from a lack of care as it pertains to this particular entry.
This version of Bomberman is not short on content. It features a story mode that contains more than 50 stages, a full featured mutliplayer mode (both online and up to 8 players locally), and a bevy of unlockables. Basic gameplay is the same as other games in the series. You move around a mazelike stage to place bombs to blow up blocks and enemies, and collect powerups that increase anything from the number of bombs you can place at once to movement speed to explosion size. After a bomb is placed, you wait a few seconds and it will explode in a straight line in all 4 directions between the indestructible blocks of the stage. Classic Bomberman, classic fun.
Super Bomberman R is also not lacking in personality. You can choose to play as a Bomberman (or woman) of any color, each with their own personality. It’s a nice touch, and every character has their own poses, mannerisms, and lines of speech based on their unique personality. You can even customize your character by unlocking a wide variety of hats that you can equip.
You unlock these accoutrements (and other items, such as new multiplayer stages) by using in-game currency that you earn by winning multiplayer battles and clearing worlds in the story mode. It takes a while to earn coins (but thankfully there are no microtransactions) but not long enough to be annoying. Unfortunately, if you get game over in story mode it will take coins to be able to continue from where you left off, and the rate you spend coins to continue far outpaces your ability to earn them. You’re either going to have to restart the world after every game over, or settle for never unlocking some of the more expensive items.
The story mode is closer to Super Bomberman than it is to Bomberman 64. You have a simple overarching story where various colored Bombermen travel to different planets to defeat the villains. It’s simple, but a Bomberman game really doesn’t need anything more. Stages themselves usually consist of a single, mazelike map – often multi-tiered – and tasks you with completing objectives such as activating switches or defeating all enemies. This gives a decent amount of variety. It’s usually not too complicated, but when you’re tasked with defeating all enemies in a stage it can sometimes be a little annoying. There’s enemies that will hop around with no particular pattern, and hunting them down and blowing them up takes far too much effort when compared to other enemies. Additionally, there are a few areas where Super Bomberman R attempts to mix things up, but it doesn’t always work out. The stages all feature an offset camera, which sometimes gives a nice, wide view of the board and other times hinders visibility. The multi-tiered stages work more often than not, providing some nice strategic benefits to avoid explosions by hiding by the wall at the bottom of a ramp. The Story Mode is a bit of a mixed bag, but it’s worth noting that it’s entirely playable in co-op, which vastly increases the chaos and fun.
Co-op absolutely makes things more fun, but the biggest problem with Super Bomberman R is that the controls are fundamentally broken. No matter which mode you play, there is significant input lag. Normally, any input you make on a controller will be reflected on the screen almost instantly. Not so with Super Bomberman R. There is a small delay between your actions on the controller and actions on the screen. At first it’s barely noticeable, and most players will chalk it up to being unfamiliar with the way the game works. But persist long enough, and it’s impossible not to notice. Bomberman is a game about precision, and the input lag is anything but. Planting a bomb and then running to cover around a corner is fundamental to the Bomberman experience, but in this game it’s difficult to do. You’ll find yourself getting killed more than once when the game doesn’t register your change in direction until after your Bomberman has run past the corner. Adding to this is the weird way the game controls in general. All stages are grid based, yet you move in an analog fashion, meaning sometimes you’ll be between two tiles in the grid and have to make only small movements to get to where you want to be (which is hard with the lag). Additionally, you can rotate your character for no real reason, which sometimes results in them running partially against the wall and moving slower as a consequence. The controls in Super Bomberman R are ultimately imprecise, and the input lag turns it into a frustrating experience.
Multiplayer is great in theory, but is ruined by sloppy netcode. The input lag from singleplayer is amplified here, with sometimes half a second between your input and it appearing on screen. Even worse is the lag, which makes some matches completely unplayable. If even one player has a slow connection it slows the game down for everyone. In extreme cases, I had matches where the game would severely stutter, leaving all the characters running in place for seconds at a time. This would occur once every few seconds, essentially turning the entire match into an unplayable slideshow. Even when it does work, the input lag combined with the small amount of network lag that seemed to present in every match ruined what would otherwise be a classic Bomberman experience.
The music, though, is incredible. Every song sounds exactly like a Bomberman game should – light, cartoony, and wonderfully catchy.
Ultimately, the technical shortcomings and strange design decisions make Super Bomberman R impossible to recommend. As happy as I am to see Bomberman return to a dedicated gaming console, it ends up being frustrating experience that ruins what would otherwise be a perfectly enjoyable Bomberman game. If we’re lucky, we’ll get a sequel that’s improved in every way and brings the Bomberman franchise back to where it should be. If not, at least you’ll know you didn’t waste your time on this one.