Among the many gaming icons that gamers speculated may come to Nintendo’s brand new Nintendo Switch hybrid platform, Bomberman was likely not many people’s first thought. The now-defunct Hudson Soft’s once-celebrated arcade mascot has been absorbed with the rest of Hudson’s assets and IP’s into Konami as of 2012, a publisher that’s become rather infamously despised by gamers in recent years, due to their burning of bridges and aggressive behaviour against the mainstream console gaming industry. Considering that Konami also hadn’t touched the Bomberman IP since acquiring it, it seemed like 2010’s enjoyable Bomberman Live: Battlefest for Xbox Live Arcade, one of Hudson’s final efforts, would end up being the franchise’s swan song, as Hudson’s explosive hero went on ice for the indefinite future.
This made it a double surprise when Konami, who seemed like they were abandoning mainstream console/PC game development altogether as of a couple of years ago, announced that not only would they be making a Nintendo Switch launch title, but it would also be a Bomberman game! Super Bomberman R is a follow-up and revival of Hudson’s former Super Bomberman line of games from the 90’s, most of which were not localized for North America (though we did get the first two at least), one that aims to return Hudson’s beloved former mascot to glory for fans both new and old, while also riding on the coattails of that outrageous Nintendo Switch hype train! To this end, Super Bomberman R bears the distinction of being the Switch’s only third-party exclusive launch title that’s sold at retail, with only one other third-party launch exclusive, Shin’en Multimedia’s Fast RMX, being offered digitally on the Switch eShop from day one to boot!
Naturally, if you’re an avid Bomberman fan, the character’s return is cause for celebration, especially when Super Bomberman R is a well-polished and enjoyable game that definitely serves as one of the Switch’s better launch titles, particularly if you put aside the colossus of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Being a launch title though, it’s also tripped up a bit by a lack of content, possessing an entertaining Story Mode that is done too quickly, and an entertaining multiplayer mode that gets old too fast. The fact that the game is a retail package that’s sold for the lofty price of $49.99 USD/$64.99 CDN doesn’t help matters, further condemning how quickly Super Bomberman R exhausts its play options.
The fact remains that Super Bomberman R is arguably one of the best competitive and co-operative multiplayer options for early Switch adopters that consider themselves core gamers, so if you can swallow the high price tag, it will give you and your gaming friends some solid amusement while you wait for more robust multiplayer offerings. As a nearly full-priced retail Bomberman game though, it’s too bad that Super Bomberman R also feels noticeably under-cooked.
Super Bomberman R is a serviceable showcase of the Switch’s upgraded graphical prowess over the previous Wii U, though it is a bit visually uneven in some places. The character models and most environmental textures look great, especially on the Switch’s handheld screen, with everything also animating smoothly on both the handheld screen and the television during local play in Story Mode or Battle Mode. A few other textures, some boss designs and explosion effects, surprisingly, look a bit less impressive, and lack some of the visual polish present in many of the character and enemy models especially. Super Bomberman R is still easily the best-looking Bomberman game made to date on any platform though, sporting native 1080p resolution when played on a television, and effortless 720p resolution on the Switch’s handheld screen.
The game’s bright, distinct Japanese style is also pretty appealing to look at in both menus and cutscenes. Cutscenes use still images over static, manga-style backgrounds, rather than fully-animated characters, which gets the job done, even if it doesn’t have huge amounts of flair. Fortunately though, everything looks clean and well-presented in Super Bomberman R, including its online lobbies, which make getting into matches with other players across the world a clean, quick and easy process. Online play is generally stable with solid internet connections, without much danger of disconnects, though the framerate does take a noticeable hit, with the game feeling a bit more sluggish during online Battle Mode sessions, regardless of whether you’re playing on a television or the Switch’s handheld screen. Poorer connections can sometimes result in significant lag when playing Super Bomberman R online, but in most cases, the game is still plenty playable when you take your explosive battles to a global scale.
Super Bomberman R sports a fun and lively J-Pop-flavoured soundtrack that is very catchy and enjoyable to listen to as you play. The game’s music is filled with charm, being distinct and suiting each environment well, along with every victory and defeat you may sustain both playing the Story Mode, and playing against other players in Battle Mode, generating infectious fanfare and sheepish defeat in equal measure. There’s a lot of cheeky energy to the musical compositions, with all of them easily getting players in the mood for explosive mischief!
The rest of the audio work is also pretty good, with explosions at least sounding pretty appropriately powerful and well-defined, even if their visual effects are slightly wanting. The cartoon-ish sound design keeps the action fun and light-hearted for players of all ages, with satisfying familiar sound cues like laying bombs and picking up items also sure to tickle the nostalgia senses of longtime Bomberman fans. The annoying, repetitive voice clips during gameplay proper will get on the nerves of some, with each of the eight playable Bombermen Bros. and each of the bosses really needing some more varied dialogue outside of cutscenes, though at least the voice acting in said cutscenes is pretty solid, easily giving each character a sense of well-defined personality and likability in Story Mode.
The gameplay foundation of Bomberman has largely remained intact over the series’ nearly 34-year history to date, and as you can expect, Super Bomberman R isn’t drastically shaking up that formula. As with the previous mainline Bomberman games, you take control of one of the eight Bomberman Bros., battling against enemies or other players by laying bombs around a maze-like grid area. The explosions from your bombs will spread both horizontally and vertically to the adjacent squares of the grid, destroying any enemy or player in their path. Collecting certain power-ups can make your bombs’ blast radius larger, allow you to lay more bombs simultaneously, or generally move faster as well, even if you have to watch out for power-downs that can also take away these benefits if you accidentally collect them. Be mindful of any bombs you place too, since, as usual for the series, you and any items can also be destroyed by your own bomb blasts if you’re careless, forcing you to think on your feet and lay your explosives carefully, to avoid being trapped in an inescapable situation!
It’s a recipe for explosive fun that’s managed to hold up very well in nearly three-and-a-half decades, with the formula being reliable as ever in Super Bomberman R. You can enjoy the gameplay across two major modes, as mentioned, with those being Story Mode and Battle Mode. This essentially boils down to whether you want to play in single-player or multiplayer, though the Story Mode does allow you to enlist a second player in local co-op, should you not want to brave its dangers alone. Two players means twice the potential for chaotic explosions though, so if you enlist a friend, make sure you communicate and co-ordinate carefully, since your explosions are just as lethal to each other as they are to enemies and obstacles!
The Story Mode of Super Bomberman R unfolds across five planets and a final boss challenge, with the loose plot involving a villain called Emperor Buggler (this seems to be a modern interpretation of main Bomberman arch-nemesis, Professor Bagura) resurrecting and assimilating five scrapped Bomberman robots to help him conquer the universe. With the eight Bomberman Bros. tasked with protecting the cosmos from such threats, they must leap into action to stop the villain… If White Bomberman can get his lazy siblings up and at ’em, that is! It’s a very by-the-numbers Japanese game plot, but it works well enough in terms of giving the Bomberman canon a new modern interpretation on current gaming hardware.
Regarding the five planets, each has a different theme, and is divided into eight stages before you face one of the ‘Dastardly Bombers’ in Emperor Buggler’s employ, in turn before a climactic boss fight with a giant upgraded form to fully conclude each planet. Once you select which of the eight Bomberman Bros. you want to control for each planet (you’re free to switch when you move between planets), you undertake a variety of objectives using the Bomberman series’ typical gameplay foundation. Certain stages will task you with defeating all enemies with your bombs and reaching the goal space for example, while others will have you simply surviving an enemy onslaught for a set time and making it to the goal space, while yet more stages will instead have you looking for a certain amount of switches or keys before the goal space opens up.
There’s enough variation in the stage designs and objectives to avoid the feeling of Super Bomberman R ever feeling repetitive or boring in its Story Mode stages, especially if you bring a friend along for extra destructive fun. The boss battles especially are nicely engaging too, with tricky, slippery foes that easily dash and confuse you, challenging you to outwit them and corner them with your own bombs to claim victory. The Dastardly Bombers are noticeably more challenging than the main stages when playing by yourself especially, even on Beginner difficulty, so more casual players might want to be aware of that, though with some practice, they can certainly be defeated. The terrain is often your worst enemy against these foes, with each stage layout becoming more devious as you move between the five planets of Story Mode, though this nicely challenges players to master the art of laying tricky bomb placements that aren’t so tricky so as to trap you or your ally in the process!
The big boss arena designs of Story Mode are also pretty decent, temporarily doing away with the grid setup to instead place players against massive enemies that require carefully-placed bombs to cripple and stun so that they can be properly damaged with more explosions. The bosses don’t do anything to cover their weaknesses once they’re discovered, and not all of their weaknesses are immediately obvious, though their varied, tricky attacks will effectively keep you on your toes. Likewise, taking down these powerful and monstrous enemies with co-op co-ordination if playing with a friend, or one’s own problem-solving skills if playing solo, is very satisfying. The scale seemingly grows with each boss fight too, culminating in an especially gigantic and imposing final boss that will truly put your skills to the test! The game’s grid-based design doesn’t always get along with the freeform controls that let you move in any direction during these climactic boss fights especially, but at least Super Bomberman R lets you choose from a variety of control options, so you can find the one that suits you best.
There’s only one highly noticeable disadvantage to an otherwise well-designed Story Mode in Super Bomberman R. That is, of course, the brevity, especially on lower difficulties. You can easily breeze through the Story Mode in just 2-3 hours on Beginner difficulty, or 3-4 hours on Veteran difficulty. Expert difficulty will put you to the test and likely take a while longer to complete, but if you cut your teeth on the Bomberman series’ most punishing classics, even that isn’t quite as challenging as what you probably faced and conquered in the past as a longtime Bomberman fan. Like I said, considering this game’s high price tag (though one that’s also still lower than full retail price), the fact that Story Mode takes so little time to fully complete is a let-down.
The main incentive for playing and replaying Story Mode in Super Bomberman R is amassing gems, which are earned from completing stages and planets. Gems can be amassed to spend on alternate accessories/costumes for your Bomberman protagonists, alternate arenas for Battle Mode, or a few unlockable characters for use in Story Mode or Battle Mode. If you lose all of your lives while playing through a planet, you can also pay a fee of gems to start from where you left off with a full extra life count, to avoid being kicked back to the start of said planet. This is a fairly clever system that embraces the more punishing spirit of old-school Bomberman for series veterans, though also allows less patient or more casual players to bypass it, at a fair cost, one that goes up or down depending on your difficulty setting. The fact that Super Bomberman R has these gems earned entirely in-game, and is completely devoid of microtransactions or any paid DLC at this point, is even better, encouraging players to earn rewards by actually playing the game and mastering it, not just buying everything they want with real-world cash.
As for the Battle Mode, it’s pure, simple competitive Bomberman, through and through! You choose an arena, anywhere from two to eight players enter, and one player emerges the victor after the others are eliminated by bomb blasts! Eliminated players aren’t just out though, since they can ride the sides of the arena and rain bombs down on the surviving players, giving them something to do, especially when they can target players that eliminated them as revenge! You can choose to play in serious, competitive ranked matches, or in friendly matches that don’t affect your multiplayer ranking as well, with skilled players moving up a set of ‘Leagues’ that determine their Bomberman skill, and pair them up with equally skilled online opponents in similar League stations.
Considering how quickly Story Mode is over, the competitive Battle Mode feels like it wants to be the real core of the Super Bomberman R package, which is why it’s a shame that it’s also very simple, and runs out of play options fairly fast. The robust count of playable arenas, some of which have to be unlocked, should at least keep Bomberman fans coming back with their friends for fast-paced explosive competition though, and for better or worse, the classic Bomberman multiplayer formula still works well enough in Super Bomberman R, whether playing on a single screen with friends, linking up multiple Nintendo Switch units for a LAN battle, or battling random opponents online.
As previously mentioned, online play sees a dip in game performance, and makes the experience noticeably more sluggish for those without good internet connections at times, but local multiplayer is a smooth, consistent delight for competitive Bomberman fans. You can gather up to eight players on a single Switch unit if you’re playing on a television, using any variety of supported control methods, but you can also pair up to four Switch units in a LAN style for local play, using standalone Joy-Cons in pairs of two players each, though this is probably an extra step over just playing on a television if you have that option, considering that the Battle Mode arenas are never that large, and anyone is in plain view. In Handheld Mode, you’re restricted to being the only local player, whether in Story Mode or online, though at least those without the option of playing on a television have some means to put together a portable Bomberman match with Tabletop Mode or Mounted Mode, even if it requires more than one Switch unit if you want to play with more than two players.
If you’re playing a large local Battle Mode match, chances are, you’ll have to pass around standalone Joy-Cons for everyone, though fortunately, playing with either Joy-Con by itself is comfortable and easy for both a child or an adult. The Switch’s Handheld Mode controls and Joy-Con Grip controls are also perfectly comfortable options for playing Super Bomberman R, though adults will probably find the Switch Pro Controller to be the most comfortable option if they have larger hands especially, assuming they’re willing to pay the rather steep asking price for one. The more traditional Control Pad of the Switch Pro Controller also feels more advantageous than the Control Stick or Directional Buttons when navigating your character, especially for longtime Bomberman fans that are probably most used to that navigation method.
It’s quite evident that effort was put into making Super Bomberman R a worthy Bomberman gameplay experience, one that’s pretty traditional, but also very faithful to what makes the series enjoyable. This game won’t be a new gameplay favourite for longtime Bomberman fans that have already savoured the series’ finest legacy offerings, such as Bomberman ’93 or Saturn Bomberman, but it does do the Bomberman franchise’s legacy proud as a worthy new mainline entry, even if you’ll wish there was a bit more to the package.
Super Bomberman R succeeds at faithfully bringing back the Bomberman franchise after seven years of dormancy (even longer if you’re not counting spin-offs like the previous Bomberman Live: Battlefest!), and not ruining the series’ reliable recipe of fun in the process. Even being under new management with Konami now, this is still genuine Bomberman, as fans know it and love it. The Bomberman series is a great fit for Nintendo Switch as well, with Super Bomberman R feeling like a smart choice for both a third-party Switch exclusive and an early competitive multiplayer draw for the hardware’s launch.
The lack of content and simplistic design doesn’t justify the game’s $49.99 USD/$64.99 CDN price though, which feels too steep for the straightforward arcade-style romp that Super Bomberman R is, especially after the previous Bomberman Live: Battlefest offers similar entertainment for just $9.99. Had Super Bomberman R been a Switch eShop game for just $14.99-$19.99 USD, it would have been a must-buy for any immediate Switch adopters looking for an enjoyable competitive multiplayer experience, especially if they’re already Bomberman fans. As it stands though, Super Bomberman R is merely a decently-featured arcade-style experience that is probably best enjoyed after waiting for a considerable price drop.
Even with the looming threats of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Arms and Splatoon 2 as future competitive multiplayer mainstays on Switch however, Super Bomberman R nicely proves that viable Switch multiplayer isn’t just for the big Nintendo brands. It’s truly nice to see Bomberman again after the better part of a decade, and the portability and versatility of the Switch does make Super Bomberman R probably the best Bomberman game to whip out and put together a multiplayer session with if you and your friends are fans, even if it’s also not a true series evolution.
In some ways, Super Bomberman R does feel like the rough draft before a truly remarkable new Bomberman game from Konami. If nothing else though, it does at least prove that the Bomberman franchise is being well taken care of, and its appeal didn’t die alongside its original handler.
- Fun, faithful Bomberman gameplay design
- Charming presentation with catchy music and lively visuals
- Eight-player battle capability makes for engaging multiplayer
- Story Mode is too short, and fails to justify the price
- Straightforward multiplayer eventually runs out of steam
- Some minor control and performance hiccups