I Miss Bomberman Games

Wherefore art thou, Bomberman? Deny thy publisher and refuse thy hiatus.

Bomberman games, for the most part, have disappeared. You’ll find spin-offs and mobile games, but they all lack the luster the series once boasted almost a decade ago. Some of the last Bomberman games to hit consoles were released on the Wii and continued Nintendo’s fascination with their Mii characters. Even the releases on the Xbox Live Arcade were meager compared to those from the late '90s that managed to include a story mode and multiplayer. Bomberman holds a special place in my heart where I keep all my nostalgia, and there’s nothing I want more than to play another well-crafted Bomberman game.

Image Credit: Bomberman.wikia.com
Image Credit: Bomberman.wikia.com

The year was 1995 or maybe 1996. I was still a child, so my memory of the events has that pre-conscious haze of a five or six-year-old mind. One thing is certain: my father and I were going to Blockbuster to rent a console.

I had never had a console of my own before, and the only time I had played one was at my grandmother’s house with my father looking on. It was an old Atari 2600, with one stick, a single button, and a racing game that would constantly glitch out. It was the best thing I’d ever experienced. This single event was the start of what has become a lifetime and a career built on gaming.

It was exciting to be on my way to Blockbuster to rent a console. The idea of having my own console to play for a short while was thrilling. It meant my father and I bonding over something he experienced growing up. I don’t recall walking around the store, but I’m sure it took place. Looking at the shelves brimming with games I had never played, I asked my father what he would like to play. We found a selection of games to rent, with Bomberman being one of them. After stocking up on sugary confectionery and heading home, the fun was about to begin.

I have three or four distinct memories of the games I played on that console, but little memory of the console itself. It could have been a Genesis or an NES, my memory betrays me. However, I do recall that Bomberman was one of those games. I can still picture a multiplayer level with trapdoors and tight corridors, with only two directions to move. It was chaotic fun.

Then in 1997 something magical happened. I no longer needed to rent consoles because, being the lucky child that I was, I received my own Nintendo 64 for my birthday. Super Mario 64 was the go-to game until I was able to get my hands on Goldeneye. Those were my formative gaming years and likely what dictates my choices and tastes to this day.

Bomberman 64 Cartridge
Bomberman 64 Cartridge

With the new addition to the family television cabinet being expensive, it was better for my parents to rent a game for me instead of forking over the cash for something I mightn’t enjoy. This, of course, meant more trips to Blockbuster. Those of you who spent a lot of time perusing the shelves of Blockbuster or an equivalent store probably hold the same sense of wonder and excitement as I do when thinking back on those times. All the games and movies are spread out before you. Picking up an empty box and reading what it’s about. Trying to ascertain from the case whether it’s the one you want to take home. I think this is part of the reason why I enjoy the Steam sales so much. Having my vision filled with games I’ve never played, searching through the non-physical shelves looking for a reason to spend my money.

Bomberman 64’s cardboard box was sitting there on the shelf, in front of the hard VHS case. When you saw a game box without a VHS case behind it, you’d move on. There was no point looking at something you couldn’t rent then and there. There’s something intriguing about the Bomberman 64 box art. The six figures are all stout and rather cute, but Bomberman, standing front and center, demands respect with his angry face. Whatever the reason, I chose this game. I chose Bomberman 64.

An extra dimension was added in Bomberman 64, making it the first 3D Bomberman game ever released. Having played Super Mario 64, this feature didn’t come as a surprise to me as it would have other Bomberman enthusiasts. Rather than having the usual small arenas and enemies to kill, each 3D world consisted of vast puzzles and platforming sections. Bomberman 64’s gameplay is how I picture a Bomberman game. For the fans of Bomberman from the birth of gaming, this could be a heretical statement, but I prefer the 3D world introduced in Bomberman 64.

One problem with renting games for Nintendo 64 was the cartridges. There was always another save file either at 100 percent or three other games halfway completed. It meant you either deleted a game or played someone’s save, wandering around a completed game, not comprehending what to do. Game saves were a double-edged sword. While it could potentially mean you never started from scratch, cartridge game saves meant you could become a voyeur, venturing into someone’s history and seeing what they’ve done.

Still have my game boxes
Still have my game boxes

Bomberman 64 never made it into my personal collection of games until I was in my teenage years, but after a particularly lengthy session of YouTube viewing, I realized I wanted to play it again. The first Bomberman game that I actually owned was Bomberman Hero, a birthday present from my Nanny (my name for my grandmother). Like the game before it, Bomberman Hero fleshed out the Bomberman personality through a single-player campaign, which was the only feature of the game. It was the first time a Bomberman game didn’t feature a multiplayer while also lacking the classic square arena of the originals. As a child, the game was a massive challenge. It also meant all available save slots were mine. I was on my own. There was no other save files to snoop into to see what lies ahead. It was refreshing and exciting to be experiencing the adventure first-hand.

As a teenager (and still now), I was a massive nerd. I would forgo running around or playing sports in favor of sitting with my friends and playing cards or board games. At some point in our schooling, we realized that we could access the school’s televisions during lunchtime, and thus a plan was born. I brought my Nintendo 64 to school, along with a host of games to play, and we would hook it up to the TVs and play during the lunch breaks. The one game we went back to constantly was Bomberman 64. The fast-paced and hectic multiplayer levels meant rounds went quickly, and with four controllers and four-player options it meant more people got turns significantly faster. Unlike Super Smash Bros, there was no single person that rinsed the floor in Bomberman, making it an enjoyable experience for everyone.

Bomberman Live
Bomberman Live

It wasn’t until 2007 that I experienced my first old-school style Bomberman game. I consider the childhood playtime non-existent as those memories exist as fragments. Bomberman Live blasted onto the Xbox Live Arcade and I immediately purchased it expecting to find a story mode and a thrilling puzzle game. Instead, I was treated with an addictive multiplayer that, whilst fun, left me feeling hollow and missing the days where Bomberman meant an adventure.

Bomberman Live Multiplayer
Bomberman Live Multiplayer

The Live version of Bomberman on the Xbox 360 hardly saw any use by me. As with most online multiplayer games, the community diminished rapidly after release, with people returning to the giants of the time like Halo 3 or Call of Duty. Ultimately, I was let down. It didn’t feel like the Bomberman games I had come to love.

Image Credit: Bomberman.wikia.com
Image Credit: Bomberman.wikia.com

I guess that’s the problem with childhood memories. When you catch up with something in your adult years, the rose-colored version of the past doesn’t quite hold up to what you’re seeing in the present. It can be difficult to see a series you loved reimagined and brought to life on current systems, as it runs the risk of not living up to expectations. Bomberman: Act Zero is evidence of this. The entire game was altered beyond recognition with the character models holding no resemblance to their former selves. The only indication that this game was actually a Bomberman game was the name and the way levels were set out. Games like these are the ones that make me concerned about remakes. And yet, there’s nothing I want more than for Hudson Soft to come back and make me another Bomberman game.

A few years ago, I turned on my Nintendo, inserted my personal copy of Bomberman 64 and completed the game. I spent days unlocking everything, collecting all the costumes and Gold Cards. I wallowed in nostalgia. There’s an underlying fear with the Bomberman games. Would I actually enjoy another game, or has nostalgia tarnished a would-be experience? I’ve not played a Bomberman game in years, and I miss it.

Sam Chandler

Australian writer who has a penchant for Souls games, an addiction to Destiny, and a love for the indie.

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