Bomberman Fantasy Race
  • Genre:
    • Racing
  • Platform:
    • PlayStation
  • Developer:
    • Graphic Research
  • Publishers:
    • JP Hudson
    • US Atlus
    • UK Virgin
  • Released:
    • JP 08/06/1998
    • US 03/31/1999
    • UK July 2000
Score: 55%

This review was published on 06/12/2015.

Bomberman Fantasy Race is a video game developed by Graphic Research for the Sony PlayStation. It was published by Hudson Soft in Japan on August 6, 1998, Atlus in North America on March 31, 1999, and Virgin Interactive in Europe in July 2000. If the ridiculous title didn't already tip you off, this is a Bomberman themed, 3-D racing game. The Bomberman series is typically known for its overhead puzzle games and amazing multiplayer, but being that this is a racing spinoff, it's completely different. Soon after the success of Mario Kart, many companies were quick to jump on the racing spinoff bandwagon, resulting in an overabundance of kart racers and the like. Some were good, many were bad. Unfortunately, this is one of the bad ones. Bomberman Fantasy Race was a critical failure and is now considered to be one of the worst Bomberman games of all time. Admittedly, Bomberman Fantasy Race does do a few unique things for a Mario Kart rip off, but the game is bad and its developers should feel bad.

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While this game is obviously inspired by Mario Kart, it actually doesn't involve karts. Instead, racers ride atop animals called Louies and Tirras, which are furry kangaroos and silly dinosaurs. Louies were first introduced in Bomberman '94 for the PC Engine and Mega Bomberman for the Sega Genesis, whereas Tirras made their first appearance in Saturn Bomberman for the Sega Saturn. You hold the X button down to make your gallant stead run, press the circle button to jump, and press or hold the square button to drop or toss bombs. Unlike Mario Kart, you always have the ability to go on the offensive, even when not equipped with items, as every racer always has access to an infinite supply of explosives. You can also hold up on the d-pad to make your animal dash, but this drains their stamina, eventually tiring them out. As for the jumping, the height at which you jump in this game is much greater than in Mario Kart, allowing you to jump over holes. Jumping is also used to bounce off certain wall pads that are placed throughout the courses, giving you a boost of speed. I've got to give the creators some credit here, because they found ways to make the mechanics of the game fairly distinct from most other racing games.

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On the surface, this may seem like a decent racing game, but there's one major problem: the controls are awful. Throwing bombs sounds like a cool idea, but it's impractical, since you need to aim them properly and gauge their distance, all while racing in a three dimensional space. The handling ranges from bad to worse, depending on the animal ridden. To make things even more frustrating, running into walls at high speeds will make your animal fall flat on its back, and you even lose whatever item you were carrying. Often, slamming into walls will also push you a great distance away, usually into a nearby pit. Sometimes you'll bounce all over the darn place, like some kind of living pinball. Considering how bad the handling is, the punishment for bumping into stuff is far too unforgiving. There's a mechanic where you can jump off walls to make tight turns, but it's very risky, since it can result in the aforementioned problems if mistimed. Winning races is more about wrestling with the cumbersome controls than anything else.

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The horrible controls are exacerbated with the ludicrous course design. There aren't too many courses in the game, but the few that are there are nightmare inducing. Many of the courses feature extremely tight turns and environmental hazards that combine with the poor handling to result in absolute madness. I hope you like 90 degree turns, because the game has a fair amount. The worst courses are the ones with tons of pits and few walls or railings to keep you on the road. Don't even get me started on the ice course that makes you slip all over the freaking place. As if that's not bad enough, that same ice course also has drops that send you back to an earlier portion of the track, forcing you to retry the same segment endlessly if you keep falling. Also, the 3-D graphics are terrible, so all the courses and characters look ugly. The draw distance is pretty bad, too. There are only seven courses total; the seventh one is unlocked after clearing the first six, and the eighth one is earned by beating the mirror mode version of every course. You'll need an unhealthy amount of patience to pull that off. By the way, the final course is called Highway Star Road, which is one word away from the name of the infamous Star Road track from Mario Kart. They weren't even trying with that one.

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Like Mario Kart, there are items that can be used during races. Items are obtained by running into special item bots littered throughout the courses. The first item is the egg, which does something different depending on whether you're riding a Louie or a Tirra; Louies will get a boost of speed, while Tirras gain temporary invincibility. Because this is a racing game, speed is paramount, so the invincibility thing is mostly useless. Then there are the traditional items that do the same thing regardless of the user, like rocket bombs that home in on other racers to blow them sky high. The best item is the clock, which freezes all the other racers for a few seconds and can turn the tides of almost any race. Unlike Mario Kart, some items are literally bad for you and can outright make you lose the race. For example, there's an item that will make your animal stop in its tracks and take a huge dump on the road. Yes, I'm talking about bowel excrement, or in other words, poop. This wastes an inordinate amount of time and will, in most cases, cost you the race. I think this item is a good analogy for the game.

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Money makes the world go 'round in Bomberman Fantasy Race. Whenever you place first, second, or third at the end of a race, you win prize money, with larger rewards going to higher placing. You can pointlessly stare at your stash of cash at the bank, but one use for income is to purchase expendable items prior to a race, potentially giving you an early advantage. Far more important than the consumable items are the extra animals you can permanently buy at the stable. Each animal has stats that give them different advantages and some are clearly better than others. Coinage is also the main way in which you progress through the game, as new courses are unlocked via purchasing tickets. On the one hand, the monetary reward system is kind of neat, but the issue is that you'll need to grind quite a bit if you wish to complete the game, and grinding just isn't fun.

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There's a two player versus mode available for those sick enough to want to play this game with friends. The second player will be prompted to either load their own save file or create a new one, then the two will wager money. Other than that, this mode is what you'd expect; a standard racing versus mode, complete with a split screen. The only notable thing to mention about this mode is that it's excellent for cheating. You can easily copy your own file and race against an unmanned second controller to win the wager every time. Once the second player is out of money, simply copy another file and repeat the process. You can then use this ill gotten money to buy the best animals in the game and totally cheese the single player mode. It's almost as if the developers felt so sorry for anyone playing this trash legitimately that they intentionally left this in. Or maybe the game had no testing; who knows.

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Bomberman Fantasy Race is far from a fantasy. The graphics suck, the controls are an affront to humanity, and there's tons of money grinding if you're crazy enough to finish it. The game does have some unique mechanics that give it an identity in the endless sea of copycat racers, but that's all for naught due to the bad execution. This game is almost as bad as Sonic R for the Sega Saturn, and that's saying something.

Word Count: 1,426

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