Bomberman Wars
  • Genre:
    • Strategy
  • Platforms:
    • PlayStation
    • Saturn
  • Developer:
    • Hudson
  • Publisher:
    • Hudson
  • Released:
    • JP 04/16/1998
Score: 60%

This review was published on 05/22/2016.

Bomberman Wars is a turn-based strategy video game developed and published by Hudson Soft for the Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation. This is the third Bomberman game released for the Saturn and the second one released for PlayStation, but both versions are the same. Both versions of the game were originally released in Japan on April 16, 1998, but they currently haven't made it to anywhere else in the world, digital or otherwise. However, a fan translation was released for the PS1 version of the game on January 3, 2016, so it's now fully playable for any English speakers that dabble in the dark art of emulation. In any event, Bomberman Wars is a spinoff from the gigantic Bomberman franchise, which usually consists of action games wherein little men walk around little mazes and try to blow each other up with little bombs. Bomberman Wars attempted to transform that concept into a strategy game. Here's a spoiler: it failed.

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Long, long ago, during medieval times, there was a continent inhabited by men who had the power to materialize bombs out of thin air called Bomber Continent. These bombastic men were known far and wide as Bombermen. One day, a village of Bombermen was attacked by a dastardly Lizard Man. The Bombermen began running for their lives, and during the commotion, one of them tripped. Just as the Lizard Man is about to mercilessly obliterate this helpless Bomberman, a hero appears! The hero literally goes by the name of Hero Bomber and he's a gallant Bomberman clad in shining armor. Along with his companions, Hero Bomber vanquished the Lizard Man, prompting a huge celebration. Many years later, a much older Hero Bomber was promoted to King Bomber, now the ruler of his own kingdom. Suddenly, an evil entity appears and begins terrorizing Bomber Continent! Now King Bomber assembles his army to face this latest threat.

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This game has players taking turns to move their units across a chessboard-like environment. During their turn, players can move all of their units at the same time and in any order. Each player has a team of up to four units led by a Bomber King or boss. In order to win, the enemy Bomber King must be slain. It's also possible to attain victory by eliminating every enemy unit except the Bomber King, though this doesn't work on bosses. There's a number at the bottom right of the screen that shows the remaining turns. If the battle isn't won before this number hits zero, then bombs will randomly appear throughout the battlefield. Aside from the turn counter and king thing, this is pretty similar to games like Tactics Ogre and Final Fantasy Tactics, except it's way worse. There are many reasons for that, but one reason is that it takes forever to move around. Most units can only move one or two spaces at a time, and they can't move diagonally. This means that it takes two whole turns if you want to place a unit diagonal from where it is. Good luck not falling asleep.

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Where Bomberman Wars takes a drastic departure from most other strategy games is in how you attack enemies. Every unit in the game has the ability to place a single bomb on a free space on the battlefield. This bomb will have a counter over it that signifies how many turns it'll take to explode. When the number reaches zero, the bomb will explode in a cross shaped pattern, just like in the classic Bomberman games. Anything that gets caught in the path of the explosions will die, usually in a single blow. There's no other way to directly harm enemies. This is where the game completely falls apart, because you'll spend the majority of battles skipping turns waiting for bombs to explode. That's particularly stupid considering the game punishes you for taking too long. Further adding insult to injury is how every unit does a sluggish attack animation whenever they place a bomb. Turn-based strategy games are already slow as it is, but Bomberman Wars makes the process even slower with its insipid mechanics.

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Basically, you have to trap the enemy with bombs and hope they don't move out of the way before the explosives go off. The computer will often sacrifice its own units to kill yours, almost as if the game itself acknowledges how flawed the mechanics are. These tactics may seem nonsensical, but going kamikaze is often the quickest way to victory, especially if you trade a unit to take down the opposing team's king. You're rewarded with more money after battle if you avoid losing any units, however, as if to imply that the game discourages the kamikaze tactic. There's really no better way, though. Ironically, this game also lacks strategic depth, as you'll be employing the same tactic of bum rushing the king over and over, with little to vary the experience. The only time you may have to change it up is when fighting bosses, since they have unique abilities no other units have. Even then it's not too different. Despite being a strategy game, there's no real strategy to this game.

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As you progress through the game, new comrades will join your party. Every unit is basically a Bomberman dressed in clothes that mimic the classes typically found in most role-playing games, like monks, thieves, and paladins. In addition to wearing different getups, different units have different attributes and abilities. The three main attributes determine how many spaces a given unit can move in one turn, how many spaces away they can place a bomb, and the distance of their explosions. Some units also have special abilities they can use during battle, like how Archer Bomber can shoot an arrow at a bomb to decrease its counter by one point, or how Cleric Bomber can pray to delay a bomb's inevitable detonation. With the exception of special abilities, most of which are almost completely useless, the vast majority of units feel too similar. Most units don't have abilities, and the stats don't vary much from unit to unit. That makes party formation a dull experience, because it hardly matters who you decide to bring along.

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The stage select is a neat looking map screen with squares that represent different stages. Whenever you clear a stage, four new stages will open up surrounding the one you just completed. Your overall objective is to beat all the bosses situated at the four corners of the map, but the exact path you take is mostly up to you. As such, you can do the stages in a fairly nonlinear order, which is admittedly cool. The stages themselves are nothing more than battles against different enemies, with each stage consisting of a single fight. The only difference between stages, besides the enemies, is the battlefield. Sometimes there are impassible obstacles like rivers and lava, and like in the real Bomberman games, certain blocks on the battlefield can be destroyed to occasionally reveal power-ups. Power-ups will either raise a character's base attributes or give them special abilities, like being able to kick bombs across the battlefield, but their effects only last for a single battle. Unfortunately, there are too many stages and not enough variety in environments and enemies. As a result of that, the game gets very repetitive very quickly.

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In between battles, you can explore Bomber Castle as King Bomber himself. This location acts as the central hub of the game. It's here where you can read an explanation of the rules, save your game, purchase items at the shop with money won from battles, organize your units, and go to the stage select screen. The one thing you'll probably do the most outside of saving is go shopping. Items bought at the shop can be used during battle and their effects include dramatic stuff like gaining an extra turn, temporarily increasing a character's stats, and setting the remaining turns to zero. The items let you finish battles far quicker, so they're definitely worth the money. It's nice that the game lets you freely walk around the castle, as this is a luxury not available in most other strategy games. Sadly, there isn't a whole lot to do in it.

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Surprisingly, this game has a multiplayer mode. It follows the same rules as the battles of the single player mode, except you can play either against a fellow human being or against the computer. If playing against the computer, you can set its difficulty level, which determines how good its artificial intelligence is. Each player is able to pick their team of units prior to starting a match and then decide on a stage to play on. One good thing about the multiplayer mode is that you can choose multiples of the same unit, so you're able to test out party combinations that would be impossible in story mode. The only other option you have available is setting how many wins is necessary to attain overall victory, but considering how long each battle takes, you're unlikely to ever set this number above one. And therein lies the problem; the core game is so bad that even playing with friends can't salvage it.

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Playing this game is an excruciating experience. It's one of the slowest strategy games out there, and that's seriously saying something. Each and every battle lasts an eternity as you wait for bombs to explode, low movement radiuses, and slow attack animations. There's also very little actual strategy, which causes the game to get repetitive almost immediately. If there's anything to be learned from Bomberman Wars, it's that Bomberman has no business being a turn-based strategy game. This idea is bad on paper, but it's even worse in practice.

Word Count: 1,639

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