Aka is Super Bomberman R worth buying just to play as Snake voiced by David Hayter?
Short answer: no but his work has been amazing.
Launch titles always tend to be a mixed bag for any console. Quickly produced to fill a need and give the purchaser something to play but occasionally lightning strikes and a classic is born. It’s been a long time since the Switch launched (March 2017 if you can believe it’s been that long!) and Super Bomberman R was right up with all the other titles at launch. Now it’s recently ported to the PS4 with a fair amount of the DLC added out of the box and a fair amount downloaded with it’s first update, so is it worth getting now?
If you’ve ever played a single Bomberman game you’re already educated in what to expect; plant cartoon bombs, blow up anything that moves or looks destructible and win the game. Super Bomberman R is coming from such a regarded series with classic pick up and play mentality that to find there wasn’t a tutorial to explain the basics was surprisingly refreshing at first, but feels off-balance with what it’s trying to achieve. Tricks of the trade like kicking a liquid bomb and it bouncing back can be found from playing the game (as most of us did back in the original games) but surely newcomers to the series could do with pointers? Even I had forgotten spiky bombs can go through destructible surfaces and I’ve played almost every game! The reason games aimed at kids like Splatoon pick up players of all ages isn’t because they skipped on learning but because the gameplay was so solid and it’s enjoyable regardless of age. It’s this shifting of focus on who this game is for that unfortunately continues throughout the game.
When you first start the game you’re not treated to a main menu but a quick choice of Standard or Grand Prix? So is this offline and online? No Grand Prix is for tournaments (or as the game calls it “team play”) and Standard is for everything else. These modes don’t simply look different but treat the game completely different to. Grand Prix is essentially the classic battle royale mode mixed up with extra game types such as Crystals and Checkpoints and a lot more fun. Standard is a more fixed offering with classic battles and a Story mode. There is a huge problem with having the game split from the start. The PS4 is currently suffering from a sever lack of online cross play in video games at the moment and that makes this a dead game online. The splitting of players between Grand Prix modes, Standard Battle ranked and Standard Battle Casual for a game that’s already a year into its cycle dilutes an already watery mix.
Story mode is clearly aimed at kids with its overkill silliness and Saturday morning cartoon exaggerated cutscenes but would kids like this? The story characters are so basic and exaggerated that it comes off as cringe rather than charm. It literally ticks every stereotype box which would typically be ignored if it was self-aware of how stupid it was but theres no hint of that. The actual gameplay doesn’t fare any better, its 3D Bomberman but the addition of 3D stages with different levels makes them irritating as hell with bomb placement being difficult to gauge. The AI monsters vary from bouncing bag to leaping frog with almost no design formality or care and the puzzles vary from collecting keys, pushing a switch to kill everything which is as exciting as it sounds. The boss stages are quaint at first but quickly devolve down into slogs of endurance with little new to add other than reminders of how poor the camera design is.
Grand Prix is definitely where the designers had more room to play with the DLC franchises and it’s the only section of the game where it explains what the DLC characters special abilities do. Standard Battle mode feels like it was thrown in last-minute for fans of the classic but just reminds you that there are better Bomberman games already out there. Standard Battle is your classic 4 player Bomberman experience and it works to a degree until you start adding in the 3D designed stages or get sick of a bizzarely skittish AI. The DLC characters have added abilities but with no instructions (in this mode) good luck figuring out what a trumpet in the ring does. Snake and Naked snake get a stealth ability which is more of a curse than a skill but Raiden Bomber gets a sword attack? Clearly they don’t rank Solid Snake bomber as highly as everyone else.
The main feature of Super Bomberman R that really grabs me and feels sadly overlooked is just how amazing the 2D artwork is. There has clearly been a lot of skill in refining the style down and I personally love the chibi style they went with for it. It’s just a huge shame it doesn’t translate to the 3D models at all. The style of the artwork is refreshingly pop take on the already covered series and then you get to the game and it falls flat with washed out 3D visuals and simple modelling. It’s functional at first but when you start to get to complex 3D levels that rise and fall it all becomes a mess of simple geometry.
It bears mentioning that the voice work is pure American cheese cartoon at its worst for all the standard cast. Unfortunately it’s less cow & chicken (yes I loved Atomic Bomberman) and a lot more cringe. Easily the best voice work comes from Hayter and the DLC characters who clearly gave it a good go, the problem is that the lack of lines mean you’ll be sure to hearing the same few quips over and over and over. Also a frustrating quirk is that you cannot select your AI characters so you’ll be stuck fighting classic, black and sleepy Bomberman unless you rope in other humans to play with. It’s the same problem with the music, what starts as a crackling energetic bouncy beat quickly stops being funny and loops over becoming insufferable. It’s the equivalent of hearing an advert thinking, “that’s quite a good track” and then hearing it everywhere you go, all day, those same 1:32 that now becomes a trigger for disdain.
Since this game is made by Konami I did go in with a little hesitancy for microtransactions (they primarily make pachinko machines now remember?) but I was surprised to see a simple shop and currency system for customizing your bomber, DLC characters (that are free to download but unlocked in-game with currency) and levels to justify spending the money you earn in game rather than money you have to buy. It’s not great but it gives you a reason to go back to it, or at least you would if the game was consistent with its rewards. I’ve lost a match and earnt G150, then gone on to win the next game and was rewarded with G0. The only place I was making any money was story mode and that becomes such a frustrating slog it almost feels like there should be a “pay for more G with real £” option that was cut last-minute (especially when the game over screen has a literal option to pay G300 to continue).
The game has lots to unlock and buy and grind and buy and unlock and grind and does this sound looping to you because that’s how grindy the game feels when playing. The story mode is less a masterclass in telling with enemies and clever puzzles, more a mishmash of nonsense that’s lazy and frustrating. I can tell you playing as a little pyramid head from Silent Hill 2 cleaving other Bombermen has a certain appeal but who is this aimed at? No kid is rushing to play as Goemon or Simon Belmont? No adult is rushing out to buy a Bomberman game that’s so garishly aimed at kids. It completely misses its mark on the PS4 and I can understand it’s appeal on the Switch at launch but the lack of any focus or drive has made it bland and frustrating. Sorry David Hayter even your amazing voice work can’t save this one, please do more elsewhere in future.
2/10 – Bombed it
EXTRA HIDDEN FEATURE:
STOP THE PRESS! I’ve found that if you change the language setting in the options menu to Japanese not only does it add a tasty warning screen to the intro but all of the dialogue and voice actors change to. Sadly this does replace Hayter and the Japanese actor for Snake (Akio Ōtsuka) doesn’t list Super BombermanR in his work so I’m not sure who it is (please let me know!). It begs the question; why not have English subtitles and Japanese audio if the data is there? It also changes the drop rate for $ to so if your done listening to Hayter I recommend making the switch just to add some new repeated dialogue.