I’ve heard it said some sitcoms that are considered absolute classics would not have survived if they were released today. Cheers and Seinfeld spring immediately to mind, and the basic issue is that both shows had horrible initial ratings, and only ascended to the heavens after good word of mouth and critical praise had circulated for years. Nowadays, any show that performed that poorly on a major network would be terminated well before it had the time to grow to define language for a generation. Think of all the poor catchphrases killed before their time on modern television!
Personally, I don’t buy it, because the lifetime of a certain television show seems just as capricious and random as the lives of the humans that make them. Terriers was poorly rated and cancelled after about ten minutes, while Community never had more than twelve viewers, but somehow lasted through multiple seasons and networks. The axe was always hanging there, ready to chop Winger into nothingness, but it didn’t fall until the show finally (apparently) bankrupt an entire streaming platform. Whoops. I was really looking forward to the next season of Other Space, too.
All this isn’t to say that potentially world-changing shows aren’t cancelled before their time, because they certainly are, but in the same manner that we cannot experience a world where Hitler died in the womb, we have no idea what a world where Cheers debuted in 2015 would even look like. It’s easy to claim something like Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23 could have been the next Seinfeld if given proper promotion and “a chance”, but we could also claim that we’d be experiencing world peace right now if only Friends hadn’t dominated the airwaves for so long. Ross and Rachel doomed us all.
And all this is preamble to the simple fact that had I owned Bomberman for the NES, I would have missed one of the best experiences on the SNES.
Bomberman is a Bomberman game: you’re the titular Bomberman in a Zelda-esque overhead world that requires a lot of destruction. There are blocks scattered about, and, while half those blocks are invincible, the other half will instantly vaporize in the face of your infinite supply of explosives. Blow up blocks, find powerups, and, when you’re ready, you can assault the army of monsters floating about. Your enemies, obviously, are a bit more mobile than the inanimate blocks, so you’ll have to use your wits and cunning to lure and snare your prey behind your pulsating payloads, and detonate at just the right moment to win the day. Immolate all the foes on a stage, and a door opens to the next stage, where you can do it all over again. But be careful! You’re just as vulnerable to your bomb blasts as anybody, and a novice player is likely to trap poor Bomberman on the wrong side of a bomb. Batman would not be proud.
Unfortunately, there’s about five levels of gameplay in a fifty level game, and, man, it gets old fast. There is no level variety, whether it be aesthetically or gameplay-wise, and, should you want to see Bomberman complete his quest, you’ll be trudging through level after level of mediocrity. I’m not one for disparaging a game for being too long (after all, everyone has different needs for entertainment: nowadays, I love a game that’s over within a Saturday afternoon, but when I was in junior high, I would have killed for one of those modern 120 hour JRPGS… because I only got a new game once every few months, compared to my contemporary gaming gluttony) but this is the Hanukkah of the NES: there was only enough game for ten levels, max, but they made it last for fifty! Mazel tov! Considering this game was on the same system as Donkey Kong, I don’t think anyone would have complained about the ol’ “infinite loop with faster monsters” trick. Fifty levels of staring at the exact same thing… geez, it’s a wonder Bomberman isn’t burned into more ancient television screens.
Now, as with any video game, there’s nothing saying you have to complete the game. It is a perfectly valid lifestyle choice to play a tenth of any given game, acknowledge that you’ve had fun with what’s there, but it’s getting repetitive, so time to move on, and call it a day. If you’re reading this, and can do that, great, I envy you, because me? I’m going to beat every last level, as I know no other way. Bomberman needs to escape his underground maze of homicidal balloons (or something), if I sit here doing nothing, knowing that the poor Bomberman is trapped down there, if I can do that, who am I? I’m Hitler, that’s who. I don’t want to be Hitler! I don’t even understand German!
So I can safely say that, had I owned or even played Bomberman as a child, I would have hated it, and remembered it as “fondly” as Friday the 13th or Beetlejuice (the NES game, to be clear, let us never disparage a Tim Burton movie). Granted, it’s not nearly as bad as those clunkers (and, yes, I’m aware there are people that probably enjoy both of those games, and I encourage you to report said people to the authorities), but its mind-numbing repetitiveness is something I would ever want to revisit, so I would have ignored any and all sequels advertising the Bomberman name.
Which would have been an absolute shame.
The NES will forever be one of my favorite systems, but it was also at its peak when I saw still young enough that the majority of my friends were the result of prearranged “play dates” (sidenote: I hate that phrase. I hate that phrase so much). As a result, I can’t say how many of my friends at the time were more or less putting up with watching me play Gradius while they waited to go out in the yard and play football (and here’s a shocker: I’m not a big fan of sports… or outside activities… or the sun). It wasn’t until around the rise of the Super Nintendo that I acquired friends that were friends not because they happened to live near me or our parents had complimentary work schedules, but because we actually shared similar interests, like, say, video games. We were all playing video games because we genuinely enjoyed them, and, yes, it may have skewed our worldviews (the “minority kid” was the one that owned a Sega Genesis… that was how we learned tolerance), but we were having fun, and that’s an important thing to have in a childhood.
Given my childhood was framed by the SNES, you can probably guess a number of the games involved. Super Metroid was one player, but we all played it, and discussed the possible secrets and passages over many a recess (even though we eventually needed a guide to shatter that damn glass passage). Street Fighter 2 was burned into our brains (I think I still reflexively enter the mirror match code at the chime of the SNES Capcom logo), and Mortal Kombat (and more, MKII) was our contraband that we played whenever the parents weren’t watching (even if they were the only way we got the game in the first place). There were even a few licensed games spread around in there, like The Ren & Stimpy Show: Veediots, which, yeah, we were like ten, okay? Mistakes were made.
However, one game became the best “party game” before any of us even knew you could have a party outside of your birthday. Super Bomberman was pretty much a complete surprise for everybody: I asked for the game for Christmas almost exclusively for the Super Multitap, a bundled device that allowed for up to five players on the SNES… and, more importantly, a way to play the upcoming Secret of Mana with three players. Super Bomberman looked fun, though, and I did enjoy the bubblegum aesthetic of the main game, so I decided to give it a go with one of my friends. And we both had an absolute blast, which led to an almost pathological need to get a “full” four player game going, and, from there, do that every damn day.
In truth, Super Bomberman probably only “lasted” for a year, but in kid time, it was eons. I even played through the one player mode a number of times, because I had to do something to hone my skills for the inevitable weekend bombing raids. It’s rather… confusing to play the game now, as the average versus match lasts approximately thirty seconds, and I remember doing that over and over again when I had three other preteens on my couch. And everybody said we had short attention spans…
And I know that, as much fun as Super Bomberman was and forever will be, I never would have touched it had I slogged through Bomberman a few years before. The difference between the two games is night and day, and while it would be simple to claim a similar transition occurred between Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros 3, Castlevania and Castlevania 3, or Mega Man and Mega Man… 2, I’d argue that the more apt comparison would be between the typewriter and the personal computer: they both have a keyboard, they both kinda do the same thing, but one grants you unlimited access to the whole of human knowledge, while the other requires whiteout.
Bomberman is the coal, Super Bomberman is the diamond, and I’m glad time (or Superman) applied enough pressure to make that glittering beauty. I’m just glad I never got the black stuff on my hands.
FGC #79 Bomberman & Super Bomberman
- System: NES for Bomberman, SNES for Super Bomberman. NES Bomberman has also seen a number of rereleases on a parade of systems, including the N-Gage, which, I believe, technically, makes this the first N-Gage game I’ve touched. Way to represent a winning system, Bomberman.
- Number of Players: One sad, sad Bomberman for Bomberman, but a dazzling assembly of four for Super Bomberman. It was the SNES game that defined four players, and I’m glad that number of controllers became standard with the following console generation.
- Win/Loss Record: Just to be clear, I wasn’t the undisputed king of Super Bomberman, and I had my share of losses in versus mode to rival my victories. I’ve never been one to feel any need to “dominate” my friends, even if I am usually the host for such events. Video games taught me good sportsmanship… or at least not to wallow in my defeats.
- The End of Bomberman: So the ending of Bomberman sees Bomberman graduate to… Lode Runner?
What the hell?
- The Real End of Bomberman: I feel like the fall of 2-D spritework and “couch multiplayer” hit Bomberman the hardest. Ol’ Bomber White was so perfectly calibrated to one screen and players that had no problem seeing everybody else (but still cleverly boxed into little screen compartments to start every match) that the innovation of split screens and giant 3-D environments in multiplayer games was almost completely antithetical to the Bomberman experience… that foolishly decided to ape all the popular games. Bomberman, we loved you just as you were, you never needed to change.
- Artsplosion: I also feel like part of the appeal of Bomberman was how easy he was to draw. Okay, that might have been just me, but I know Bomberman hung out in the margins of my notes straight through to college. See also: Kirby, Thwomps.
- Did you know? I only used the diamond metaphor earlier because it sounded classy, but apparently the evil final boss of Super Bomberman is named Carat Diamond, and his evil metropolis is Diamond City. I’m not sure if that information burrowed into my subconscious, or if it’s a random coincidence. Oh, and the other villain of the game is Dr. Mook. That sounds reeeeal threatening.
- Would I play again: I tried to get some Super Bomberman LAN parties going a couple years ago… but it just wasn’t the same. I suppose we all grow up, and some games simply remain inextricably a part of childhood, never to return to their former prominence. But I’m not lamenting NES Bomberman at all, that game is terrible.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… to enjoy Christmas Break. FGC returns on January 11th with… Zool 2 for the Atari Jaguar? Really, ROB? Wow, not going to miss you for the next couple weeks.
In the meanwhile… Friday, aka Christmas (you might have heard of it), I’ll be tackling my favorite (video game related) Christmas Special. Then next week, I’ll be posting a special series on a group of games that have earned special titles… but to find out exactly what I’m talking about, you’ll have to check back on Monday. So, yes, Gogglebob.com will be updating for the holidays… we’re just letting that lazy robot take a few days off. Please look forward to it!