Bomberman and Friendly Competition

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7 Go then, eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works. 8 Let your clothes be white all the time, and let not oil be lacking on your head. 9 Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has given to you under the sun[e]; for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 9

For once, I present absolutely nothing profound and religiously interesting. I just like this game. Also, it’s Friday, leave me alone.

Bomberman continues to provide one of the most fun, intense, and stressful party-atmosphere multiplayer experience I dare yet reveal. Honestly, one does not expect that sort of depth and skill from a game with such a simple rule set, but Hudson’s flagship franchises eschews complexity for something full of depth.

For those who never played Bomberman or any of its numerous (and multiplayer enabled, HOPEFULLY, as that’s the whole point) sequels and spinoffs, here’s the drill: the game plops you on a map. Your character spawns on one of the four corners of the map. You can move in any of the cardinal directions; pressing one button will lay a bomb which can destroy certain blocks on the map (the non-solid ones). These bombs, contrary to attacks in most games, will kill you if you stand near them or touch their blast radius in one shot. Thus, you want to stay away from bombs.

At the same time, destroying obstacles with your bombs will cause powerups to spawn. These powerups can enhance your bomb’s firing radius (one tile per fireball), increase your speed, let you drop additional bombs, and even allow you to kick or punch bombs in several directions. The randomness of these drops means that bombing the area as quickly as possible will aid you in becoming more powerful. However, other players bomb their own sections at the same rapid pace. They want to kill you, for killing you means they win the round.

Every player suddenly goes into a mad dashing frenzy to obtain their powerups and kill other players before they become too powerful. At the same time, all these powerups come with an increasingly easy way to kill yourself. See, your bomb’s radius becomes larger (they only move, again, in the four cardinal directions), but it can just as easily kill you when they explode across the entire playing field. Add eight bombs to that, as well as incredible speed of your avatar, and killing yourself doesn’t seem so unlikely if you lose concentration for a bit. It becomes especially insane when two or three players, who cleared the playing field, vie for dominance and fill the playing field with fires of death and doom.

Consider that the games usually force a time limit, and you can see how this goes from “casual game where we end up all dying” to “ultra-competitive trial to determine the best Bomberman”. It’s a wonder that the game hasn’t caught onto online play at all with these factors at play, but rest assured the formula remains solid and enjoyable. Even when tiny alien-like people on a screen blow each other up. Ok, it’s satisfying to blow other people up. I’m not under any pretense that it isn’t.

I bring this up solely because I brought this over my grandparent’s house and had a great time with my cousin. It felt wonderful to share that sense of friendly competition without needing to go through some huge list of controls, notes, and strategies. Games designed for the “so-called” hardcore audience sometimes place way too much complexity in the way of the player without due payoff. I could, for example, try to learn all of the various statistics needed to play Crusader Kings 2. Paradox’s strategies game, though interesting in terms of conceptual analysis, require hours and hours of play to even form a basic understanding of their inner workings. Even then, good luck figuring it out without documentation or an entire forum helping you!

My cousin isn’t going to stand for that sort of game. He liked Dynasty Warriors a whole lot in his childhood, and that required little more than THWACK THWACK THWACK for his satisfaction. Honestly, I don’t blame him, because I went through the exact same phase. We’re progressed towards cooperative shooters and now find ourselves playing arcade sports titles (Rockstar’s Table Tennis game turned out to be quite the favorite!), but Bomberman takes the cake. I also forced my brother and father to play with us, not that they needed much prodding to play a classic title.

You see, we obtained Super Bomberman the same year that Secret of Mana came out, and the only game to my recollection that bundled with the SNES Multitap made by Hudsonsoft (not a huge surprise, considering the nature of Bomberman’s appeal). Thus, we spent a whole Christmas bombing each other to smithereens and then playing like a team in equal measure – a strange sort of dissonance, but fun nonetheless. Both experiences provide their own level of community involvement, whether to best the other or to coordinate your forces in the best possible way. Heck, and I was six years old at the time!

Returning to my recent Bomberman foray, the rules present enough accessible elements to give everyone, expert and beginner alike, a fighting chance. Of course, someone who played Bomberman far too much for his own good will know what they’re doing, but you cannot circumvent the random nature of the item drops, nor your own simple mistakes. All players must face the RNG gods and hopefully win out, but you can easily die with every upgrade. That constant push and pull between the casual and the “hardcore” means that I can play Bomberman with just about anyone…who accepts cartoon violence as fun, I suppose.

The crucial moment, though, came when each of us looked one round from winning a particular set of games. Due to the “one hit kill” rule, Bomberman forces you into playing several “rounds”, each of which consists of one single game. Whoever reaches that magical arbitrary number of victories turns into the winner; no matter how dumb it sounds, this puts a hard limit on what constitutes a win. You can imagine that this makes each game an intense war of minds and attrition as you seek to gather up wins. No one should interrupt the sacred spectacle of Bomberman competition, but that’s exactly what happened. My cousin “needed” to leave, and apparently his parents would not let him stay for the thirty or so seconds required to finish the game. Disappointing, to say the least! Allow us to finish!

Of course, that’s just the inner me making a philosophical notion out of fun video games. Really, video games unite and connect people together under the banner of common interests. Bomberman especially exemplifies this, due to its refusal to leave anyone out of the friendly competition. Anyone and everyone will die, die repeatedly, and discover the joys of making your friends and family explode or burn to death. Wow, that sounds rather unsavory, doesn’t it?

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.