It’s hard to shake the feeling that with Super Bomberman R 2, Konami has finally got its groove back with its iconic mascot. This series is going to have a major audience again. And I’m not just saying that because just today I bought a pile of merchandise from a Bomberman merchandise store (the existence of a merch store here is usually a sign that a character is on the ascendency). Super Bomberman R 2 is a genuinely entertaining game, with some new modes and features that breathe a lot of life into the iconic boom-boom guy.
The most impressive of these is Castle mode, which really does change up classical Bomberman in a fun way. In this mode, one player is tasked with defending a castle, while up to 15 other players need to struggle their way to collect keys and unlock the treasure chests that the sole player is defending. This isn’t easy for the team of 15 – there are all kinds of traps and chokepoints that the defender can use to make things difficult. But, of course, numerical advantage counts for a lot, and so, while the Castle mode isn’t traditionally balanced, it offers a frantic and tense battle where there’s an approximately 50/50 chance of either side winning, given approximately equal skill levels.
There’s a creative side to this mode, too, which also adds a lot to it. When you’re playing as the defender, you can actually choose the castle layout that you’re defending. And you can make your own in a designer mode, which lets you slap down traps and pathways according to your own sadistic tastes. You won’t be able to use that map until you’ve proven that it can be beaten (by playing it through as an attacker), and testing your abilities to come up with something devilish and interesting is a fascinating challenge that has the potential to add a lot of longevity to the experience.
The second major addition is Battle 64, which is Bomberman’s answer to stuff like Tetris 99 or Pac-Man 99… or that new F-Zero “battle royale” that I’ll never touch. In this mode, players are initially dropped into a conventional Bomberman battle space. Should they survive, however, after a few minutes, exits to the stage that they’re on will pop up, and they’ll have a few seconds to make their way to a new battle arena, where the process then repeats. While this doesn’t do much to shake up the basic Bomberman formula, it is an excellent way to extend individual matches and give them a sense of flow and gravitas – this mode is so fast and frantic that being in the final round feels like a genuine achievement (and then you’ll accidentally blow yourself up and feel like a total idiot).
The thing is that the Bomberman formula didn’t really need to be shaken up. You can pull out the stock-standard Bomberman, where four players run around a limited arena and try to catch each other in bomb blasts, and have a riot of a time for hours. That’s available in Super Bomberman R 2, and in all honesty, after you play a couple of rounds of these new modes you’re probably going to revert to the classic. But those new modes nonetheless extend the range of the base formula and help to make Super Bomberman R2 feel like it’s something comprehensive and nuanced – qualities that the original lacked that did drag it down a little.
Another quality that helps to make Super Bomberman R 2 stand out as something with long term longevity is the expanded cast. I know these were added as DLC to the previous edition, but here they’re available out of the box, and allow you to select a character from Konami’s extended universe (for example, Simon Belmont or Dracula). Each of these characters has a slightly different playstyle, strengths and weaknesses, and help to give R 2 something of a “Smash Bros” vibe… though this comes at the expense of the actual cast of Bombermen, since no one selects them once their favourite tie-ins have been unlocked.
The developers have taken a great crack of making a single player game of consequence, and it really does some interesting things with the base Bomberman mechanics, but there is not a single game in this series that has managed to make the single player experience more than a glorified training mode, and that holds true here too. Ultimately, you want to take Super Bomberman R 2 online and test your skills against other real people. Naturally, it’s also better playing against friends and family than randoms, so the real mileage of Super Bomberman R 2 is just how many of your mates that you manage to rope into buying it with you.
With some excellent new modes, fun collectibles and unlocks, and some of the most well-executed Bomberman gameplay we’ve seen in years, Super Bomberman R 2 is a genuine return to form for the classic franchise. The quality of the new modes is genuinely surprising, and it’s all designed according to the kind of multiplayer that is popular right now. In other words, this represents the best chance the 40-year-old venerable franchise has to find a new generation of fans yet.