For quite a while, the appeal of the Bomberman series has evaded me. Part of it was the simplicity of the gameplay. You place down bombs that explode out in a cross shape, destroying walls with them and grabbing power-ups to make the bombs better so you can take out enemies or other players. Due to the bombs taking a bit to detonate and the map layouts making it pretty easy to avoid danger, it seemed like a patient and cautious player would never lose, and if you have two of those playing at once, the game will just drag on. Perhaps it was just poor luck on the draw with the Bomberman games I played in the past, but when I decided to give the series another chance, I finally saw the appeal through a little Game Boy game called Wario Blast.
Beginning as simply Bomberman GB in Japan, the game was changed in the West to broaden its appeal, and rather than trying to cover up elements of the original like Keith Courage in Alpha Zones did, the game was slightly altered to have a bit more content, adding in Nintendo’s antihero Wario just as his star was beginning to rise. Bomberman is still present of course and no secret is made of his presence either, the game offering two almost identical experiences to the player where they can choose to play as either character. They do technically have different stories, Wario trying to loot Bomberland and recruit Madbombers to his side while Bomberman’s take on the plot is him trying to stop Wario from doing that. Things play exactly the same so you aren’t punished for picking the character you prefer, it just changes the enemies you face during gameplay, Wario going up against up to three Madbombers and Bomberman taking on shadowy clones of Wario.
Although this game’s multiplayer is only accessible to people using a Super Game Boy and an SNES, the single player actually has quite a few elements of it. Typical Bomberman game multiplayer modes involve trying to blow up your opponent before they get you, and the bulk of the game’s stages involve the player taking on computer controlled opponents in a best two out of three version of this. This involves a pretty consistent process of blowing up walls to open up paths and reveal power-ups to better take down the current enemy bombers, and this could have gotten pretty repetitive and fallen into the traps I find with some Bomberman titles if the game wasn’t as wise with doling out new features gradually. The bosses are unique fights with special enemies that play by different rules, a good push towards a bit of variety, but beating them helps unlock new skills for Bomberman or Wario that begin to shift the gameplay away from the basics. Kicking bombs, dashing, tackling enemies and more open up new possibilities that pulls things away from just dropping bombs and waiting, the player able to pull new fancy tricks to try and eliminate the foes in a more timely and effective manner. Surprisingly, despite the levels having a timer, potentially to discourage the patient and cautious player from taking things too slow, the skills they give do enough to encourage quick play and I never felt the pressure of the timer because of it. That doesn’t mean it won’t feel slow at times, almost every match begins with bombing open a path to even really begin the battle, but things do improve once they get going.
Another way of assuaging worries about repetition is the way the levels are designed. Most of them are a bit compact even though they don’t fit on the Game Boy’s screen all at once, but the game starts adding new features to the stages as well to make your battles with the bombers a bit more interesting. Vents that can spray paralyzing gasses, warp panels, and other tiny quirks make the rounds feel different even if you are still just trying to bomb all the bad guys before they can bomb you. The enemy AI seems fairly good as well at making the progression feel challenging without dragging on, although I will say the warp panel stages can be a bit obnoxious due to how much enemy bombers love to go back and forth between them. Otherwise, they play on a level of intelligence where you can get the drop on them well enough without being overwhelmed, neither being too easy to dispatch nor too hard to overcome. The bosses aren’t as reliable though, some being a good bit of a challenge as you have to learn their attack styles and learn when they’re vulnerable, others just relying on walking around and hoping you got the bombs placed right so they detonate at the proper moment. None of them get too bad though save the final boss who is an absolute gauntlet due to the nature of death in Wario Blast.
Dying in Wario Blast: Featuring Bomberman! is not punishing save that final boss that goes on too long. For the most part, if you see the Game Over screen, it’s a few button presses and you’re back into the action as if nothing really happened. Bosses will have their full health again but most only take a few successful hits to beat, but the rounds with the regular bombers can be a bit long if you die to them. The two out of three format will make retrying sting a bit, but the matches are always short enough that it only gets tedious if one particular area has you stuck. However, that format does begin to lose its luster as the game approaches the end, but just as I thought the game was starting to run a little long, the game adds in features to ensure the final stretch isn’t just stretching out content. You are given some skills that make the rounds against other bombers much faster and more heavily weighed towards you, and there’s a certain feeling of power to being able to trounce the opponents who can’t handle your new skills. The bosses still put up a fair fight, but it does prevent something that sounds repetitive on paper from becoming completely bland. There are 8 zones after all, each one beginning with three levels that consist of the best two out of three battles, but slight shifts in design and bulking up the player manage to give it a good pace so that its luster only dims rather than outright fading away.
THE VERDICT: Wario Blast: Featuring Bomberman! may have been the game to finally break my stigma against Bomberman, but in some ways, the Bomberman elements still hold it back a bit. The game is fun due to the gradual growth of the gameplay, but the Game Boy likely required certain elements of simplicity to stick around, that being that the bombing can still feel slow at times and at some points, enemy error is more important than player tactics in whether or not you succeed. Still, the game does its best to keep mixing up the format so that things don’t feel repetitive even if they technically are. Wario’s inclusion is more of a way to draw more eyes to the game than a real improvement, but the gameplay is solid enough that it doesn’t hurt to have him here either, and Bomberman himself still gets to headline the adventure if you so please. For a short Game Boy outing, this Bomberman game manages to have more variety and more interesting progression than some modern Bomberman titles.
And so, I give Wario Blast: Featuring Bomberman! for the Game Boy…
A GOOD rating. While it does retain some of the features of other Bomberman titles that make them slow and potentially dull, Wario Blast makes sure to keep things shifting so that there is always something interesting about the task you’re being asked to repeat. Upping your skill, changing the environment, and having bosses that feel distinct from each other keeps the single player strong enough that it survives contact with slow moments and the symptoms of trying to make one gameplay style last without any major changes. I won’t begrudge the multiplayer requiring you to jump through hoops to play as it likely lead to the focus on making the single player a stronger experience. This quality experience showed me the appeal of the Bomberman style of play, but it still doesn’t push it far enough to inspire loyalty to the franchise. Having Wario around is only cosmetic but it doesn’t hurt the experience, instead only opening it up to more players as I know I was more interested in it for this unusual crossover. It’s a fine base for what the Bomberman series could be, it’s just a shame some future titles regressed or ignored things that made this one a fine bit of entertainment.
Wario Blast may not be a blast, but it’s no dud either. Wario Blast is a fine introduction to the Bomberman style for those with worries about the gameplay, even if it didn’t go as far as it could’ve in keeping things fresh.