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Bomberman ULTRA
Score: 90%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Hudson Soft
Developer: Hudson Soft
Media: Download/1
Players: 1 - 8
Genre: Action/ Arcade/ Online

Graphics & Sound:
Few game franchises have been around as long as Bomberman and have changed so little. While Bomberman ULTRA has additions that make it more appealing to modern audiences, it is still the same Bomberman in all of its original glory.

I will admit it; it's been a long time since I've picked up a Bomberman game, but it's nice to see that even though a decade (or possibly two??) has gone by since the last time I've thrown bombs around a grid, the look is still the same, easy-to-understand, simple but effective format it has (for the most part) always been. Bomberman ULTRA offers up 14 different arena designs featuring everything from snowmen to treasure chests, all of which are portrayed in nice, crisp sprites. The Bombermen themselves also look good, but the added ability to customize their look with different combinations of head ware, faces and body suits makes them simply pop (which is great when 8 such Bombermen are running around the screen).

Audio-wise, the game doesn't offer anything spectacular. Besides the standard high-energy background music and explosive sound effects, there is the strange high-pitched voice that shouts out the name of whatever powerup you just nabbed. While this is nice when you are the only human player, when you have several players on the screen running around and that voice announces the pickups whenever any of them (the non CPU-controlled ones, of course) grab a pickup, it can get quite annoying.

Bomberman ULTRA is exactly what you would expect from the franchise. The goal of the game is (typically) to be the last robot standing. There are a few gameplay modes that break away from this goal (more on them in a second), but this is the primary mode of play. The arenas are laid out in grids of various designs with obstacles blocking your path. Some can be broken by explosives, some can't. You run around dropping bombs and picking up powerups to enhance your or your bomb's abilities, all in the hopes of catching one of the other players in your blast. Like I said, classic Bomberman gameplay.

What's great about ULTRA is the amount of customization you can do, not only in your personal Bomberman model, but in the number of arenas, match-settings, available powerups and arena gimmicks. I think the best way to go through all this is to walk through what you can do in order to get into a match. Mind you, you can simply tap your way through most of these screens to take the default settings if you just want to go straight to the game.

The title screen lets you choose between Local and Online play. Online play lets you bring up to four local players into a match with another four players (so 8 online total). From this point on, setting up a game is just like setting up a local game. Once you've selected your players (which can be a combination of human and CPU-controlled locally for up to 8 Bombermen), you then get to select one of the game's 14 arenas. These arenas range from Classic (the original grid) to Big Top with arrows that change the direction of your kicked bombs, to Thin Ice that has tiles breaking up and reforming around you to block your path as you run around. Other gimmicks include cyclones that knock you, bombs and powerups around, tiles that change the pace of your walk, fire traps that send you flying into the air and teleporters. Some arenas let you choose which of these gimmicks you want to use, but each one has a unique look and feel to it.

When selecting the arena, you can also choose between standard gameplay, or one of the other two, Zombie and Paint Bomb. Both of these are basically the same, with the goal when the clock lands on zero is to have the most tiles in your color (which is done by laying bombs of course). The difference is in Zombie, you respawn every time you are blown up, while Paint Bomb will put you in "Revenge" mode when you blow-up. This means you appear on the edges of the arena lobbing bombs at the still-live players trying to blow them up.

Once you know where you are going to fight, you then go to the General Settings screen that lets you change tons of aspects of the game. Anything from the number of wins, to the time limit, if Bomb Shelters appear on the map and how the Sudden Death Blocks appear at the end of the game can be configured here. The last screen before letting you blow up your friends deals with the types of powerups/downs that will show up in the game. There are a few default selections you can cycle through, ranging from Beginner to All, and other settings include whether or not the pickups will burn away if/when hit by a bomb blast or if Skulls will appear and how their infection is spread. Or you can go down to the list of pickups yourself and check or uncheck them so you can play with only a specific selection of pickups. As for the pickups themselves, they are everything from the classic fire, bomb and speed ups (and downs) to remote bombs, power bombs, line bombs, bomb kicks and punches, as well as nasty little land mines that bury themselves until someone walks over them.

All of these little details that can be tweaked and modified for each match which means that you can have a wide variety of gameplay styles that make the game stay fun over and over again. It is because of this (and the huge number of players that can be on the board at the same time) that will make this game a draw at parties.

Bomberman ULTRA's enemy CPUs have a good bit of variety to them. A couple of difficulty settings can be assigned to each CPU character, and there is a noticeable difference in their behavior for each setting. For instance, Easy settings seemed to have the Bombermen blow themselves up more times than not, while the harder CPU settings could only be dispatched by other characters and typically made the games more interesting. But, for the most part, I was able to clear the board of enemies, so like most games designed for multiple players, the in-game CPU is nothing compared to having a physical human behind the controls (either locally or online). In fact, more times than not, if I died in a match against all CPU Bombermen, it was usually due to an environmental trap (like being stuck between my bomb and some broken ice) or because I ran into one of my own blasts out of sheer stupidity.

Going up against other people is a completely different matter. I found what little skill I was able to dig up after so many years away from the bomb-throwers was nothing compared to most of the other players in the game. I was typically killed fairly early in the online matches and left to watch as much more skilled players hopped around the screen grabbing pickups that allowed them to lay out lines of bombs and zip away fast enough to not get hurt.

Game Mechanics:
Bomberman ULTRA plays like any other Bomberman out there. The game's simple controls means it is easy for anyone to pick up and play, but of course, the strategy involved with playing against other humans is what makes the game more difficult. With a few exceptions, you use the analogue stick (though I found I had much better control with the D-pad) to run around the grid, and tap the (X) button to lay bombs down in front of you. There are a few other buttons you can push with the appropriate powerups (like remote-detonation bombs), but as far as basic gameplay, that's all you need to know and all you will be doing.

Bomberman ULTRA is simply a solid Bomberman title. The lack of an actual Story Mode might make it less appealing to some people, but for the simple joy of loading up the game, going to a level and blowing up other Bombermen (be them CPU or human-controlled, local or online), ULTRA does what it set out to do, and any fan of the license (new or old) should definitely consider downloading this game.

-J.R. Nip, GameVortex Communications
AKA Chris Meyer

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