Version Played: Xbox 360
Current CEX Price: £2.50

Note: This, my tenth ‘It Came From The Bargain Bin’ article, is a special one. I’m not sure I’ve suffered for my art as as much as I had to in order to write this one. I hope you appreciate it!

I’ve spent countless hours with friends and family playing Bomberman. It may even be the game series that I’ve spent the most time on ever – when I consider that I’ve been playing it on and off in various incarnations since the early 90s. I even enjoyed the Game Boy versions; the first of which seemed weirdly embarrassed to call itself Bomberman – being known as Dynablaster or Atomic Punk, depending on the region. And what about Wario Blast on Game Boy Color, which was a Bomberman game starring Wario (and only ‘featuring’ Bomberman)?

I enjoyed the N64 versions too, which saw the most radical departure from the core formula at that point, with 3D, spherical explosions and multi-level arenas. I say until that point, because the most radical departure that Bomberman has ever seen came in the form of the Xbox 360’s Bomberman: Act Zero.

Here’s the gritty Bomberman reboot that literally no one asked for, needed or wanted! Giving Bomberman a grimdark aesthetic is like trying to shoehorn Hello Kitty into Warhammer 40k; I mean, you could do it – but why would you? As Jeff Goldblum’s chaotician character Ian Malcolm so memorably says in Jurassic Park: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

The thing is, despite Bomberman: Act Zero being a terrible idea, I figured the game could still have merit. If it stuck to the formula, surely it wouldn’t matter that it was dark, ‘mature’ and ‘Xbox 360 Browntm’, right?

Aside from the general aesthetic, the first sign that something is wrong comes when you look at the features on the back of the box – at first, it’s like you can’t believe what you’re seeing. Could that be right, you think? 1 player only. Sure, there’s 2-4 players online – but a Bomberman game without local multiplayer is like The Krankies without Jimmy Krankie (I’m now imagining my non-UK readers Googling The Krankies and ending up even more confused than they were before they searched).

Upon starting the game, which takes an age because they couldn’t even get the load times right, you’re presented with options that seem to offer a nice selection of modes – an online-only mode (which, as you’d expect of a game that didn’t exactly win any prizes for popularity 13 years ago, is completely dead), a Vs COM battle mode in ‘FPB’ (supposedly that stands for ‘First Person Battle’ but, in keeping with the misguided approach that characterises the entire game, it’s actually in third person) and a Vs COM ‘Standard’ battle mode.

Before starting, you create your Bomberman – or woman, as it turns out, which is actually a nice touch that I wasn’t expecting. What this boils down to is choosing your man or woman from a choice of two naked clones, then picking the colour of their armour. It sort of sets itself up to look like a lot more of a comprehensive character creator, with some fancy presentation – in what appears to be some sort of cloning facility – but then you just end up choosing male or female and a colour from a very limited selection. That’s it. It’s as half-hearted as the rest of the game, as you’ll find out when you start to play.

So you’d think from looking at Act Zero that we have a radical reinvention of the Bomberman formula; though it wasn’t one we asked for, surely a bit of reinvention would be good for the series, right? Turns out that this is almost entirely cosmetic, however. Standard mode is basically the exact same Bomberman we’ve always played, albeit with the grimy, murky makeover. The power ups have a more high-tech look and there’s a female computer voice announcing what your item is when you collect it, but your bombs act as you’d expect and everything else, visuals aside, feels oddly familiar. Bombermen/women scream when they’re killed, though – because this is BOMBERMAN FOR YOU HARDCORE MATURE PLAYERS. ESPECIALLY YOU, EDGY MCEDGERSON.

Anyway, moving onto the stupidly named FPB mode (which, as noted above, should have been TPB mode, but whatever). Here things are a little different; the default camera position is close to your character, but this is useless for playing Bomberman effectively – so you’ll likely pull it as far back as possible to play properly anyway. So really, the most notable and lasting change in this mode is the addition of a life bar, rather than having your character die after one hit. Early on, most computer-controlled characters have far less health than you, but as you progress they’ll get smarter and healthier.

Visually, it’s a murky, dark, muddy mess. You can see what they were going for, but it’s just so lacking in any kind of background detail – to give it any sort of grounding in a narrative – that it just feels so pointless. It’d odd that the classic Bomberman doesn’t feel like this – the cartoony aesthetic just sort of fits and needs no elaboration – but here, there are elements like the cloning chamber and the way that Bombermen/women are dropped into the battlefield from racks above the arena that would benefit from a bit of scene setting. There’s brief snippets on loading screens, but they’re pretty obtuse and only raise more questions.

The soundtrack is an awful, guitar-led rock dirge; it’s trying so hard to be adult that it feels like it’s already grown an embarrassingly thin moustache. It’s another aspect that removes any charm that you’d normally expect to be present, even in the weakest of Bomberman games.

Bomberman: Act Zero (or, according to the title screen, Bomberman Act: Zero) is the answer to the question ‘What if we made Bomberman for teenagers too embarrassed to play a cartoony game?’ – a question that nobody was asking in the first place. It’s low on content, doesn’t have couch multiplayer and is completely unappealing from an audiovisual point of view. The core gameplay still works – with the classic Bomberman formula remaining compelling even in the grimdark clothes its been forced to parade around in – but the joy has been sucked from it so successfully that it’s hard to muster the enthusiasm to make your way through even a fraction of the 99 levels (which you have to complete in a single sitting, by the way – a criminally unreasonable expectation even for the distant past of *checks notes* 2006) to reach the reportedly insultingly short ending.

It’s a curiosity in the long lineage of Bomberman games, but we all know what curiosity did to the cat. Just be thankful that I’ve played through it so you don’t have to; even at current Bargain Bin prices, I’d advise you to stay away from this mess.

To quote another of my favourite films: I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit – it’s the only way to be sure.

If you’ve enjoyed reading this – or any of my other content – it’d be much appreciated if you’re able to share this article via social media. I’d also be forever grateful if you’re able to support me via: Ko-Fi.com/geekmid – which would assist me in writing even more content just like this. Above all else though, thanks for reading – I truly appreciate it!

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