As a renowned character and unit shifting piece of gaming IP, Bomberman is slipping into the past. He may have some status in the heritage of our pastime, and occupy a special rose tinted place in the hearts of gamers who were wowed by the SNES when it first arrived on UK shores, but compared to the likes of Mario and Sonic, the explosives expert has taken something of a back seat.
That is not to say that he hasn't been busy, as over the years Bomberman has appeared on numerous occasions across most formats, with Touch marking his second game on the DS. While the first release was a more traditional Bomberman grid based blow-'em-up, here we see Hudson's mascot placed in his own adventure game.
Taking an isometric perspective and using the building blocks of youth-friendly RPGs like Zelda, you join the pyromaniac hero on a trip to a faraway place that is home to the pirate inspired theme park known as Bomber Island. Joining his best friends for a birthday celebration sets up the premise of Bomberman being surrounded by friends, rivals, and a romantic interest as he explores the expansive tropical playground.
The term RPG is probably best used lightly here, as though you do walk around investigating your surroundings and gathering information, there is no real levelling-up, and the gathering of items and development of your character is extremely basic. In reality, the look of a saccharine RPG has just been applied to a basic map that lets you play various touch screen mini-games.
There's that word 'mini-games' again. To call it a buzzword wouldn't quite be right, as it already carries with it the weight of negative context, but it is certainly one of the most used pieces of gaming jargon since Nintendo decided they were going to insist on 'games for everyone'.
Sadly, here the mini-games are almost entirely disappointing. It is a real shame as the mechanic of opening up new areas of the game map using the rewards from completing the mini-games works nicely. Real planning and consideration is needed to decide on when and where to spend the currency that lets you progress, and the world map, which will be familiar to anyone who remembers Super Mario World, is attractive and well designed. Abundant collectables and tokens also add a depth that the completist usually finds irresistible, and there is a general sense that Bomber Island is very nearly a wonderful world to escape to.
Yet it doesn't matter how great you make the interface. If it doesn't take you to good gameplay it may as well be rich icing on a burnt cake. Most of the mini-games are very simple, unoriginal, and all involve repetitive stylus actions. Whether kicking bombs from a cliff, or bouncing Bomberman up through an explosive-laden column using the stylus to place a tiny trampoline, the majority are neither fun nor challenging. There's a difference between challenging and frustrating though, and some are so badly designed that even a minute dedicated to their completion can feel terribly painful. One, for example, requires that you make timed blows into the DS's microphone while madly tapping the screen, meaning your fingers constantly obstruct your gentle jet of air. The result is a repetitive and unexciting interface that, despite its simplicity, still manages to be very difficult to use.
Some involve actions as unrewarding as furiously scraping your stylus left and right with no need for timing or skill, and almost all last for too long, considering their simplicity. Whack-a-rat clones and a rather tidy bomb sorting challenge that could make for half-decent distractions feature parameters that see you playing them for far too long to make them enjoyable, and on the whole it must be said that the main game mode is a real disappointment.
However, the other half of the release, which is curiously played down by the game's packaging, is the Battle Mode. This of course features the classic Bomberman skirmishes. Anyone who isn't familiar with these has missed out on one of the greatest old school multiplayer games ever, and should definitely consider dipping into the series here as Bomberman Land Touch! includes almost every permutation of game modes and rules yet available in one box. From double screen tournaments with eight computer players on a classic arena using handicaps, to a single screen two-player online match-up on an obstacle strewn course with a timer running, near infinite variations of game types are available.
If the screenshots don't make the rules of this devilishly simple multiplayer action-puzzle romp obvious, the basic premise is simple; place bombs before running to safety and watching them destroy the scenery and ultimately your rivals. Bonuses increase things like your speed, the range of your bombs, and the number you can place.
Thankfully this form of Bomberman almost hasn't aged. The feeling when you trap a competitor with an inescapable ring of bombs is unbeatable, and the balance of action and quick thinking is exhilarating. The inclusion of Wi-Fi and Wireless play is excellent, and even the computer AI is developed enough to make single-player battles well worthwhile.
If anything can be said against the Battle Mode, it is that by modern standards, it feels a little slight. This may well have been the thinking behind bolting on the terrible exploration game, but there is no doubt something far better could have been created to accompany this ageing classic. To have to pay full price for the battle elements because of a dire main game is unacceptable, and though you may squeeze 15 hours from the mini-games and exploration, most of them will be wasted time.