It's often said that originality is vital if video games are going to grow alongside the regular increases in hardware power, but there's something to be said for the classics. Every new generation of gamers deserves the chance to play the games that stand the test of time and Bomberman is one such game. Due to its appearance on almost every system capable of playing games, it's a series that keeps on coming back for another spot in the limelight.
Bomberman on the PSP is more or less as it's been over the years. You play as a 'bomberman' who must run around small arenas and take out the enemies that block your way. Your only means of attack is bombs, though various power-ups alter their strength and give you enhanced abilities. Each arena is built from soft and hard rock; hard rock can be hidden behind as it can't be destroyed by bomb blasts, but the soft rock crumbles when in range of a blast. The formula is about as simple as games get, making it perfect for gamers of all ages.
This PSP game offers 10 worlds to work through in single-player, each with 10 stages. The goal in each stage is to find the exit hidden under a piece of soft rock and to avoid the enemies that walk the various paths within the arena. Typically, all power-ups in Bomberman games are activated as soon as they're picked up but in a slight twist a power-up menu is used here. By using the L and R buttons you can cycle through items you have in storage, and the Square button activates the selected power-up - be it an extra bomb, bomb kicking ability or other.
This change in the way power-ups are used gives you more options than are usual in a Bomberman game but it comes at a cost. Gameplay in Bomberman is fast and a lack of concentration, even for a few seconds, can be fatal. Taking your eye off the action to look at the power-up menu therefore causes a few problems but thankfully it's only a problem in the single-player story mode. When playing against bots or other human opponents all power-ups are used immediately, which makes it far easier to focus on what's going on.
Newcomers will find the first few worlds to be a nice introduction to the Bomberman gameplay but veterans needn't worry that the game is a walk in a park. Once you move beyond world 3 things soon heat up and certain bosses will cause more than a few losses of life. Completing the 100 stages on offer also unlocks an additional 50 levels to work through that are 3D remakes of classic stages. While this sounds like a lot, the simple nature of each stage means dedicated players will see everything in just a few days. As ever though, it's in multiplayer that the gameplay reaches another level.
Multiplayer in this PSP game is handled remarkably well and takes advantage of the drastically underused Game Share feature of the PSP. By sending vital game data to other PSPs you can play with a total of four players while only having a single copy of the game between you. Other than the initial period of time to send the game data this works really well and makes the game ideal for players who often play PSP games with friends. Matches can be set-up as you wish and there's a good selection of arenas to choose from, but gameplay did seem to suffer from a tiny amount of lag. It's barely noticeably but means that the control over your character feels slightly sluggish.
For a series that's solely about small guys running around grid-like arenas dropping bombs, the visuals have always played second fiddle to gameplay and Bomberman on the PSP is no different. There's a nice variety to the arenas, both visually and structurally, but they're still just a collection of blocks. Boss characters from the single-player game add some 3D sparkle to proceedings but there's no hiding from the fact that Bomberman works just as well without polygons. Audio is nothing to get excited about but it does the job, with the particularly catchy menu music being worthy of a special mention.
With Bomberman being a series that has been around longer than a large portion of PSP owners have been alive, it's hard to say this PSP game is a must have but it's well worth considering. If you often play PSP games with fiends the Game Sharing makes this a brilliant buy but solo players will likely breeze through the single-player mode in a matter of days. Online play would have made this the perfect multiplayer offering but the developers have got to leave something to add in a future release.