After debuting on Switch last year, Super Bomberman R has finally arrived on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Steam. This entry represents a revival of the franchise, which had been dormant since early in the previous console generation. Super Bomberman R features a full campaign with local co-op and the competitive local and online multiplayer that made the series such a staple of many gamers’ childhoods. But some rough edges currently limit its online multiplayer potential.
After leaving campaigns out of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 Bomberman games (the widely reviled Act Zero notwithstanding), Konami has thankfully included a fairly robust story mode in Super Bomberman R. The story starts with the evil Buggler army reviving the Five Dastardly Bombers and threatening the galaxy. Only the eight Bomberman rangers can stop them. This simple but humorous narrative comes to life through numerous mildly animated and fully voiced cut scenes that play before and after each world the heroes visit.
Story mode consists of seven such worlds (and three selectable difficulty levels), all with numerous stages and boss battles. Stage objectives are surprisingly varied in this installment, with goals such as killing all enemies, collecting hidden keys, rescuing NPC bombers, and more. You start each world with five lives and no power-ups, so you’ll have to collect power-ups from scratch and build enough strength to take on the tough boss battles at the end of the world. The entire story can be played in 2-player local co-op, with players sharing the same pool of lives. Friendly fire can’t be disabled, so you’ll have to be careful not to blow each other up in co-op.
Super Bomberman R plays like a traditional Bomberman game. Levels consist of grids of indestructible ‘hard’ blocks and varying arrangements of destructible ‘soft’ blocks. Each player can lay one or more bombs at a time, which explode in a cross-shaped pattern. You’ll use bombs to attack enemies (or other players in multiplayer battles) and destroy soft blocks in hopes of finding power-ups. Power-ups increase the number of bombs you can lay at once, the range of your fire, your movement speed, or allow you to kick, punch, or throw bombs. This installment doesn’t offer ridable mounts, sadly.
I really enjoy story mode, though it’s not without its problems. The default camera is angled terribly – thankfully you can switch it to the much better traditional ‘Front’ view in settings. The camera pans too slowly when moving around large stages, which can lead to unnecessary deaths. Most annoyingly for me, R lacks the standard pause menu option to retry a stage. If you mess up early in a world, you have to kill yourself repeatedly just to start over with all your lives.
Battle mode is the main reason people like Bomberman games so much, and Super Bomberman R supports both offline and online battles. There are two battle modes: Standard and Grand Prix. Standard supports up to eight players locally or 4 players online, and Grand Prix, which features various team-based alternate game types, supports up to six players locally or online.
Offline multiplayer is where Super Bomberman R shines the most, with Xbox and Steam supporting up to eight players on one system, PlayStation 4 supporting four, and Switch supporting LAN play with two people per system. The huge variety of selectable characters and stages help keep things fresh, and humans can even team up against bots in offline multiplayer. In today’s world, though, many players prefer to compete online. Super Bomberman R stumbles a bit there. First off, the netcode is bad and doesn’t make use of dedicated servers. You’ll get a nearly lag-free experience when playing against low-ping players and an unbearably laggy experience against high-ping players. Bomberman Live, Ultra, and even Act Zero performed better in high-ping situations than this game – and there’s no excuse for that.
Player count is an issue as well. Super Bomberman R allows two local players to compete online, which is a cool plus. But the big caveat is that only four consoles can play against each other in Standard battles. This effectively limits multiplayer to four players because few online players bring a local guest into their matches. Again, most online Bomberman games prior to R have supported eight player matches with eight consoles, so the four-console limitation is a step back. Admittedly, Grand Prix mode supports six players with six consoles, but Standard battles offer the more traditional, beloved Bomberman experience.
Finally, a number of matchmaking and user experience (UX) issues hamper online games. Ranked matches have no leaderboards, which makes them less than compelling. You can’t wait in ranked lobbies indefinitely until a player joins, either – the game gives up and kicks you to the menu after a couple of minutes. Thus ranked games are fairly dead, sadly. Unranked lobbies have their own problems, such as a stupid auto-start timer in public games that launches matches as soon as two people join a room, whether or not anyone is ready. So sitting in a room until three or four people join is impossible unless you make a private room and invite everyone. Many players organize games through the unofficial Super Bomberman R Discord server as a result. Once an unranked room is created, the battle stage can’t be changed without leaving the room. The host should be able to change the stage at will or set it to shuffle between matches.
Konami had a year after Super Bomberman R launched on Switch to fix its numerous online and UX issues, but most of those problems persist. The area where the developer really has shown proper support to R is with unlockable characters. A recent update added characters from Metal Gear Solid and Contra to the already impressive lineup of Castlevania, Gradius, Goemon, and other Konami-themed guest characters. Each platform even gets an exclusive guest character: Ratchet and Clank on PlayStation, Master Chief on Xbox, Bomberman Max on Switch, and P-Body from Portal on Steam. Characters can be unlocked with gold earned from story or multiplayer battles, and they’re playable in all modes as well. Most have special abilities for battle mode, but abilities can thankfully be turned off to create an even playing field.
Super Bomberman R is a fine (if flawed) return of the long-running Bomberman series. A sizable story mode with local co-op, tons of great playable characters, and addicting competitive multiplayer modes offer loads of entertainment value. The various netcode, matchmaking, and UX issues threaten the online mode’s staying potential. Let’s hope Konami fixes those issues, because playing Super Bomberman R against others under ideal conditions is a blast.
PlayStation 4 review copy provided by the publisher.
Super Bomberman R
- A full story mode with local co-op and lots of cinematics, bosses, and stage goals
- A huge roster of unlockable characters drawn from Bomberman, Konami, and Hudson games
- Battling against others is always a blast
- No restart option in the story mode pause menu
- Numerous matchmaking and UX issues hamper online multiplayer
- Poor netcode and low player count compared to Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 Bomberman games