Basement Crawl Review
Hey, I loved Bomberman. Everyone did. It was the quintessential party game; get four buddies in a room and throw down on a rainy day. It was endless fun and even now, that experience remains one of my most treasured game memories. As a fan of this particular style of gaming, one might assume I’d go a little easier on this horror-themed Bomberman of sorts. Yeah, well, I can’t be lenient when the game is barren, boring, frustrating, never feels nostalgic and fun, and is so devoid of options that even I can’t defend it.
This is a darker, creepier version of the classic puzzle/action series, but the atmosphere isn’t very effective. Some of the arenas are mildly interesting but the overall detail is mediocre and the animations and special effects are seriously lacking. I expected a slick, stylish version of a game I really loved; this is a ho-hum visual presentation that misses the mark on all counts. Thing is, I’m not even sure this environment works, because those who remember Bomberman recall its bright, attractive colors with a great fondness. Going the opposite direction is a turn-off.
The sound is no better. Again, it’s generic and even forced in some instances, and the soundtrack has little to no impact. An exploding trap should come across as satisfying but instead, it’s lost amid the myriad of yawn-inducing effects. I admit I haven’t been impressed with the audio balancing and stability in the new generation, but it’s not the technical aspects that fail an inspection in Basement Crawl. Rather, it’s the audio presentation on the whole that does nothing to complement or bolster the experience. I could’ve played with the sound off and it wouldn’t have mattered.
The game starts with a semi-promising premise: A grandmother cautions her granddaughter about the dangers that await outside the walls of their humble home. She doesn’t go into detail but clearly, those dangers are ominous and evil. The grandmother isn’t depicted as a benevolent character, either, so one immediately has questions. Therefore, you start the game with a certain expectation, sparked by dark intrigue. Then, probably less than an hour later, you’ve realized that the opening cut-scene was completely meaningless and superfluous.
Of course, I wasn’t expecting the story to be a highlight. It doesn’t bother me at all that the narrative is a waste of space. However, if you’re going to take a stab at a storyline, you have to at least attempt a follow-through. That always bugs me. What bugs me more, though, is when a game adopts an old-school mechanic – always great for nostalgic purposes – and then does nothing with it. Yes, Bomberman was great. But you can’t release it exactly the way it was in this day and age and expect a good reception. I mean, this is about as bare-bones as video games have ever been.
First and foremost, there’s no single-player option. You can’t even practice against AI opponents. This sh** drives me insane. Not everyone on earth is hooked up online and even if they were, they wouldn't always want to play against others. It’s true that Bomberman was designed for, and best enjoyed by, multiple players. But even in those days, you could still play against bots. Why in God’s name would you remove that option? There are zero settings with which to fiddle and even when you create a custom match online, there’s nothing you can do. Deathmatch or Team Deathmatch and no way to alter the goals, objectives, arena settings, etc.
The core of the game isn’t bad. It can’t be, as it utilizes a tried-and-true gameplay mechanic. You set “traps” (which, as far as I can tell, are bombs) on a grid, and just like in the days of yore, these traps explode in all four directions. You can nab power-ups to give yourself the advantage, and fans of the iconic series will recognize many of them. There’s the power-up that extends the reach of the blast, for example, and the one that kicks a trap clear. You can also use the environment to your advantage, either hiding traps or hiding yourself to steer clear from explosions. …but there’s nothing more to say.
I suppose one could argue that if you loved Bomberman, you should, by default, enjoy Basement Crawl. I mean, it really is very similar and in fact, the control isn’t too terrible and playing with others can be enjoyable. It would be a legitimate argument if we didn’t live in reality. Now, I always say I’d love to see turn-based RPGs return. I’d love a Final Fantasy VII remake. However, when I say this, I always figure it’s implied that I’m only talking about the mechanic; I’d still want the modern-day benefits. I want the same style of gameplay, but I also want the other improvements.
Nobody is saying that we haven’t improved since the olden days. That’s just silly. What we’re saying is that we miss a style of gameplay we simply don’t have today. That’s all. Basement Crawl brings it back, yes, but it doesn’t bother with any of the advancements we’ve made thus far, especially in the multiplayer realm. No way to alter the number of players in a match? Really? No way to pick and choose the types of traps you want to use for any given match? The arenas offer nothing but cosmetic alterations? Is there even a point to producing this game? Nostalgia for a mechanic only goes so far.
And speaking of those arenas, they’re really irritating. They’re so dark and restricting that you often lose sight of what’s happening. I often lost my character seconds after the game started, just because I strayed too far from the light. I can’t stand games that hamper visibility, due to a lack of distinction between the on-screen effects and the backdrop. Half the time, I had no idea what was even happening on the screen. What’s the deal with having only four possible characters, by the way? What’s that, an ill-advised homage to the four colors in the first Bomberman games? I’m not amused.
There’s no matchmaking to speak of, and progression is ridiculous. You have to win a match outright; placing second will get you nowhere. You do have an online rank but that’s about it. I can’t understand why you’d have a multiplayer-oriented game where the multiplayer element is barely developed. Then there’s the issue of the game’s awful instability: It’s glitchy, buggy, and just poorly put together. When you combine everything, you get a monumentally disappointing experience that really isn’t worth the price of admission. Plain ol’ nostalgia will only get you so far, Bloober Team.
The Good: Some simple fun to be had.
The Bad: Seriously lacking technical elements. Very few options and no customization. Multiplayer – for which this game was made – is a joke. Major visibility issues throughout. No single-player mode of any kind. A style and presentation that falls flat.
The Ugly: “When almost nothing works, there’s copious amounts of ‘ugly.’”
3/4/2014 Ben Dutka