Okay, so here’s the back story: Early last year, Bloober Team released a game called Basement Crawl for PlayStation 4. It was supposed to be a spiritual successor to the iconic Bomberman franchise, featuring the classic top-down multiplayer veteran gamers remember with such fondness. Unfortunately, the game was just plain bad. Horrid technical problems, no single-player entertainment, almost nothing in the way of customization, and even the multiplayer was severely lacking. But the developers took their licks and promised to right the wrong. That result is BRAWL, which is probably the game Basement Crawl should’ve been.
And perhaps the most appealing aspect? This new effort is free for anyone who purchased the team’s critically panned first title.
It’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination but at least it’s moderately enjoyable. I also don’t believe it’s right to spend an entire review comparing BRAWL to Basement Crawl; as far as I’m concerned, all new productions have to stand on their own. That being said, I will say the graphics are better in comparison to the previous title, even if they’re not impressive. There’s more detail and variety this time around, and the special effects appear to be sharper. It’s still exceedingly dark (it’s like Bomberman fused with Alice) so that may turn off some gamers, while still attracting others. The visuals aren’t a major highlight but it’s forgivable.
The sound is also improved; whereas before we had mediocre, generic sound throughout, we now have more technically accomplished audio. There’s also more impact and diversity, which is great. I still say more needs to be done with the effects but for the most part, the technical aspects of BRAWL receive a passing grade. Again, they won’t blow you out of your seats but there is a marked improvement in overall quality and in short, one doesn’t feel as if he’s playing a broken game. There may be nothing to write home about; no stylish, eyebrow-raising graphics or audio effects that will prove memorable. But it’s still a step in the right direction.
Anyway, I said I wouldn’t spend the whole time comparing and contrasting, so let’s move on to BRAWL’s gameplay. Played from the classic isometric perspective and featuring a wide variety of characters, the game will immediately remind gamers of Bomberman. There are some interesting twists on the standard formula, too, such as the Story Mode. It’s basically just a tutorial so you can master each character’s unique skills but at least it exists. It’s also a very effective means of generating interest in the available characters, as it encourages experimentation. Me, I like the Puppet Mistress and her ability to slow – and even stop – opponents. In a game where movement is critical, this almost feels like cheating (but it’s not).
The pacing is decent as well, as you gain access to abilities one at a time, and the AI is easy at the start. In other words, you have time to get your feet wet and learn the ropes of the ceaseless, imaginative combat. I think the AI gets too hard too fast, though, and I really despise the seemingly brilliant AI maneuvers that make your foes almost invulnerable. They have a way of staying in exactly the right place to avoid all danger and that’s just plain irritating. However, let’s not forget that this game – and the Bomberman series in general – has always been about multiplayer entertainment, so we shouldn’t harp too much on the lacking elements in the Story Mode/Tutorial. It’s just an average introduction, that’s all.
And this time, Bloober Team gets it right. Well, almost. At least the Local Multiplayer is pretty damn fun and works as it should, with buddies coming together in the living room and guffawing at the latest grisly death. There are different modes to try as well; this includes Sumo Mode where boxing gloves actually explode from bombs, and a Color Domination Mode (totally weird but surprisingly cool). If you can gather a few friends together – ideally, friends who always loved Bomberman – I can almost guarantee you’ll have some fun. And hey, local multiplayer is a staple of the video game world and should never die; this game proves that such a feature is widely beloved because it’s actually social.
As for the online multiplayer, it works almost as well, but it can be difficult to find people to play with. I think it’s unfortunate because if there were more people around, you might really have a blast. Again, though, if we’re sticking to the primary appeal of Bomberman, the very core of the series that entranced us all way back when, we’re talking about local multiplayer. It’s just too bad that the AI gets completely nuts after a while and there’s no way to change the difficulty level. Basically, what I’m saying is that if you don’t have anyone interested in playing with you, this game could prove to be immensely frustrating (and consequently, quite boring). It doesn’t help that the frame rate can’t seem to remain consistent.
So yeah, there are problems. It certainly doesn’t feel like a PlayStation 4 game, given the shortcomings, and I’m not sure how I’m supposed to beat the AI at certain modes. The tutorial sort of helps but it’s not enough. I also think we could’ve used more characters and more levels, which would increase the game’s longevity. Aside from these faults, it remains fun and entertaining for those with enough patience…and for those with enough willing buddies. There’s a strange dark charm you actually start to crave the more you play, and I can’t figure out if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Should I really be laughing at that? Well, possibly.
BRAWL is a decent game that hearkens back to the glory days of Bomberman. It’s what Basement Crawl tried to be. The single-player difficulty is just too crazy, there still isn’t quite enough content, and the technicals are sorta ho-hum. And it’s too bad that not enough people are playing online. But it has a solid core; there’s a definite entertainment value and playing with others is a total blast. The distinctly different characters prompt experimentation and their unique ability sets add flavor and creativity to the experience. The frame rate isn’t great all the time but it’s mostly functional and the comically dark atmosphere seems to be more attractive. Perhaps it just feels less drab and dreary. At any rate, it’s worth trying if you’ve always loved Bomberman.
The Good: Atmosphere is strangely, darkly amusing. Good, responsive control. Unique and different characters add a lot of great variety. Local multiplayer is where it’s at, and the game delivers. Story Mode acts as an okay introduction.
The Bad: Nothing impressive about the technical presentation. Frame rate stutters too much. AI can be extremely unforgiving (and even unfair). Not really enough content.
The Ugly: “I don’t like my AI stupid but this is ridiculous.”
5/19/2015 Ben Dutka