I think I’ve been insulted. I don’t feel insulted, and I don’t think it was intended as an insult, but Bomberman: Act Zero may be the most offensive game I’ve ever played. From its complete overhaul of the Bomberman IP to the paltry three modes of play, this is perhaps the most flawed but still playable game I’ve had the displeasure of reviewing.
The gameplay is very similar to that of many other Bomberman games, you fight in a labyrinth filled obstacles as well as enemies that you must defeat in order to progress to the next level. Your only weapons are hazardous bombs that will leave an explosive horizontal and vertical trial in any direction not blocked off; you can also find upgrades for your bombs that will allow you to place down more bombs at a time, increase the length or strength of the explosive trial, as well as hasten your walking speed. However upgrades can be a double edged sword, as your own bombs could be the very thing that finishes you off.
Perhaps it’s just my memory failing me yet again, but I still think of the Bomberman series as a fast-paced, chaotic action game with a multiplayer mode that can’t be beat. Act Zero doesn’t change that—at least, not entirely—but it just feels…wrong. The quirky, upbeat Bombers are replaced with lifeless robots, and the varied settings of games past are exchanged for an underground prison complex. No matter how much light reflects off of gray and faded green, they’re still boring colors. Making matters even worse, the creation process for making a player character shows the robots in a semi-nude form (no genitalia, similar to a Barbie doll).
And I can deal with that; I’ve played through my fair share of bland/offensive games. I’ve learned quite a bit about design, color usage, and artistic trickery through playing poorly designed video games. It’s been a learning experience for me. This however, is bordering on torture.
For starters, there is no life/continue system. It’s “You are dead” followed by an unceremonious fade to the title screen every time a fatal mistake is made. This wouldn’t be a problem normally, but this isn’t exactly normal. Running through a maze laying bombs haphazardly will get you killed in Bomberman, and even careful planning can’t stop all of the random elements of a match. Power-ups and sudden death can often end a match suddenly, and it usually ended in my opponents’ favor.
As mentioned before, the selection of modes is pathetic. Excluding the online, which is almost certainly dead by now, that leaves the Single Battle-FPB (normal gameplay, except with a life-bar and a third person view) and Standard modes and Standard modes. Each mode can only be played alone, and both are nearly the same. Ninety-nine levels, one life, and no continues—because failure and repetition is just so much fun! Now, I would let this go if there were some way to skip the levels that have already been completed, but there isn’t. In fact, I can (somewhat ashamedly) say that I only played approximately 5% of the game.
It’s not that I didn’t feel like playing more (though I didn’t), but I simply couldn't keep a perfect streak of wins past the first five levels or so. The power-ups, such as increased agility or bomb capacity, carry over from the previous level, but this isn’t really a good thing. The COMs start out with enhanced abilities too, and once the bombs start going off, things get dangerous. My death almost always came from an explosion originating on the other side of the screen; because it just didn’t seem like a threat at the time. Then, once I realize the blast radius is much larger than I anticipated, I’ve already been vaporized by the flames.
The sinking feeling upon death in Act Zero is indescribable. In most games, death only provokes the player to get farther next time: to strive further than last time. However, Bomberman: Act Zero doesn’t have this effect. Instead what follows is a form of depression characterized by meditating on whether playing through a few more levels is really worth it when no reward is offered. Why keep playing when no end goal is present?
There are always the online leaderboards—which have some heinously large high scores—but the fact of the matter is that no one cares anymore. Properly integrated into a title, high scores can be a competitive way to keep friends playing games together, but this simply isn’t the case here. Much like Act Zero itself, the high scores merely exist: unloved, forgotten, and unwanted.