Some of the best multiplayer gaming sessions I’ve had are when a friend of mine pulls out his Sega Saturn, six-controller multitap, and Saturn Bomberman.  With the ability for seven of us to play at the same time, gamers and non-gamers enjoyed trying to blow each other up in the mazes.  We even had names for the different cartoon characters.  Big Jaw.  Black Head.  Whitey.  Princess.  Baldie.  Cowboy.  Every one of us had a fun time with the game.  Bomberman had a simplicity about it that made it fun to play by gamers and non-gamers.

With the Xbox 360, HudsonSoft has taken a more futuristic approach to Bomberman Act: Zero (BA: Z).  They have also given the game a complete 3D overhaul.  Is this change something that will please Bomberman fanatics while introducing new players to the game, or will the game end up alienate both?

When you first start Bomberman Act: Zero, you have to create a character.  While this sounds great, you don’t get as many choices as you might want.  You get to select either a male or female frame.  Then you can select from 16 colors for your armor.  You can’t change the look of your character other than that.  Also, the character models do look a bit more jagged than you would expect for an Xbox 360 game.

Bomberman Act: Zero fully takes advantage of particle effects.  Bombs laid on the field glow with several circles forming the bomb.  When the bombs explode, huge flames burn in a cross pattern until they burn out.  The solid blocks on the field create lightning sparks if they are close to a bomb explosion.  If your character is too close to one of the flames, the character raises his hand to protect him from the flames.

Still, the graphics don’t change.  I didn’t even see the colors on the board change, or if they did it was very slight.  It’s all metallic hues of brown and grey.  (Insert your own Quake joke here.)  Previous versions of Bomberman always had a lot of color and variety in their stages, so the static boards in BA: Z are disappointing.

The menu music has a high pitched buzzing sound with some kind of Gregorian chanting in the background.  The ominous music sets up the dark overtones in the game nicely.  However, that changes once you actually get into the game.

A guitar drives the music while playing the game.  Some light percussion adds to the background to help give it some depth.  The biggest issue with the music is that the same music repeats over and over again.  If the musical interlude was longer that might help, but it’s only about eight seconds long.  That’s right, the same eight second loop repeats over and over and over again.  The melody does change every so often, so there is at least a little bit of change, but you still don’t get much variety in the music.

You do get a little jingle after you win and a very monotone voice tells you that you won the stage.  When you pick up a power-up, the same voice lets you know the type of power-up you picked up.  You do get a little sound effect as well.  However, you don’t hear different effects depending on the power-up you have picked up.  There aren’t enough different sounds to differentiate what is going on within the game.

Controls for Bomberman have always been simple, and BA: Z is no exception.  Movement is handled with the left analog stick or D-pad.  Setting a bomb is done with the Left Bumper, Right Bumper, and A.  B sets off remote-controlled bombs.  The right analog stick moves the camera in First-Person Bomber mode and the Left and Right Trigger zoom in and out in the First-Person Bomber mode.

The biggest issue with the controls is the fact that you have to control the camera with the right analog stick.  If you do that while moving, it can cause your Bomberman to run in a different direction than you want him to.  Also, the FPB mode doesn’t give you much movement to zoom in or out, so you have a really difficult time to get a good view of the area and where to go to find power-ups.

Bomberman is a simple game.  You lay bombs to destroy soft blocks and to try to destroy the other Bombermen on the field.  The bombs blow up in a cross pattern.  You run across power-ups to increase your abilities.  These include the ability to increase your bomb blast radius, increase the number of bombs you can place on the screen, increase or decrease your speed, blow up your bombs by remote control, allow your bombs to penetrate soft blocks, walk through bombs or soft blacks, and increase your life points or number of times you can get hit by a bomb before dying.

There are two modes, Single Battle FPB and Single Battle Standard.  FPB stands for First-Person Bomber, but it should really be Third-Person Bomber because you have an over-the-shoulder view of the field.  You never see through the eyes of your Bomberman.  This mode is also awkward because you can’t see very much of the field at once.  You also have a health bar that decreases when you get hit by the flames of a bomb.  It doesn’t feel like classic Bomberman at all.

The Standard Mode is the “Classic Bomberman” style.  You see the entire field and you can see exactly where your enemies are.  Also, one hit means you are out unless you have run over a heart power-up.  This feels more like Bomberman, but still it has issues.

Each of these two modes has 99 levels to play through.  Each one gets tougher with more challenging enemies.  As you gain power-ups, they transfer to the next stage with your Bomberman.  This means that if you have a five-square radius blast, it will continue to the next level.  Unfortunately, there aren’t ANY save points during the game.  That means if you get to level 98 and lose, you have to start at level one and start over again.  This is annoying, frustrating, and a bad gameplay mechanic.  It gets frustrating to have to play a level over and over again, not to mention having to start over no matter how far you have gotten before.

There is a World Battle mode, but it is basically the same as the other two modes, except instead of playing with the AI, you get to play over Xbox Live with other players.

Several omissions from BA: Z cause it to blow up in its face.  First of all, the boot and glove from previous Bomberman games are gone completely.  You have no way to kick bombs or pick them up and lay them down someplace else.  Secondly, there is no offline multiplayer.  That means you can’t get together with three friends , sit on the couch, and play on a single Xbox 360.  The lack of any kind of offline multiplayer really hurts the game since Bomberman was made for multiplayer sessions.

You are able to play over Xbox Live.  You can also try to get through all 99 levels, even if you have to start over every time you lose a game.  I guess if you are masochistic, you might be interested in beating all 99 levels.

No offline multiplayer, no variety in the levels, and no different game modes other than FPB and Standard really make BA: Z lack any variety to make you want to continue playing the game.

I was looking forward to Bomberman Act: Zero before it came out.  When I heard that other reviews had thought this game was bad, I didn’t believe it.  I wondered how Hudson could mess up Bomberman.  I found out that Bomberman Act: Zero is the exact recipe of how you can screw up Bomberman beyond any resemblance of what Bomberman is.  Giving this game a Coaster Award is being generous.  If you ever think about picking this game up, put it down and slap yourself for thinking such a thought.  Run far, far away from Bomberman Act: Zero.