With one of the marketable points of Nintendo’s WiiU system being it’s asymmetrical gaming that can include up to 5 players, it got me thinking about the first time console gaming allowed for up to 5 players at a time. It may come as a surprise to some of you younger ragamuffins but back in 1993, console gaming was very much a single or two player experience. It was you and a carefully selected friend (or in some infuriating cases, a family member) against the gaming world.
So when the lovely people at Hudson Soft were developing a console sequel in their Bomberman series (the original Bomberman first released on the ZX Spectrum in 1983 under the pseudonym ‘Eric and the Floaters’), it was a good thing they were thinking outside the box. Their vision for Super Bomberman was to have up to 4 people involved in the multiplayer at one time. So along with the game, came a piece of kit that they also developed, call the Super Multitap – that would plug into Port 2 of your SNES and allow for a further 4 players to play, assuming you had enough controllers and the game supported it.
This wonderful device not only seamlessly added an extra two or three people to the gaming scene, but also paved the way for local multiplayer console gaming as we used to know it. And the beauty of the bundle was not only that Super Bomberman was a game that could be played with up to 4 people, but that is was a game that you wanted to play with 4 people. The multiplayer of Super Bomberman for those not in the know consists of a large rectangular grid made up of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ blocks. The idea being that each player could use their bombs to blow up the ‘soft’ blocks to clear the way to the other players, with the idea of blowing them up, by catching them in a bomb blasts’ radius.
It sounds simple enough, and it was, but there was added depth, as blowing up ‘soft’ blocks could unearth power ups for the player to collect. Certain power ups could allow your Bomberman to plant more bombs, increase the blast radius of bombs, allow you to kick and punch bombs around the arena, and even speed up your Bomberman. There were also bad icons which could also be accidentally picked up which could have all sorts of negative effects. Various maps to play on also added different features such as teleport pads, conveyor belts which hampered or helped movement as well as pipes which hid Bombermen and their bombs from view.
What this all added up to was a fun multiplayer experience that just wouldn’t have been the same had it just been you against another friend. With 4 people playing simultaneously thanks to the Super Multitap, the game dynamic, tactics and enjoyment change dramatically. The game becomes frantic when your Bomberman is running around trying to dodge numerous enemy bombs, as well as your own. Games were also always over very quickly, with a set time limit, and it meant games never dragged. Iif your friends were out of one match, it wouldn’t be long before they were back in the thick of the action. It’s this fast-paced action and addictive gameplay that made it so popular.
The single player offering of Super Bomberman was also very good. In it you had to kill all the enemies in a stage by blowing them up, and then unearthing the exit which was hidden under a ‘soft’ block. Each group of stages would finish with a boss fight. The majority of these usually involved having to blow up a large creature in an arena over and over again, whilst dodging its attacks. They were tricky and rewarding on completion. There was also a password system in place to prevent the need for completing the solo campaign in one sitting, which was very useful. But for however enjoyable the single player mission was, it was the multiplayer fun that always had you coming back for more.
It’s no wonder then, that the Bomberman franchise has gone on since 1993 to spawn numerous sequels and spin-offs, but the best of those games still stay true to that formula that was first proposed in the early 90s, and made possible by the Super Multitap. Sure there have been tweaks and additions to the core play since then, but essentially, it is a very similar game mechanic 20 years on. If it has shown us one thing over the course of gaming, it’s that the most fun you can have with your friends round is by spending a fun-filled 3 minutes trying to blow them up.