Saturn Bomberman Fight! (1997, Hudson Soft)

If Saturn Bomberman is Blood on the Tracks, then Saturn Bomberman Fight is Desire: swift, bold, adventurous, wholly unique, and the last great triumph before it all goes south. This game dramatically reinvents its classic formula for the polygon age by stripping down to the very core of what makes the series so great. It’s all about frenetic action, surprise kills, massive explosions, and screwing over your friends.

Gone are the sprawling single-player worlds; multiplayer is the sole focus in this game. The single-player mode is really just a practice space for the battle and survival modes, a way to learn a new host of moves and techniques. The arenas, likewise, are a collection of 3D stages with hills, valleys, and bridges, each offering different opportunities to gang up on one another. Graphics are an impressive mix of polygons for the stages and players, with bitmap sprites used for powerups, bombs, explosions and backgrounds. There are also some nice cartoon clips at the beginning and end, which is always welcome.

When you play, expect to hit the ground running. Your player-characters have the ability to pick up, throw or kick bombs right at the start. In addition, a double-jump becomes an essential tool for dodging explosions great and small. A number of mystery cards can be discovered during the match which can either boost or hurt your abilities. You might be able to stack three bombs in a stack, or you might lose the ability to jump, or your controls might be reversed.

One nice addition is the horse, who replaces the dinosaurs from previous episodes. He’s a lot closer to Yoshi, as he can eat bombs and runs off in a panic when hit. And just like Super Mario World, if you get hit, you can just hop back on top. To be honest, this little horse is probably too overpowered, which is probably why Hudson only allows one on the playing field. The idea is that everyone will fight tooth and nail to steal that animal and win the match. He who controls the horse will win the war.

The most notable additions to this game are the life meter (meaning you can take multiple hits before being knocked out), the special meter (that fills as you damage enemies…or maybe when you take damage) and the super-bombs, which are awarded when your special meter is filled. There are two sizes of super-bomb, ranging from “massive explosion” to “thermonuclear meltdown,” and it’s always a thrill to toss one into a crowded area and watch your friends try to scramble away in a panic.

Matches are incredibly fierce and fast-paced. Everything flashes by at breakneck speed, and there are moments when it feels like the entire playfield is on fire. Because it probably is. These stages are notably smaller than the battle stages in previous Bomberman games, which adds to the claustrophobic tension. Thankfully, there are far fewer breakable blocks this time around, and plenty of room to run and jump around. You won’t be wasting the first thirty seconds of the match just blasting an open passageway so you can move around, as always happened before. Bomberman Fight skips the courtship and gets straight to the action — WAM BAM Thank You Ma-am.

It’s easy to think of Saturn Bomberman Fight as “the last great Bomberman game.” It’s almost certainly the last time that Hudson took any risks with the franchise, which includes the two 3D entries on Nintendo 64 that were unfairly panned. When Bomberman arrived on the Sega Dreamcast, it was back to the boring old 2D square stages and putt-putt pacing, and it was steadily downhill ever since. Unfortunately, as Dylan fans all know, Desire was quickly followed by Street Legal, the Fundamentalist Trilogy and years of lost, drug-fueled hazy wanderings in the desert of mediocrity and banality. And we all remember what Bill Hicks said about banality and mediocrity.

I love Saturn Bomberman Fight. It’s smashing good fun, looks wonderful, especially on a picture tube television with the RF cables. Once again, American Sega Saturn fans got royally screwed. In my less sober moments, I’ll even rank Fight as my favorite Bomberman, even though I know in my bones that its immediate predecessor is the true masterpiece. If you search eBay, you can find a copy of for as little as $20, to as much as You’re Outta Yer Damned Minds.

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