Bombastic is one of many of proclaimed “hidden gems” from the Playstation 2 library. Everyone knows and cowers before the PS2 library’s heaviest hitters, the games that defined the PS2 as a console and even the entire gaming generation – the Grand Theft Auto series, God of War, Devil May Cry, Shadow of the Colossus – but, more so than most consoles the PS2 was privy to a number of excellent but less prominent games. In previous posts on the PS2 front I’ve covered several games of varying obscurity well worth your time, including Alien Hominid, Gregory Horror Show, and Shadow of Memories/Destiny. On the sketchy side there’s been Gunbird: Special Edition, and Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy. Happily then Bombastic easily fits in with the first category and is an undeniably excellent hidden gem, mainly because it is incredibly addictive and haunting. I’ve heard of hardcore Tetris players who see falling L-shaped blocks when they close their eyes, and in my own experience now I can say that Bombastic can have the same effect. It crawls inside my brain and conjures 6-sided die when I’m trying to sleep and when I wake up.
Every review and article I’ve seen on Bombastic since I bought the game has said the same thing: it’s a damn hard game to describe, and its rules take some getting used to. So rather than produce my own pathetic attempt at a synopsis, video is probably the best way to showcase the game’s unique blend of dice rolling and Bomberman mechanics.
The most important and tricky thing to master is how to roll the dice. And as the video shows, rolling dice doesn’t mean relying on luck, but actually your little pixie character is simply rotating the dice. Lining up multiple dice with the same number on the top face then causes a Bomberman-esque explosion that can set off other adjacent dice, if the top-facing number on any of those dice is equal or one less than the initial exploding dice. Got it? Don’t worry, let’s break it down: this is a puzzle game that is not in any way based on Tetris.
The video above shows off two game modes, the “Quest” or story mode, which introduces players to the basics in a rather dull fashion, and the ultra-exciting 5-player party mode. Unfortunately I’m highly unlikely to ever get to try the 5-player mode in its full glory since I don’t have a multitap, but AI characters fill the gaps to make up 5 and as you can see it’s totally bonkers. Quest and party mode are the two utmost extremes of Bombastic, from the sedate and mildly tedious to the insane and completely unhinged. Thankfully there’s the inbetween, frantic but manageable 1-2 player middle road of “Trial”, which is a bit like endless or practice mode in Tetris-y puzzlers. There’s the endless mode, which technically isn’t endless since it does end. But it takes well over half an hour to beat and so it certainly feels endless even if it isn’t. Far better, more addictive and accessible is the 3-minute score attack, which gives you said time to rack up the biggest score possible.
The 3-minute mode can eat up your life, if you let it. It digs its claws in and doesn’t let go. I have played this mode repeatedly for hours on end into the wee hours of the night when I had no right or desire to do so. It takes an enormous amount of skill and strategy to master this mode, and even more skill and strategy to turn off the PS2 and walk away from it. What’s more, playing with two players adds some extra depth, altering the pace of play and the strategies required. It’s not essential though by any means and the game is just as fun and addictive alone as in multiplayer.
So what makes the game so powerful and addictive? It’s not just the hilarious announcer whose cry of “EXPLOSION!” crops up in every 3 minute round. It’s the combination of the combo system and wildly chaining explosions, which perfectly provide window dressing for the grand mechanical challenge that is dice manipulation. It feels incredibly satisfying when your efforts with the 20 or so die on screen generate enormous screen-filling explosions. A juicy explosion makes the DualShock rumble wildly as you frantically attempt to either create a chain reaction from the previous explosion or to set up entirely new ones.
The game offers several useful tutorials for mastering that all-important six-sided beast, with tips that seem simple at first but require a lot of time and effort to successfully combine and pull off. So for instance one really crucial bit of advice goes that any two opposing sides of dice will add up to 7. So if 2 is on the top face, 5 is on the bottom face. In practical terms, that means that moving a dice twice in any direction will change a 2 on top into a 5.
If all this sounds intimidating, or perhaps plain dull because of the counting aspect, you can always trial and error the game with some success, or come up with alternative techniques that don’t involve arithmetic. Fumbling through it all is part of the fun, and slowly you find your feet as you discover ways of controlling and navigating the chaotic scene on screen. Bombastic is undoubtedly the flight simulator of puzzle games, but unlike a flight simulator it doesn’t have that frustrating moment when you first start the game only to immediately crash the plane. There is no punishment for being crap here. The game is surprisingly welcoming and, dare I say it, accessible. That’s especially true in the sedate Quest mode, which if anything is too gentle, to start with at least.
I haven’t even mentioned the second half of this game, which recreates the rules and gameplay of Bombastic’s PS1 prequel, Devil Dice, or Xi as its called in Japan (there was also a Japan-only Devil Dice sequel, Xi Jumbo). This mode, as far as I know, completely nullifies any reason to own Devil Dice, so effectively there are two games in one here. Bombastic and the Devil Dice mode are similar and use an identical dice rolling mechanic, but Devil Dice does not have the Bomberman explosions, which changes how the game is played fairly considerably. I haven’t played around too much with the “Classic” Devil Dice mode – the lack of bombs makes me sleepy. Regardless, it’s a great value proposition, since it has its own entirely original Quest-type mode called Puzzle Mode, as well as a 1-2 player Time Trial and a 1-5 player party mode in same style as the main Bombastic mode.
If I have one small gripe, it’s that high scores aren’t saved automatically. Instead the game makes you quit out of whatever mode you’re playing where you are then prompted to save. Once or twice I’ve forgotten to do this, and high scores have been lost as a result of simply switching the game off at the end of a round. Whoops. (At the time: “F&*K U BAS***4£ SCUM BAG”.)
Bombastic was a charity shop find, and so I got away with paying a criminal £1 for one of the most addictive gaming experiences I’ve ever come across. I realise this game is not for everyone, as it is quite demanding in a way that games typically never are, but Bombastic has shown me, a lost sheep and a puzzler agnostic (I don’t doubt the existence of puzzlers, just their worth) the light and I’m now a full blown believer. And I’m evangelical: Tetris and its Army of Clones are cool and all but I have never been gripped like this. Never looking back. This is simply the path I’ve chosen to take, I have no regrets and don’t you dare cry for me.