Gaming franchises need to evolve to stay relevant. Whether it’s expanding on certain mechanics or overhauling quality-of-life features, any great series that’s been around as long as Bomberman is forced to make changes or be left in the dust. Unfortunately for Super Bomberman R 2, the changes it makes to the formula are mostly unsuccessful. While games with your friends can be thrilling, online play is hit-or-miss, and its story mode is a huge letdown. I respect Konami for trying new things with Bomberman. In this case, it just turned out to be a misfire.
First, a disclaimer. I primarily reviewed the game on the Switch. When I booted it up, however, I was taken aback by the poor graphics. Textures are notably blurry, the lighting is flat, and shadows are pixelated. The first Super Bomberman R – a launch title for the Switch – looks much better in comparison. The difference between the Switch and PlayStation 5 versions is night and day. Performance-wise, the games feel the same, but if you want decent-looking visuals, especially in the story mode, I’d recommend any non-Switch version.
A screenshot of Super Bomberman R 2 on switch. Blocky mushrooms like those on the left are commonplace on the first planet.
The main story is the worst part of this game. It opens with a series of cutscenes introducing the protagonist, White. He lives with the other seven Bomberman siblings, each of which is written with the explicit purpose of annoying him. The writers have done such a great job at making them annoying that I found these cutscenes excruciating, and would have skipped as many as possible if not writing a review. It doesn’t help that lines are read slowly, with over-the-top performances that get old immediately. The gist of these cutscenes is that a mysterious Black Moon is attacking planets, and the Bomberman crew is off to stop them.
The gameplay of story mode attempts to fuse classic Bomberman gameplay with a pseudo-open-world design. As you explore three different planets, you find cute little creatures called Ellons that have the ability to power technology. Up to five can follow you, and you use them to unlock fast travel points, but they can also be killed by your bombs, so you must keep them close to avoid getting hurt. Meanwhile, your total Ellon count is used to open gates to new areas or enemy bases. The hunt for Ellons gets stale quickly for a simple reason; Bomberman’s toolset is not designed for exploration.
As you destroy blocks, you level up to gain experience and unlock new powers, but most of these powers don’t mesh with the design of this mode. While the abilities to punch bombs over walls and move faster are both useful, increasing your bomb’s explosion size often felt like an inconvenience, rather than an upgrade. Unfortunately, you get no say in which abilities you want to upgrade, because they’re automatically unlocked at certain levels.
In a party game, comically large explosions are fun, even when they result in self-destruction. If it makes you angry, you can jump right back into a new match seconds later. But in story mode, explosions kill any Ellons following you, and if you’re out of lives, you must retrace your steps through areas you’ve already played. Because of this dissonance between player ability and world design, the bulk of the story is frustrating at worst and boring at best.
The one part of the story mode that kind of works is also Super Bomberman R 2’s main innovation – Castle Mode. Players design a base to guard their treasure, setting up walls and hazards they normally encounter out in the world. By the late-game sequences, I was happy with my base, as I’m pretty sure I constructed an area the A.I. was literally unable to access. I’m not sure if that was the intended experience, but it was a glimpse of joy amidst an otherwise annoying game mode.
You can also raid enemy bases, but there’s an added level of difficulty there. Konami has translated the Bomberman siblings’ irritating nature into a gameplay mechanic, and while it might seem like they’re on your side during these raids, if they reach the treasure chest first, you lose. It’s an odd decision that I didn’t process for the first few raids, but I admire the consistency between the characters’ personalities and their in-game disruption. Still, this added obstacle frustrated me more than it engaged me.
Luckily, the game is more than just its story mode. Competitive battle modes make a return as well, and you can play both locally and online. The highlight is the Battle 64 mode, which originated in the now-defunct Super Bomberman R Online. Similar to games like Tetris 99 and F-Zero 99, it pits you against 63 other players in a series of interconnected stages. As a solo player playing online, this mode was the most consistent fun I had.
A Steam Screenshot of Battle 64 mode.
It also features standard mode, crystals mode, castle mode, and more, but if you want to play online, you’ll only be able to play whatever mode is available in the current window. For example, today I could only play Battle 64 mode from 8-11 AM, Standard from 1-2 PM, and Crystals from 2-3 PM. I also had some issues with encountering human players. In the Standard window, for instance, I matched with the same person three times in a row, and we were the only two people (out of the usual four) in the lobby. They were also way better than me, but I had no choice but to play them in a one-on-one battle. Despite that experience, online play can be enjoyable, but it gets repetitive being locked into a single mode for hours at a time. With a smaller player base, I understand why Konami needs to funnel them together for a better online experience, but that doesn’t make it fun in practice.
Super Bomberman R 2’s best parts are the ones carried over from older games in the series. Messing around with friends in local and online matches is still fun, and if that’s all you’re interested in, it’s a fine enough experience. Unfortunately, that’s a small portion of the game, making it hard to recommend.