Bomberman, Hudson’s bulbous, explosives-toting hero, has visited many gaming platforms in his illustrious quarter-century career, with generally good results. Unfortunately, Bomberman Touch: Legend of the Mystic Bomb is one of the franchise’s rare misses, due mostly to Hudson’s failure to emulate an adequate d-pad on the touchscreen. In fact, the more you like Bomberman, the angrier you are likely to get with this incarnation’s sloppy controls. The issue is serious enough to turn an otherwise strong game into a questionable purchase at $8.
In Bomberman Touch, a distinguished archeologist, Dr. Bobal, journeys into the jungle with his apprentice, Bomber John, to seek out and ransack the legendary Ka-Boom Temple. Bomberman has worn many hats over the years, but this is the first time he has been cast as a graduate student, and the characterization is spot-on; the hapless Bomber John gets stuck doing all the real work while his mentor “supervises.” Bobal harangues you between levels in a series of illustrated, cartoony panels, providing the game with a nice bit of story to break up the action. He’ll also appear to offer you multiple routes through the game, and each route offers an appreciably different experience.
Bomber John has his work cut out for him, because Ka-Boom Temple and its environs are filled to the brim with nasty creatures and debris begging to be blown to smithereens. Your job is to guide him around each maze-like level, dispatching the local fauna with your unlimited supply of bombs. Once you kill everything on the level, the gate to the next mission opens. Although you can only lay a single, weak bomb at a time to start, power-ups hidden around the level can augment your powers and turn you into a walking terror. The genius of the classic Bomberman gameplay comes to the fore when you start skating around the levels, laying scads of powerful bombs, kicking them into corners, and detonating them by remote-control. It’s fun to watch all those critters vaporize in fire-filled corridors.
The problem is that it’s next to impossible to build yourself up to that level and maintain it for any length of time. Like the other games in the series, Bomberman Touch is unforgiving. Unless you find a rare heart power-up, a single touch from a baddie or one of your own explosions and you’re dead. You reincarnate on the same level, but without any of your accrued power-ups–and past the first few levels, Bomber John’s wimpy default abilities simply don’t cut the mustard. The enemies go from slow and weak to quick and deadly in a hurry. For example, you’ll have to deal with enemies that can pass right through debris around the fifth level. Machines that spit out an unlimited number of new bad guys appear soon after that.
This would be too much for many casual players even if the controls worked flawlessly. They aren’t even close. Hudson’s solution to the iPhone’s buttonlessness is to register the position of player’s left thumb as the center of a virtual d-pad, while planting a bomb icon in the bottom right corner of the screen. The d-pad’s squirrelly recognition will cause nine out of every ten of your deaths; it seems to interpret anything between the two axes of the d-pad sporadically, leading to lots of abrupt turns into encroaching enemies and accidental entrapment between bombs and walls. Plus, if you should miss hitting the bomb button exactly with your right thumb, the d-pad may transfer control to that thumb, sending Bomber John in a completely random direction. Needless to say, it’s no fun to watch all your hard-earned power-ups go up in smoke because of a control glitch. The system isn’t completely unworkable, and you are sure to improve with practice, but you are unlikely to reach the very high level of reliability necessary to tackle the harder levels. It hardly seems worth it.
This is a shame. It’s clear that Hudson went the extra mile trying to make Bomberman Touch a great iPhone game–from the game’s super-catchy music, to the inter-level cartoons, to the multiple paths through the game–but without reliable controls, the effort is mostly wasted. Here’s hoping that iPhone developers find an more effective way to adapt classic gamepad-style controls to the iPhone sooner, rather than later.