Happy 40th, Bomberman. Now Where the Hell Are You?

Games Features Bomberman
Happy 40th, Bomberman. Now Where the Hell Are You?

If you’re of a certain age, you’re aware that there are a lot of Bomberman games out there. If you’re on the younger side, though—say, too young to be aware of a time where Hudson Soft wasn’t owned by or completely absorbed into Konami—you’re likely lacking that awareness. Bomberman debuted 40 years ago this July, so of course there are loads of games starring the bomb-planting robot. How many of those are available for you to purchase right now, perhaps as part of a 40th anniversary celebration? Let’s just say not enough to keep this feature from being written.

“Where are all the Bomberman games?” is a reasonable question to ask. In the series’ 40 years, without even counting the three compilations or re-releases, there have been 80 Bomberman games released, with number 81 on the way this fall in the form of Super Bomberman R 2. How many of those 80 games are available for purchase on modern, current-gen platforms? Three of them. And that’s with taking the Xbox One and Playstation 4 into account, as well, since both basically mirror storefronts with their successor systems. The Nintendo Switch, Playstation 5, and Steam all have just Super Bomberman R available for purchase, while the Xbox Series X|S has that as well as Bomberman Live: Battlefest, an Xbox 360 title from 2010 that is notable for still being backwards-compatible to this day, as well as being the final console release of Bomberman produced by the series’ originators, Hudson Soft: they’d be fully subsumed into Konami two years later, with an untitled action-adventure Bomberman release for the Nintendo 3DS canceled in the process. Battlefest is actually a sequel to 2007’s Bomberman Live, and while that was also an Xbox 360 release, it’s not available in the present anywhere besides that system. 

The third is Amazing Bomberman, a rhythm-adventure spin-off title released in 2022 for Apple Arcade. There is technically a fourth, Bombergirl, another spin-off, this one featuring anime girl representations of Bomberman and Konami characters a la the Gradius spin-off Otomedius. It’s as of now a Japanese-exclusive arcade and PC game that can be accessed through Konami’s e-Amusement online portal if you have Windows 10 and don’t mind leaning on Google Translate, but the fact there’s any reason to discuss that as “available” just emphasizes the paucity of Bomberman options out there. 

If you have some older systems lying around the house, there are a few more Bomberman titles you can purchase. Fewer than there were just a few months ago, as the closure of the Wii U and 3DS eShops wiped out multiple Turbografx-16 and PC Engine Bomberman titles as well as the DSiWare-exclusive Bomberman game that used both screens to make much larger single-screen arenas, but still. Similarly, if you managed to snag a Turbografx-16 Mini before those stopped production and became expensive rarities themselves, Bomberman ‘93, Bomberman ‘94, and one of the many versions of Panic Bomber are all on there. If not? Start saving up, because the secondary market is costly and cruel.

Bomberman Live remains available on the Xbox 360’s storefront, while Bomberman ULTRA, the Playstation 3’s digital exclusive from the same era, remains up on that console’s store. Of course, Sony has made it so that you can only make purchases on the PS3 store if you already have money in your wallet, and you can’t add money to your wallet from either the system or the Sony store website: you have to add it directly from either a Playstation 4 or 5 console in order to buy something on the PS3. Which means that acquiring ULTRA or the smattering of Playstation Portable, Vita, and original Playstation games available on the PS3 as well—Bomberman Fantasy Race (PSX), Bomberman Land (PSP), Bomberman Legacy (PSP), Bomberman Party Edition (PSX), and Bomberman ‘94 (PC Engine by way of the PS3 and PSP re-release) is not only a pain, but there are intentional hurdles setup to keep non-sickos from ever bothering to get them. This still beats Nintendo keeping you from re-releases of various Bomberman games on their aforementioned last-gen systems, as well as locking you out from the WiiWare-exclusive cousin to ULTRA and Live, Bomberman Blast, when that digital storefront shuttered for good back in 2019. 

Earlier in July, the Video Game History Foundation released a study detailing that 87 percent of “classic” videogames were no longer available commercially; they were “critically endangered,” being left behind in the past or lost altogether. That’s an unacceptable number, and further proof that commercialization alone cannot be relied upon to preserve the vast, ever-growing history of the medium. Three out of 80, by the way, means that over 96 percent of all Bomberman games aren’t available on modern platforms. Even if you want to bump that up to four (95 percent) or give credit for the ones that are available even if they’re a major pain in the ass to get to, you’re still talking about 86 percent. Which means Bomberman is right in line with a larger problem even though none of these games are lost media, none of them were released unknown into the world only to be discovered later, and all the rights to it are held by one company with the assets to ensure. This is also unacceptable!

And even if you’re the kind of person who sees a videogame as a fleeting piece of media that isn’t in need of being protected because there’s always a successor for the series that merit one—how many arena-based multiplayer Bomberman games does one person need available to them at any moment, you wonder—that shouldn’t excuse Bomberman’s situation. This is a franchise that once reveled in genre-hopping: Bomberman was very much Hudson Soft’s Mario, but also their Link and their Pokémon trainer and even their Fox McCloud. As the flagship franchise for Hudson, Bomberman would star in the arena multiplayer games the series was most famous for, sure, but also platformers 2D, 3D, and in between, action-adventure games, action RPGs, kart racers, a dungeon crawler, sports games, a shoot ‘em up, a strategy RPG, a falling block puzzle game, arcade games, fighting games, games based on anime, crossover videogames… Bomberman games were whatever Hudson needed them to be. We’re not talking about 80 versions of the same game here (which it would be fine if we were, since something is clearly working if you could pull that off), and Bomberman might not have the cultural cache of a Mario, but it shouldn’t just be the juggernauts that we care about. Nintendo might not display the full weight of their history at any one time, but even they ensure that Mario’s adventures, in multiple genres, on the NES, SNES, and N64 remain readily available in some shape on their present-day platform, and they’re working on doing the same for the Game Boy family of systems as well. If, given this, Mario’s release history still has glaring present-day holes in it, what does that say about Bomberman’s?

Before you answer, just know that the servers for Super Bomberman R Online—the free-to-play online spin-off of Super Bomberman R—were shut off in December of 2022, a little over a year and a half after they opened. Konami is barely supporting their own Bomberman games, never mind the ones they purchased the rights to.

There are no Bomberman games in Hamster’s Arcade Archives lineup. There are no Bomberman games on any of the Nintendo Switch Online subscription channels. Super Bomberman R Online is already offline, while the iOS and Android mobile releases from the past decade-plus, Amazing Bomberman excepted, are not available for purchase any longer. Konami isn’t leveraging Steam to release any of the old Bomberman computer games, nor for ports of console ones. Well before the Wii U eShop closed its doors, Konami had already delisted multiple Bomberman games from the store, like the underrated Bomberman Hero as well as one of the priciest cartridges from the N64 out there, Bomberman 64: The Second Attack!, which released late (2000 in North America) in the console’s lifecycle and didn’t sell well, the ultimate 1-2 punch for future secondary market price inflation. 

The secondary market is the only legal way to get your hands on the vast, vast majority of Bomberman games these days, and it’ll cost you. Want a copy of Bomberman Quest for the Game Boy Color? Hope you don’t mind spending over $100, unless you can read Japanese and want to import a cartridge from that region. A Bomberman II cartridge to play in your NES? Likely $170 minimum unless you find it in someone’s garage sale somewhere, or just so happen to be near a retro games store that’ll cut you a deal for whatever reason. A working, authentic copy of The Second Attack! is listed for upwards of $300 on Ebay as of this writing, and I’m not talking about a complete-in-box scenario there. Even leaving aside the number of Bomberman games Konami could finally have translated into English and released worldwide in the present—like is happening with other long-running series such as Technōs Japan’s River City franchise—this is basically just abandonment of Bomberman, its long-running history, the people who enjoy it, and the people who could enjoy it.

It’s not very much of a birthday celebration, but there’s still time to change that. Whether Konami will is, as always with them, difficult to predict. They could never release another classic Bomberman title again, or they could release a unique $20 collection for every genre Bomberman has ever deployed tomorrow and then never mention them again outside of discount announcements, and both would be just as surprising. In the meantime, just know there is more to Bomberman than just what’s available, more to the franchise than (its excellent) arena multiplayer, and it’s all worth exploring and discovering on your own if its current rights holders won’t help you out with that adventure like they should.

Marc Normandin covers retro videogames at Retro XP, which you can read for free but support through his Patreon, and can be found on Twitter at @Marc_Normandin.

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