It’s pretty easy to stand out in the Virtual Boy catalog. There were only fourteen games. Half weren’t very good, half felt like tech demos, and half were Virtual Boy Wario Ware. If a game didn’t fit into any of those three halves, it stuck out like a missing tooth.
Panic Bomber was one of those games. It’s a perfectly find match-3 puzzle game, with a heaping of Bomberman charm. It just didn’t benefit from being on the hardware in the slightest. The Virtual Boy had its advantages, but it’s hardly the ideal way to play a puzzle game.
Thankfully, it wasn’t exclusive to the crimson goggles. It originally came out on PC-Engine Super CD-ROM² in 1994 and was ported to a number of platforms. Unfortunately, the only other time it came out in North America was a port on Wii U. Thankfully again, I have an Analogue Duo now, and it plays Japanese games. The Super CD-ROM² version isn’t that expensive, so now I can play Bomberman: Panic Bomber without wrecking my neck.
I’ve never been terrific at puzzle games of the falling block variety. I’m not terrible, either. I can usually get through whatever story mode they present, but I’m not competitive. My sister, however, is a high-level Dr. Mario player. She and her college roommates got really into it for a time, and she built up skills that I would define as “mad.” I can wreck her at most games, but I’d need a few training montages to compete against her in Dr. Mario.
Most of my affection for the genre comes from my mother. Not hereditarily. I mean, she used to play them a lot. I’d come home from school, and she’d be on my Super Nintendo engaged in Yoshi’s Cookie or Kirby’s Avalanche. I didn’t have much interest in them myself, but my concept of cozy largely comes from my mom. It’s the same reason I often drink my tea with way too much milk.
Anyway, what I’m saying is that Bomberman: Panic Bomber gives off those same vibes. Puyo Puyo did a real number on the genre. This could practically be called “Bomberman’s Mean Bomb Machine,” except that would completely destroy the rhyme.
The point is that you face off against various cartoon monstrosities whose portrait sits in the middle of the screen. When you put three Bomberman heads of the same color in a row, they disappear. The big difference here is that more explosives are involved.
Every time you eliminate a row of heads, a bomb will pop up from the bottom of the screen. Eventually, a pink bomb will drop from the top, and you (sometimes) want to steer it so that it explodes (in the classic Bomberman plus shape) and creates a chain reaction with all the unlit bombs you built up.
I know what you’re thinking, but contrary to what we’ve been taught, the Bomberman heads here are mostly immune to explosions. Like Puyo Puyo, the strategy isn’t to keep your field clean. It’s to cause as much frustration to your opponent as possible. Detonating a bomb sends garbage to their field with the goal, expectedly, to fill up their side of the screen until it overflows. Garbage can only be removed using the bombs, so the game boils down to amassing as many explosives as you can, then detonating it at the right time to both prevent your field from overflowing and fill up your opponents’.
You also build up a gauge as you knock out combos, and when it’s full, a big bomb drops. This one will actually clear out Bomberman heads, so it’s especially useful when you’re about to drown and need some air. It also typically results in a lot of garbage getting flung to the other side of the screen.
This leads to some interesting back-and-forth action as you clear your screen, send garbage to your opponent, and then they detonate their bombs and send it right back. When this gets going, it can be rather exciting, like a good sumo match.
On the other hand, it seems like Panic Bomber has a single strategy, which is to stockpile bombs and detonate them at the least convenient time. You can still build up combos Puyo Puyo style, which will get you appropriate bonuses, but it all comes down to who can screw the other over the hardest. Just like the business world.
Path of destruction
This is going to sound weird, but the Virtual Boy version of Panic Bomber is better. Not that I really want to assemble a team to set up my Virtual Boy just to play it, but the VB version had more detailed graphics. To the credit of the Super CD-ROM² version, it supports five players.
I was kind of disappointed that it doesn’t really take advantage of the Super CD-ROM² beyond just for the soundtrack. There’s only an outro cutscene, but it’s not as elaborate as I’m used to from the platform. In fact, the story isn’t really set up within the game itself. You just watch Bomberman cut a path of destruction through the world map.
Bomberman: Panic Bomber is far from the best match-3 puzzle game in the world. It probably isn’t going to replace Puyo Puyo for anyone, but it’s decent fun for a while. It’s especially beneficial if you have one friend too many any need a five-player game to keep everyone happy. I don’t have that problem. Being too popular has never been an issue for me.