Anyone who’s ever eaten a peanut butter and jelly sandwich will appreciate that odd combinations can produce unexpectedly good results.
Similarly, there are loads of games which at least on paper just shouldn’t work: Kingdom Hearts combined Disney and Final Fantasy, Shenmue mixed quick time action events with forklift driving and now Polish developer Bloober Team has fused Bomberman with Twisted Metal to produce a surprisingly fun horror themed bomb blasting party game. Brawl was originally released on the PS4 in spring of this year and has just been made available to PC gamers via Steam.
I enjoyed my fair share of Bomberman games but it never occurred to me that swapping the blocky, cheerful hero of that series for an evil clown or a wheelchair bound crash test dummy would be a good idea. However, I obviously missed a trick because Brawl lets you do exactly that. Other playable characters include a blind girl and her murderous teddy bear, an overweight female wrestler with a bag over her head and a deformed mannequin called the Puppet Mistress.
Each player has their own short story mode consisting of some amusing hand drawn cinematics explaining their evil streak and five to six different levels. Visually, Brawl’s cell shaded graphics look great although the game’s colour palette is very dark, and at times this can make it a struggle to see parts of the arena. The soundtrack is less inspiring and is pretty much instantly forgettable; it actually jars with the rest of the game a bit because it can sound oddly upbeat.
The single player game is atmospherically narrated by a Saw-like overseer who puts you through your paces in his workshop. There’s quite a bit of this narration as it’s used to guide players around the levels. Some of it can be funny, some of it doesn’t make much sense but on the whole it works reasonably well and adds to Brawl’s dark tone.
All of the classic Bomberman hallmarks are there and anyone familiar with the genre will feel at home here. The action unfolds in a maze filled with obstacles, your bombs have arrows indicating their blast direction and you can collect power-ups to increase the number of bombs you can drop together with their blast radius. Each level typically requires you to reach the exit and blocks your path there with various puzzles and a range of enemies. These puzzles tend to be very simplistic and unfortunately the enemy designs are quite dull, lacking the creativity present in the playable characters. They do their job however and you’ll need to think strategically to blast them successfully.
Brawl adds to the classic formula by giving each playable character unique special abilities. The clown for example can sneeze to send bombs hurtling in the direction of his enemies whilst the girl can throw a knife and teleport to its location. Making the most of these special powers is key to succeeding in the game, particularly because you’ll need to capitalise on every advantage to conquer the end level boss battles, which can feel frustratingly difficult. Successfully beating the campaigns will unlock more characters each with their own stories, and provides you with points which can be cashed in to buy access to concept art and character models.
Alongside the single player mode there is a local and online multi-player option. Playing with others is great fun, although I encountered very long and often unsuccessful waits to join online battles – which I presume is caused by an insufficient player base. The game also offers a challenge mode where you blast waves of enemies to rack up a high score or more interestingly, act as a shepherd protecting your digital flock of sheep from enemy attacks for as long as possible. Admittedly, this is a bit of a gimmick but it’s fun to play once or twice.
Brawl adds some creativity to an old-school gaming staple. The horror theme works surprisingly well and the Bomberman-style gameplay is still fun to play today. It’s a straightforward pick up and play title which is low in complexity and relatively high in entertainment value.