A Love Letter to Bomberman 64
This wonderful game influenced my life in many ways
The Nintendo 64 blew me away when it launched in 1996. I’d always been a Nintendo guy, so I never jumped on the PlayStation train (although I did enjoy Medal of Honor). I still remember the dizzying sensation I felt when I played Super Mario 64. And although Mario is my favorite character of all time, there was another game for Nintendo 64 that had enormous heart — and that changed mine. That game is Bomberman 64.
I didn’t actually own a Nintendo 64 until college, but a neighbor of mine — Angelo — who was three years younger than me, owned the console along with Super Mario 64 and Bomberman 64. I was eleven years old at the time. Although Super Mario 64 was the main act (for obvious reasons), Bomberman 64 became a game we played for respite in between our Mushroom Kingdom adventures. Playing Bomberman 64 multiplayer was like being on drugs, frankly. You can die in seconds to the beat of a catchy soundtrack.
We continued to play Super Mario 64, but I became increasingly interested in this other strange experience — one that Angelo had warned was both boring and too difficult to play alone. Well, one day I started my own file in the game and I quickly found myself hooked for life.
Bomberman 64’s intro draws you in straight away. For the uninitiated, the story goes like this: The Masked Trio, a group of evil bombers, are seen conducting an operation near an unknown planet (which turns out to be “Bomber Planet”). This operation involves absorbing the planet’s energy using a heavy weapon: The Central Base.
Bomberman, our hero, has a beef with this trio and their supreme leader, Altair. I felt a sense of urgency to save Bomber Planet from these evil space pirates. The intro really drew me in, I wanted to know more!
Bomberman 64 has four main courses and a final stage. The stages themselves are like terrariums consisting of different, unique biomes. For example, one is an ancient garden city, the there’s an old Venice-style city, a volcano, and a frozen mountain. The levels are roughly themed based on the four elements of earth, water, fire, and ice. Right from the outset, the game presents a significant challenge. Each zone has four stages within: a “climb” stage, a mini-boss, an obstacle stage, and the main boss. You can actually start in any terrarium you like, although the game recommends beginning in the garden.
Bomberman himself has more abilities here than in previous entries in the series. He has a regular bomb, a remote controlled bomb, and a gas-fuelled bomb. Frustratingly, he can’t jump, although this is somewhat offset by the fact that he can fall from any height without taking damage. Bomberman can also die from a single hit, unless you’ve nabbed a heart along the way.
It took me about a week to really understand what Bomberman can do with all these abilities, and how I should interact with the levels.
As I said earlier, Bomberman 64 contains both mini-bosses and a “big boss” for each terrarium. The mini-bosses were pretty easy to defeat despite their numerous abilities (for instance, flight, throwing bombs, firing missiles, and so on). It took about two months for me to finally take down all the bosses, which were certainly tough for an eleven year old. The exception was Leviathan, a foe that I was repeatedly challenging (I made around two attempts each week, but I just couldn't hit him with my bomb). In retrospect, I’m not quite sure how I figured out how to take him down at the time. Maybe I had dreamed of the solution in my sleep. I remember Angelo and I screaming in his room once I finally took the great Leviathan down (if we’d been able to drink, I think we’d have done so!) Defeating Leviathan allowed us to access Central Base and finally see what was going on there. Prior to entering this area, I’d imagined several encounters with Altair at the base or maybe some kind of great cinematic moment…
However, it didn’t quite pan out that way. Central Base was another “regular” zone. Another terrarium with some typical stages. We were so frustrated. The climbing stage at Central Base was three times tougher than those in other terrariums. There was a lot going on here; you had to cross crowded highways and avoid space vehicles and buses. You also had to dodge automatic weapons and flying robots. You’ll ultimately be faced with the choice of two tunnels — each one has its own difficulties. And then finally, after you’ve completed the tunnel of your choice, you’ll reach the armory, followed by a battle against a gang of pirate minions.
As if we hadn’t been punished enough!
We were soon faced with our first major boss: Cerberus, the high tech harvester. This enemy had it all: regular missiles, pursuit missiles, machine guns, knives, and a pair of extra-crazy robot buddies who draw circles on the floor and raise a column of fire under your feet. Phew. Oh, and he’s a pretty quick fellow who can evade your bombs with ease and efficiency.
This guy wasn’t easy, but he wasn’t terribly challenging either. At this point in the game, I was highly acquainted with Bomberman’s abilities, so I knew how to deploy them. It took me another week to take this guy out, but through perseverance, I did it.
Then there’s Altair himself. The actual fight was easy, but the experience was all about presentation. His sidekick (which I had thought was a projector to visualize the planets) enters the room and disintegrates part of the flooring in an unexpected demonstration of his abilities. Altair dramatically enters the room, goading Bomberman into a fight. It’s an awesome moment after the huge trials I went through to get to this point.
There’s a sense of disappointment that comes from beating this boss, though. You’re escorted from the boss location by Sirius — the white robot who helped you through the entire adventure — away from Central Base to the cliff where you met him originally. From this vantage point, you witness Central Base leaving Bomber Planet.
“Well done Bomberman. Altair got away, but that can’t be helped. To be honest, I’m kinda disappointed in you. I’ll probably never see you again. Take care of yourself,” he says.
Didn’t you get the memo, Sirius? I’ve just saved the planet and it took me months!
Sirius’ words crushed me. I thought he was my friend all through the game — and now I’d disappointed him. It turns out he was right, too: I never did see him again. Bomberman suddenly represented both a huge accomplishment and a major failure all at the same time.
Many years passed since I had played Bomberman 64. I discovered much later that there is actually a way to get the “good” ending, that my earlier experience was not inevitable. You actually need to collect 100 golden cards and finish the game in less than three hours.
After defeating Altair with all your cards, Sirius dives into action, ultimately killing Altair with a powerful blast that evaporates him in seconds. But then, there’s a twist! Sirius actually laughs at Bomberman, saying he no longer requires his services. He thanks Bomberman for helping him steal the power he’s been looking for. A new and final terrarium opens and you see Sirius retreating there.
So a new and final terrarium opens and you see Sirius retreating there.
The final location in Bomberman 64 is the Rainbow Palace, a place of incredible difficulty even for a veteran player. The mini-boss here is Spellmaker, a magician who uses cards to determine how he will attack you. This is an incredibly cool boss fight, in part because there are a lot of cards involved, and numerous attacks (including a card that will kill Bomberman instantly). It took me a while to beat Spellmaker, but I definitely enjoyed the experience.
It was now time to face Sirius himself. That little bastard, he was the enemy all along!
Initially he’s quite easy. He transports you to alternative dimensions; you fight him for a while but there isn’t much challenge at first. Eventually, though, he assumes the same position he took just before unleashing a massive attack on Altair — seconds before he shoots you, though, Regulus (one of the masked trio) arrives. You team up with Regulus to fight Sirius, eventually defeating him.
After almost fifteen years, I finally made my peace with Bomberman 64, the game that had spellbound me as a child. There are some clear lessons I learned from this experience, including:
- Overcoming failure with determination
- How a huge disappointment might just give you the energy to take the next step forward
- Celebrate your victories, but don’t get too cocky
- You always need a friend like Angelo to push you further
- Enemies can become unexpected allies (and vice versa)
Bomberman 64 is a game that leads with heart. It emphasizes the importance of touching others’ hearts, too. This game had a significant influence on my life, and it’ll last forever in my memory.
Thank you for a great game, Hudson!