Calling All Bombermen
Call it fate, destiny or whatever you’d like, but it’s only fitting that a company named Kabam would eventually get around to creating a game called Blast Zone! Unabashedly inspired by Bomberman and its many progeny, it’s fun to play solo but even more of a hoot to play with or against others. Admit it: you thought I was going to go for the easy one and say “blast” there, didn’t you?
Considering the gameplay involves running around mazes and planting bombs to blow up other players and AI-controlled characters, Kabam could have gone for something dark and dystopian here. Instead, Blast Zone! takes a cuter, more cheerful route by imagining its competitions as part of a popular TV show. As far as I can tell, no one actually dies despite the massive amounts of explosions that take place.
The single-player campaigns are organized as “seasons” of the show with each level representing one episode, though each one can be replayed three times with increasingly difficult goals. Season 1 has a jungle motif and also helps introduce the core mechanics one at a time.
As you might expect from invoking the much-loved Bomberman name, the bulk of the gameplay revolves around dropping bombs to either defeat enemies or open up new paths to get to a certain point on each board — and sometimes both. You can be taken by your own bomb blasts if you aren’t careful, and your enemies generally have their own explosive presents to leave behind, so there’s a constant dance of reflexes and strategy going on at all times.
Though this writer’s crusade against virtual joysticks continues, Blast Zone! adds less fuel to the fires of rage by offering four different control schemes: swipe, virtual stick, fixed d-pad and floating d-pad, the last of which can be set to different zones of the screen. A gamepad would be perfect for the kind of precision you’d like when things get really hectic, and happily there is support for those too.
While you start each board only able to drop a single bomb with a one-square range, power-ups within the level can increase your speed and the number and range of your bombs. Other nifty boosts include the ability to punch or kick bombs before they go off or even pick them up and throw them. It’s a pretty easy system to figure out, though the character progression — which gives you higher ceilings for all of your traits — isn’t as obvious.
Characters are also highly customizable thanks to clothing, hats, face paint and other goodies you can earn as rewards. Your outfit pieces can even be upgraded in their own right by finding enough power-ups during play. Nearly all appearance items can be purchased either by grinding for enough coins or using in-app purchases to buy the premium currency (simply called Bucks), reinforcing Kabam’s claim that there’s nothing here that smells like it’s pay-to-win.
There is an energy system that limits solo play, but it doesn’t prevent you from engaging in some multiplayer while you wait for it to refill. There are eight different modes, some of which you can’t unlock until you’ve leveled up quite a bit. Suffice it to say that even early ones like Team Deathmatch (exactly what it sounds like), Treasure Hunt (where you have to gather the most coins in a limited amount of time, and getting blown up scatters those coins around the board) and Bomb Blast (where the goal is to “paint” the most squares on the board with your explosions) are quite fun, and there are enough levels and maps to choose from to keep boredom at bay for a while.
Kabam is really pushing the game as a social experience, and while it does seem like one that would be best enjoyed with real life buddies, the fact that every solo season past the first requires you to add friends (or pay) to unlock hearkens back a bit to the bad old days of social gaming. Making in-game friends isn’t hard, but a word of caution: the multiplayer chat rooms don’t appear to be censored or monitored for language, so any virgin eyeballs could be in for a rude surprise or two.
There’s nothing wrong with an homage as long as it’s a good one, and Blast Zone! resembles that description in just about every important way. Play it once and I almost guarantee you’ll be doing more bloodless bombing than you originally planned.