Bomberman Tournament - Old is New Again!


Full disclosure, as I said in my last review, but this was meant to be the second half of my lazy Barbenheimer joke celebration, but of course, work gets in the way and I’m two weeks late. Either way, it is *really* hard to find games about actual bombs on the GBA, but I’m certainly glad that Bomberman came through for me! Whilst I’ve never been particularly fond of the traditional, battle-style Bomberman games, Bomberman Tournament bucks that trend by throwing together a bonafide action-adventure game, blending traditional Bomberman gameplay with a bizarre, yet at times enthralling, mix of classic 2D Zelda and their own personal take on Pokemon - and the most amazing part of it all, Bomberman Tournament sticks out as one of the very first GBA games *ever*, coming out little more than a month after the handheld launch, creating an experience that straddles the line between the past and future.

I haven’t the most involved history with Bomberman; whilst I’ve always had a visual affinity for the little, uh, bomber man, I’ve never been a particular fan of his titles. To my recollection, I played, or at least tried out, a few of his PS1 era adventures, but since those are more strictly a showcase of his competitive routes, I bounced off them hard. I assumed that Bomberman Tournament, at first glance, would be just more of the same - maze-like battle to the death with CPU, but to my surprise, this game is far, far more than these humble beginnings. With an emphasis on adventure and exploration, I was intrigued. And whilst parts of the game work for me - especially its more puzzle-y moments -it always feels like it’s lacking something to really push me through its world and systems. Hopefully my thoughts make such a mission statement make sense.

As an aside, I’ll mostly be talking about the Quest Mode of Bomberman Tournament; Battle Mode, being just a traditional take on the Bomberman formula, doesn’t really factor much into the experience for me, and everything it showcases is in Quest Mode anyway, so it feels a bit of a moot point.

Bomberman Tournament is a fairly structured game, at least in the adventure genre. Bomberman will traverse a number of overworld zones, each with a general theme (y’know, the classics - forests, oceans, snow, etc.). The ultimate goal of each zone is to locate and enter it’s dungeons, which are a cross between a more traditional Bomberman experience, with the maze-like, block-filled rooms where the horizontal blasts of our bomber’s, uh, bombs can spell doom for foes and himself alike. However, to reach, and complete, these dungeons, Bomberman will have to roam each of these zones, completing minor tasks and, more importantly, locating and earning the various ‘Karabons’ endemic to the world. What are Karabons, you ask? Well, to put it simply, they’re Bombermans equivalent of both Pokemon (complete with actual Pokemon battles) and items from the Legend of Zelda series. Y’see, each Karabon fulfills a role, in the sense they augment Bomberman’s bombs and abilities in various ways - one will allow him to enter the ocean, another will extend the reach of his bombs, and a whole set are required to open the boss doors of each dungeon. Bomberman himself never earns equipment of a more active use - chests will sometimes contain permanent upgrades that’ll raise his speed or lower incoming damage, but for all intents and purposes, the Karabons serve as the real progression of the game, beyond actually clearing dungeons themselves.

The dungeons themselves are a far more traditional take on the Bomberman formula. They’re laid out in the same mazelike, box-filled structures of the main series, though dotted with various puzzles and foes to halt your progress. Preparation is key here - not only will you be blasting a path forward, you’ll have to make sure not to get trapped by foes or in my case, the far more dangerous foe of blowing myself up. Most dungeons will also feature a handful of puzzles for you to solve - sometimes as simple as triggering switches to cover up spikes, or pushing blocks to unlock doors, but even at their most simplistic they serve as a great way to break up the normal, bomb-blasting gameplay traditional to Bomberman that I’m otherwise not the biggest fan of. Each dungeon also, in typically Zelda-fashion, in a boss fight with one of Bomberman’s foes, who merge with a Karabon to do battle. These aren’t particularly in-depth affairs, but they require you to think on your feet and do well to mix up the otherwise samey-combat.

The open-world additionally has a pretty decent variety of things to do, both as part of your quest to find Karabons, and of a more optional nature. In one case, I was presented with two sets of blocks - one a perfect square, the other carved away to form a certain panel. With my tasks being to copy the formation, this is far easier said than done, as I really had to plan my strategy out, carving a block at a time whilst avoiding blowing up blocks I needed for the shape. Beyond the dungeons, this was probably my favorite experience in the game; though I’m sad to say, much of the other content isn’t quite as engaging. Games of chance, an incredibly simplistic cannon shooting minigame, and a major part of the game’s side content - Karabon battling. I… did not like Karabon battling, to put it lightly.

You see, as you wander both the world and the dungeons, blowing up… pretty much anything, honestly, will drop a certain amount of power-ups that’ll raise one of three stats for whichever Karabon you have ‘set’ as your main one. These stats are factored into Karabon battling, which isn’t nearly as interesting or engaging as you might expect. It’s kind of a rock-paper-scissors based affair, but you pick the order you’ll pull out each option, based on your Attack, Defence, and Special Attack. There is an element of grinding that’ll serve you well, but all the grinding in the world isn’t worth it if the basic systems themselves didn’t just, well to be honest, *suck*. In my time with the game, Karabon fights were totally optional, really only serving as a means to earn gold (which I didn’t really find much of a use for, beyond occasionally buying heals), and I’m incredibly happy about this - the very concept of dealing with this unbalanced, annoying, luck-based mode would make me a lot less hot on this game then I already was.

The story might as well be non-existent, being present as more than a framing device then anything else. Bomberman is sent to the planet after his… ally? Co-worker? Anyway, after Max goes missing surveying the planet, Bomberman follows him, attempting to pick up his trail and pushing him into combat with the various villains that dot each zone. Bits and pieces of ‘lore’, as loosely as I use that word, exist in the forms of various NPCs who inhabit houses and towns flesh out the world, but like I said, much of this is just to give reasoning as to the adventure happening in the first place. If you’re playing Bomberman for the story, you are a far, far more dedicated person then I am.

It’s far more about the vibes, which are cleanly presented with genuine phenomenal art direction - especially considering this was one of the first GBA games - and its somewhat repetitive, but toe-tappingly earworm inducing soundtrack. Each area typically only has one, maybe two songs apiece, but they do well to set the metaphorical stage for each area, though I am pretty sure the dungeon theme is going to be stuck in my head for a while. Not to go on and on about my comparisons to the Game Boy Colour, but many of the songs make me think of the best that handheld had to offer, particularly Wario Land 3. That said, whilst the environments are pretty nice, a lot of the NPC sprites and Karabons don’t really bring anything exciting to the table, the latter of which brings a big ‘what if Pokemon were cool!!!!’ energy to the party.

Whilst the game is fun and all and a genuine vibe, there was something… I’m not sure, unengaging about the experience. I enjoyed the more structured sequences of the game, like the dungeons or certain puzzles, like one where you had to bomb a square of tiles to match a neighboring set, but a lot of the overworld, Karabon collecting elements just sort of didn’t do it for me. It *was* satisfying to obtain a Karabon here, or an item there, and having it pay off a bit further along the line, but most of the time I just felt myself getting impatient to tackle the next dungeon. This feeling wasn’t uniform across all the zones - I enjoyed the third zone, the snow area, a lot more then the first two - but it’s clear to me that the ‘open-yet-railroaded’ structure of the game, giving you only an illusion of an open world, just didn’t click with me. And that’s okay! It’s a game from more than two decades ago, and I’ll be the first to say that it wasn’t impressive how big this game was, relatively speaking. I also don’t know if it was just me, but did anyone else find this game sort of difficult? Not in the ‘ram my head against the wall, Dark Souls style’ kind of hard, but that sometimes it leaves very little wiggle room. Bomberman’s bombs, before he earns any extra health or damage-reduction equipment, will kill him in only two blasts, and before acquiring Karabon that let you throw or kick your bombs, it is *very* easy to lock yourself into a corner and blow yourself to kingdom come. Plus, certain enemies - like the bloody teleporting zombies - just eviscerated me, and potions do *not* come commonly!

One of the things that impresses me the most about Bomberman Tournament is just how old it was, and how soon after the launch of the Game Boy Advance it arrived. Nintendo handheld enthusiasts are probably aware of the kind of mini-genre-slash-vibe adventure games on the Game Boy Colour - think of games like Adventure of Mana, Link’s Awakening, or the Gen 2 Pokemon games. Games that were somehow incredibly deep and varied in their content and scope, but somehow crammed into compact, bite-sized worlds.Of all the early, first years games I’ve played from the GBA, Bomberman Tournament embodies both the spirit of those GBC action-adventures, whilst embracing the power and ambition of the GBA (of the time, at least).Above all, this design aesthetic gives Bomberman Tournament a sense of nostalgia and comfiness that goes beyond just the simple fact that it came out twenty-two years ago - for those who grew up with the GBC, as I did for a short period of time, it’s a reminder of what came before, without forsaking the future. As I said, I didn’t love the more open, adventure-ey aspects of this game, but the fact that it was able to carry that genuine adventure aesthetic so common on the GBC, but blown up way wider by the power of the GBA is nothing short of incredible.

Even though I got a little mixed towards the end, I did enjoy my time with Bomberman Tournament. It’s not perfect, but many of my issues lie with its Karabon elements, and general ‘false non-linearity’ present in the open world. For what it is, this is a bizarre - yet engaging - mix of genres and franchises, one I’d never expect from Bomberman of all series, and it stands as a testament to how many genuinely good games were being pumped out on the GBA, even from the very beginning. Bomberman Tournament stumbles from time to time, but at it’s heart likes a fun game that’ll satiate both old school fans and people just looking for a fun adventure. For the most part, if you give this game a shot, I don’t think you’ll come away disappointed.

Thank you so much for reading my review of Bomberman Tournament on The Game Boy Abyss! Sorry for the sporadic updates, hopefully I’ll be back to semi-regular publishing soon! Next week it’s the 45th review, and I’ll be tackling one of the lesser-known (but still highly regarded) RPGs on the console - Yggdra Union: We’ll Never Fight Alone! Until then, you can find me over at Twitter (I’m not calling it X) @Lemmy7003, or you can email me at, or if you have any requests or questions. Thanks again for reading, and I’ll see you in my next review.