April 7, 2013

Bomberman II

Bomberman II (not to be confused with Super Bomberman 2, Bomberman Max 2, Bomberman Land 2, Bomberman Land Touch! 2, or Bomberman Touch 2) was a game for the NES developed and published by the late Hudson Soft (may it rest in peace) back in 1991. We didn't get it in the U.S. until two years later. But both Japan and Europe's box art is superior to our own (which really isn't anything new).

Way too much skin showing for the U.S., apparently.

Bomberman has been a gaming icon for decades, and one of Hudson's greatest assets. He is spread over 50 main games and generations of consoles. It's funny to note that on this box it has the "Celebrating 20 Years" seal on it. Even though Hudson was mostly involved in computer hardware back before video game console days, it's impressive that they made it through all the mishaps and pitfalls that hit so many other companies in the industry through the 70's, 80's, 90's, and 00's. In early 2012, they fully merged with Konami (although many key players left to join others, namely Nintendo).

This game holds distinction for me as being one of the earliest video games I ever played. My uncle had an NES with a few games, most deemed "inappropriate for my age" (but man oh man, did that Super C cover art look insanely awesome). My choices were narrowed down to Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 2, and Bomberman II. I played them all, but Bomberman was special because two people could play at the same time! And you were trying to blow each other up! With bombs! Holy crap!


We would play Vs. Mode (pictured above) a lot. As time went on, my hand/eye coordination and pre-planning skills got better, and I noticed there was a direct correlation in how much I won and how much he was willing to play. Eventually he didn't feel like playing (aka losing) anymore, so I was left to explore the single-player mode.

The first Bomberman got the gameplay mechanics down, and was fun in its own right. But there wasn't a ton to it, it was very simplistic. Part of the popularity of the character/game has to be attributed to the initial spread it received across a myriad of platforms. Bomberman was originally released on the MSX, NEC PC-8801, NEC PC-6001, SHARP MZ-700, FM-7, and the ZX Spectrum. It was later ported to the Famicom/NES and Game Boy. The Famicom port was in turn re-ported back to the MSX with updated visuals. That's a lot of Bomberman right off the bat, and it was hard to not be aware of its existence. It had the standard powerups (e.g. Bomb, Flame, Wall Pass, etc.), but all stages looked like the picture above (everything green and gray). This Hudson practice of milking a series for everything it's worth is present in other games as well, most notably the Mario Party series.

"We will use these symbols forever."

Bomberman II had a storyline presented in-game. Right at the start, Black Bomberman (Kurobon in Japan) robs a bank and drops the money in front of White Bomberman (Shirobon) and runs away. The police show up and arrest Shirobon. Then his quest begins, to escape and prove that he is innocent by catching Kurobon.

The first Bomberman also had a story, but it was only present in the U.S. manual and hasn't been addressed since. It involved Shirobon being a robot slave making bombs underground for evil forces. Hearing rumors that robots that make it to the surface become human, he decides to risk the journey. It was really a poor attempt to link the game to Lode Runner, another Hudson-developed game for the NES. This is made even more apparent by the ending screen.


Realizing the narrative was probably plagiarized from a Philip K. Dick story somewhere, they decided to abandon the robot/human spiel and have Shirobon be the first robot created by Dr. Mitsumori to protect the innocent and defend justice. In later games, he joins an intergalactic police force and defends the whole galaxy or something. But for now, he just gets framed for robbing a bank. So he gets carted off to Jail:

But he escapes to the Forest:

After which he climbs over the Mountains:

And traverses through the Swamp:

Then clambers through the Caves:

And finally digs his way up to...the Jail again.

The change of scenery and music helps a lot considering the simple fact that you're just bombing your way through stage after stage. But then again, that's really what most of the series is, and people like it, so no complaints.

The goal of each stage is to eliminate all enemies and reveal the exit door. Lather, rinse, repeat. You have a bunch of powerups. Some that increase your explosion range, some that allow you set down more bombs at a time, some that allow you to set when your bombs explode, etc. Also, if you can find it, there's an item that unlocks a Bonus Stage, in which you are invincible and there are endless respawning enemies.

If only real balloons died with such shocked expressions.

The music was composed by Jun Chikuma, who has done most all of the classic Bomberman games' music, including the SNES-era (which are my favorites). The music in Bomberman II is a huge step up from the first installment. It really utilizes the power of the NES' sound capabilities, and I find myself grooving along more often than not. It's a pretty slick soundtrack overall. The first game had the now-iconic theme during gameplay, but it really just looped over and over and over and over again. Never changing, always present.

The password system isn't too terribly taxing. It's just eight characters and takes about ten seconds to input. There is also a Sound Test that can be accessed, as well as the Bonus Round if you want it. The password system is unique in that it doesn't just send you to whatever level, but the amount of bombs you can set and the explosive range are also encoded. So your password for Area 4-6 will most likely be different from a friend's. It's cool that way, because it sucks to make it so far in a game, but then have to lose everything except your location at a later period. Hudson was aware of this, which is why "INPUT PASSWORD!" is exclamatory.

The hidden items in Bomberman are not present in Bomberman II, which is kind of a shame, but all the other improvements make up for it. Many people don't even know that there are hidden items anyway, because you have to know to do very specific things ahead of time in order to get them. Most of them require performing odd actions, like eliminating all enemies, then walking a full lap around the stage. Or setting off a chain of 248 explosions in a row. So it's not a huge loss that they're not in this game.

Bomberman II also has Battle Mode, in which three players can duke it out for domination. A multi-tap (Four Score, etc.) was needed, but it was still pretty cool to have three people playing at once. Only around twenty games supported the peripheral, so it depended on how vital three-player mayhem was to you. Super Bomberman for the SNES was initially bundled along with a Super MultiTap, which was a great move, because Super Bomberman is one of the best titles in the series, and playing with four people is just awesome. I highly recommend it. Plus about 100 other games support it on the SNES, making it a more sensible buy.

The enemies come in four varieties, conveniently color-coded. For the most part, pink enemies can't go through walls, blue ones can, and green ones have special abilities (like blowing up walls themselves).

At the end of the whole thing, Shirobon corners Kurobon, who tries to run away. The intense chase goes on for a while until Shiro finally triumphs.

Overall, a worthy playthrough. The different scenery breaks up whatever monotony shows up, and any Bomberman game has a slightly addictive nature of, "Well, I'll just do one more stage." As long as you don't make stupid mistakes, it's not that challenging. The hardest part of most stages is right at the beginning, where you might be boxed in and three enemies that can walk through walls are gearing right for you. As long as you can keep your powerups, you're golden. Future installments are definitely better, but this one is special to me. I'd say try out Super Bomberman if you want to know how a really good one feels. In the long run, the NES Bomberman games are just a tiny blip on the series' radar, and served mostly to establish the character and concept (which they did quite well). It's also funny how fat all the characters were compared to today.
"I could have outrun that police car if I had felt like it."

Adventures of Lolo

Adventures of Lolo was a puzzle game released in 1989 for the NES. Japan didn't get this one. They received the second and third iterations, but since our countries didn't really bother to use correct numbering based on regional releases at the time (a la Final Fantasy):

                                       U.S.                                                      Japan

                           Adventures of Lolo 2                             Adventures of Lolo
                           Adventures of Lolo 3                             Adventures of Lolo 2

It's especially ridiculous in this case since all three installments share practically everything except level layout. Most of this game's puzzles were taken from the Eggerland series. It's a common occurrence for HAL to recycle things in their games (see: the entire Kirby series). Normally, I'd be opposed to such a practice, but for HAL, they use it intelligently and it works, so it doesn't bother me.

As stated above, the history of the series can be traced back to the Eggerland games, which were released exclusively in Japan for the MSX, MSX2, Famicom, and Famicom Disk System. Japan never received our Adventures of Lolo because it was a mishmash of past Eggerland puzzles. The differences between the series is that Eggerlands had more rooms (up to 162, including hidden ones), level creation tools, timed rooms, bonus rooms, multiple path choices, maps, Gods who grant you special abilites, the ability to remove certain obstacles (such as trees), and other things. Also, the FDS Eggerland got this packaging:

We never get anything cool.

The numbering system for the Eggerland series in Japan is also nonsensical. For instance, Eggerland 2 for the MSX2 was re-released as Eggerland on the FDS, which is different from the previously-titled Eggerland on the MSX. Eventually they just started using the format Eggerland - (insert subtitle here), but by then it was too late. Plus they messed up all the numbers once the series reached the U.S. (as shown above), so whatever. Anyway, back to this super-lame Lolo game (when you compare it to Japan's Eggerlands).

Adventures of Lolo's setup is simple. Lolo is with Lala. She is taken by King Egger. Lolo has to go to King Egger's castle and rescue Lala.

Dramatic storytelling at its finest.

Lolo walks to the castle, but lo and behold, all 50 rooms are constructed as puzzles, each needing to be solved to reach the apex and fight King Egger (referred to as the Great Devil in the U.S. version).

Lolo can move in four directions and has an action button. The goal of each room is to pick up all Heart Framers, which then opens the Chest containing a Jewel, which unlocks the Door to the next room (or staircase to the next floor). This is easier said than done, since enemies are trying to stop Lolo, each with their own method of attacking or getting in his way. I should point out though, that the greatest enemy is the player, as most stages can only be completed in one way, requiring that things be done in an exact order. One screwup means you have to restart that room. This is the reason why one button on your controller does nothing except kill Lolo, so that he may try again.

Or maybe you're just stuck and taking out your frustration on Lolo.

The enemies are as follows:


This creatively named character just sits there and can't hurt Lolo, which doesn't sound too bad. More often than not, however, they're not there to be a threat, but rather a pawn in your strategic quest. Snakeys can be put into Eggs, which can then be moved or ridden upon (when needing to cross water, for instance). Players must move quickly though, as Eggs will hatch after a short period of time and the Snakey will not be able to be moved again (unless put in another Egg). Do you want the Snakey to block another enemy? Do you want to use it to cross water? Do you want to use it for both? Better move fast. For being the most basic enemy, Snakey is definitely the one you have to think about the most more often than not.


Leepers move quickly around the room, usually hugging the walls. They can't hurt Lolo, but as soon as they make contact, they fall asleep and cannot be moved or put inside an Egg. There is a reason that nothing in the room will move until you start to move Lolo. You have as long as you want to take in everything and try to formulate what you want to do before everything starts moving. Leepers often run into you at the most inopportune times, such as Lolo trying to exit a narrow passage. Whoops! Well, you're stuck. *Suicide*, try again.


Skulls don't do anything until Lolo picks up the last Heart Framer, at which point they wake up and travel quickly in seemingly random paths to try and stop Lolo from reaching the Chest. It is usually necessary to block in Skulls before picking up all Heart Framer for this very reason.


Medusas are one of the most annoying enemies in the game. Walking in their path of sight on any side causes them to shoot and kill Lolo. You can't outrun it either. Once Lolo walks into their sight, he is frozen in place and will get hit. Medusas prevent Lolo from getting otherwise easily obtainable Heart Framer, as well as pushing things from certain sides. Extreme care must also be taken to also leave yourself a path to the Chest/Door. Medusas suck.


Gols are asleep until Lolo picks up the last Heart Framer. Once the Chest is open, they wake up, and walking in front of one causes them to shoot a fireball. This enemy is different from Medusas in that they can only shoot in the direction they're facing, and Lolo will not be frozen in place.


Rockys walk slowly around the room, but if Lolo moves into its path, Rocky will charge and attempt to block Lolo in. If unsuccessful, Rocky will then start moving and try again if able. He is kind of wild card, and can be used to your advantage if the player is skilled enough.


Alma moves fast and will kill Lolo upon making contact. Usually Alma will start in an isolated location, and ideally the player will be able to block them off and not have to deal with them at all. In contrast to Leeper and Skull, Alma will seek Lolo out directly.

Don Medusa

Best for last. Don Medusa is basically a Medusa that can move. He is a nightmare. Don Medusa can only move up/down or left/right from his starting location, but he moves quickly. If Lolo walks into Don Medusa's line of sight, he is frozen in place and shot.

Apart from enemies, there are also various obstacles you need to utilize in order to pick up all Heart Framers and Jewels safely:


Rocks can't be moved, and are placed along with Trees at the beginning of each room. Rocks are your saving grace. Enemies can't shoot through them and will turn around when the run into them. Lolo is also unable to walk through them. Because they're rocks.


Trees are almost the same except for that enemies are able to shoot through them. Lolo died a lot because I kept forgetting.

Emerald Framer

Emerald Framers are basically blocks that can only be pushed. They block enemy sight and shots, and are placed meticulously because there's only one way they can be pushed to succeed. The suicide button is there for a reason. Don't be afraid to use it.


Grass repels enemies, giving you a little sanctuary to think, while sand slows down Lolo's movement. Usually sand is present when fast-moving enemies are around. Water can't be crossed (by Lolo or enemies) unless a Bridge is built. Lava cannot be traversed at all.


Lolo can't walk against an arrow's direction. He can, however, walk into it from any other direction. For example, if there was an Up Arrow, he could still walk through it from the left, right, and bottom. He can also leave by any direction, but once he leaves the way it is pointing, he cannot walk back. It doesn't sound too complicated, but then you have rooms like this:


There are also power-ups Lolo can obtain, but it should be noted that they are only in specific rooms, can only be used in that room, are needed to complete that room, must be collected through Heart Framer gathering, and can only be used once. Simple enough, right?


They go across water, naturally. Again, it can only be placed once, and only one spot will work for the room to be solved. Better think about it.


The Hammer can break one rock, then it is gone. Better think about it.

Change Arrows

Lolo can get the ability to change the direction of one arrow, in order to be able to pass through or push an Emerald Framer, etc. Better think about it.

Heart Framer

All Heart Framers need to be collected to open the Chest and obtain the Jewel. Heart Framers can also provide Lolo with Eggs (two per Heart Framer). It is rather annoying, however, because all the Heart Framers look the same, and there is no way of telling which ones (if any) will give you Eggs. And the Eggs aren't there as a crutch, they are also needed to complete a room. It is a rare exception to have an extra Egg after collecting the Jewel. But it doesn't carry on to the next room anyway. The Ladder, Hammer, and Arrow Changer are also obtained by collecting Heart Framers, but a certain number (pre-set by the room) need to be collected in order to have access to them.

Chest and Jewel

Collecting all Heart Framers cause the Chest to open. The Jewel makes all the monsters disappear and the Door open. This means that in your quest to get all the Heart Framers, you must leave Lolo a safe path to get to the Chest itself. Sometimes preparation pays off and no enemies are free to move, but other times you have to make a mad dash to beat the enemies.

The game itself is really good. It forsakes going for the best graphics and other bells and whistles for a simplistic, challenging puzzle game. It is fun as long as you like that sort of thing, but I'd encourage everyone to give it a chance. There is a gentle learning curve, as different enemies and elements are gradually introduced. There is definitely a thinking factor, and it becomes very addictive as time goes on. If one approaches this game as, "Well, I'll just push stuff around and solve it eventually," then that person will be playing for a very, very long time. They probably won't enjoy doing it either. It probably isn't the game for them.

Each room can only be completed one way. They are ingeniously designed in order to be so. You are given exactly what you need to reach the next room, although at times you would kill for an extra Emerald Framer or for that one enemy to not be right where it is. Everything must be done in a specific order as well. You pushed an Emerald Framer too far? Well, you can't push it back because there's a Medusa on the other side. *Suicide*. You picked up the easily obtainable Heart Framer right away. Oops, later you realized you should have gotten that one last, since the one you did get last is right in a group of Gols, and they just woke up. *Suicide*. You Egged that Snakey, pushed him into the water, and walked across to get that Heart Framer, but you missed riding him again to get to the other section of the room, and he sunk. Now you're trapped. *Suicide*. You made a choice to pick up the left Heart Framer? Oh, should have gotten the right one because it gave you two Eggs which you needed to get the rest. *Suicide*.There are a million and one things you can do wrong, and you'll probably do most of them early on.

I recently played this on a DS, which worked out great, because it was a good way to spend a couple of minutes here and there on the go when I had a break. Unfortunately, it's not available to purchase on the 3DS eShop, only the Wii Virtual Console (since it was originally an NES game). I would still highly recommend giving it a try through whatever means. Adventures of Lolo 2 is also available on the Wii Virtual Console, but the third installment (which has 100 rooms instead of 50) is only available on a good old NES cart.

The final boss battle (against King Egger/Great Devil/Whatever) is slightly unconventional. In this game, Lolo simply walks up to him, traps him in an Egg, and watches him hurtle out of sight. The End.


I found this pretty funny, but I like the FDS Eggerland boss battle even better. You literally play Jankenpon (Rock Paper Scissors) against King Egger. Whoever reaches four victories first wins.


The series also got a big head start on the trend seeming to happen more and more of "hacking a game to have a female protagonist." Starting with Adventures of Lolo 3, the player can choose to play as either Lolo or Lala. The prequel game/demo is also titled Eggerland Episode 0: Quest of Lala. HAL has been ahead of the curve for quite some time. Lolo and Lala also made a reappearance in the Kirby series (HAL recycling again) as antagonists Lololo and Lalala. Kirby fights against them in a castle, which could imply that Lolo and Lala were just chilling in the castle they took away from King Egger when Kirby shows up and just started taking everyone out. Lolo just can't catch a break, I guess.

Even though the next two installments share the same graphics and gameplay, they are an improvement over this game, with Adventures of Lolo 3 widely considered being the best out of the three. That isn't saying the other two are bad. On the contrary, I enjoyed this one just as much as I did ten years ago. If you're willing to think about what you're doing, not be afraid of making a few little mistakes, and enjoy a good mental challenge, then this series is right up your alley. If it hurts when you think, then you should probably find something else.

The only complaints I have are the lack of knowing which Heart Framers will give you Eggs, and the music being slightly repetitive. By slightly I mean that the one 16-bar track will play for all 50 floors on repeat, no exception. Your only relief is the completing-a-floor jingle and the ending track. The room music isn't really that annoying (see: Bubble Bobble's endless loop of sugary madness), but I did find myself playing the game in silence at times.

Another complaint is having a set number of lives. It doesn't really make sense, as after losing all five, you are given the option to simply continue right from the room you left off from with five lives again.

The game has a simple, four-character password system consisting of a limited alphabet. This is wonderful considering other games of the period with complicated, 32-or-more-character passwords using letters, numbers, and symbols. And since it was originally on a home console, it was a quick process to turn on your NES, put in your password, and go. And again, if you can do this, why have the set number of lives?

Bottom line? Play it. It hasn't lost its charm, and has aged well. Good puzzle games often do. It didn't take an extremely long amount of playtime to reach the tenth floor, but I did it in small fragments here and there, so it was spread out a little more. Depending on your level of puzzle-solving skills, you might not find yourself scratching your head right away. But at some point you will, and it's good for a game to present a challenge without being impossibly infuriating at the same time.