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Welcome to Sounds Like Games, a tentatively-titled fairly-regular column in which I talk about video game music, and why it works so well when implemented correctly.
Sometimes, I can’t tell the difference between a game I legitimately think is great, or a game I remember being great when I was a kid. Nostalgia has a way of glossing over a game’s faults, when back in the day you were more inclined to be happy with what you had. We remember games for what it did, and not what it didn’t. Bomberman Hero is a game that probably isn’t objectively that great, but I loved it then so naturally I have a soft spot for it now.
It’s a 3D platformer that came out during the time when everyone and their mothers wanted to cash in on the 3D platformer trend. Super Mario 64 had just hit the scene, and hot damn did everyone want to ride that gravy train until it derailed. The Bomberman games had - up to that point - stuck to a tried and tested formula up until the 32/64-bit era. They featured top-down adventures slightly reminiscent of Zelda, sans exploration. Developer Hudson Soft first brought Bomberman to the polygonal age with Bomberman 64, which has aged considerably better than the subject of today’s article. Bomberman 64 was a top-down adventure game that had as much emphasis on exploration as it did action. It also included the traditional Bomberman multiplayer, which I feel justified enough to call iconic. It’s a worthy title in the pretty stellar N64 library.
Bomberman Hero came out a year later, and with it a drastic shift in focus. Before, Bomberman had never really done much in the way of platforming. Hell, I don’t think he could even jump in any game before this. The added mobility dramatically changed how the game was played. Instead of sprawling, puzzle-like worlds, Bomberman Hero set you loose in short gauntlets of action and combat. More focus was put on the enemies and the platforming, with an actual health system and big boss fights.
Replaying it now, I can’t say that it’s a bad game, by any means. It’s simple. Which is okay! Playing it after running through a master class game like Banjo-Kazooie or Super Mario 64 however, will leave you feeling a little let down. The stages are nothing special, and the combat is nothing to write home (or articles on the internet) about.
However, In an inoffensive game that can be mostly summed up with a “meh”, one wouldn’t expect to find such a rockin’ soundtrack. Indeed, the soundtrack to Bomberman Hero is the one part of the game I can confidently call “great” - with a bit of a catch.
Longtime Bomberman composer Jun Chiki Chikuma sets up a soundtrack that has an obvious consistent musical focus throughout. Never straying too far from a set style of drum beats and synth tones, most of the songs share the same defining characteristics in their sounds. If you’re familiar, it’s easy to recognize any one of these songs as a Bomberman Hero song, and that’s mostly thanks to the drums.
Listen to this song, which is my absolute favorite from the game. It comes in during the first stage, and it’s found in a handful of stages after that. It defines pretty much the rest of the soundtrack. If you don’t like this you’re probably not going to like the rest.
The urgent pitter-patter of those drums never slow up on nearly every single one of these songs. Repetitive? Maybe, but the neo-future melodies and synth do good work to pull their weight and make those beats feel right at home, especially in the context of the game. Bomberman goes planet-hopping on his way to the big bad of the game, and the space theme gets reflected in the music.
It may be polarizing, I expect this brand of music can be pretty love-it-or-hate-it. And man, if you hate it, you’re going to hate every bit of it.
Luckily, I like it. And I liked it during a period of time where this kind of stuff defined my future taste in music. The kinds of things you like as a kid eventually evolve into your modern taste, and I see that reflected in Bomberman Hero and it’s soundtrack.
The spacey melodies are really damn great at getting their hooks into me. They’re the kind of tunes I find myself humming throughout the day, for no reason other than it’s so damn simple and pleasant. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it simple, as there’s an obvious amount of production value in the set, but the lack of variety in the sounds hold it back from being considered a classic.
These are the kind of tunes that, while great in the context of the video game world, may not necessarily encourage a lot of independant listening. Having it on while writing this piece, I’m already getting a little tired of the non-stop percussion pressure. Sure, I can listen to an hour-long loop of Redial completely through, but most of the other songs don’t stand up to that kind of repetition.
The music works best as an atmospheric asset. The graphics and the art style don’t do a whole lot to support the space-opera theme the game goes for, so the music steps up to fill in those gaps. Granted, the N64 and many of it’s games haven’t aged too well, and their music is one of the only things that consistently hold up.
On the whole, Bomberman Hero is worth checking out, if you’re in the market for a decent action-platformer. It’s rough around the edges, but what it does right it does oh so right. The soundtrack is a curiously strong standout to an otherwise mostly forgettable game.