Jack of all bombs

Some of the most timeless arcade games are the definition of pure simplicity. You can count Dyna Blaster among them.

Dyna Blaster is the European name for Bomberman, a maze-based strategy-action game developed by Hudson Soft and published by Ubisoft in 1990. There’s no definitive answer to explain the name switch, though I’d imagine it was a matter of swerving the terrorism-bomb connotations. In the UK at the time, IRA activity was in full swing so it would have been a supremely sensitive issue. We were as skittish about explosives as we were about ninjas apparently. Despite this politically correct alias-neutering, one newspaper article at the time hailed the game evil incarnate and lobbied for it to be banned (you can find the relevant magazine clipping in Amigo Scour 2).

The Amiga revision is a port of a pimped out PC Engine revamp of the original, relatively embryonic ‘Bomber Man’ released in 1983. Curiously, the ZX Spectrum and MSX versions were rebranded as ‘Eric and the Floaters’ in Europe (imagine the toilet humour mileage the schoolies eked out of that one!), and the later Game Boy title was known as ‘Atomic Punks’ in America, again probably to dodge the negative associations with wanton death and carnage, two themes that will always be a tough sell when real world parallels are at play… unless you’re catering to a Japanese audience where anything goes as long as you don’t wear your outdoor shoes inside, and avoid excessive eye contact.

The paper-thin plot is very much off-the-peg generic, though aren’t they always with action games of this era?

The game opens with a charmingly cutesy animation to set the scene. You take the role of White Bomberman who witnesses Black Bomberman – mounted on a flying commuter dragon – break through the roof of your space station lab home and flutter off skywards with your beloved girlfriend dangling precariously from the talons of his winged enabler. Keeping it in the family, your better half just so happens to be the daughter of the mad-professor-boffin-scientist type chap who invented your good self, and your arch nemesis.

On discovering that the treacherous Black Bomberman intends to imprison her in his ominously looming castle, working her delicate little digits to the bone, daddy and yourself perform the Jaunty Jig of Disgruntled Indignation. Alarmingly, this turns out to be a none too effective means of remedying the unfortunate predicament in which you find yourself. Evidently, a spot of blue-sky thinking is called for.

So from humble storyboard beginnings emerges an intricate web of polemic themes. Dyna Blaster has all your family-favourite bases covered… there’s casual racism, misogyny, terrorism, LEGO spacemen, incest, slavery and kidnapping.

As you ponder the logistics of dispatching Black Bomberman while eschewing the inevitable accusations of committing a racially motivated hate crime, you must first track him down, battling your way across 64 baddie-infested stages, split across 8 distinct levels.

Your goal in each single screen, or scrolling area, is to plant time-delayed bombs to eliminate your adversaries, thereby revealing the exit that will transport you to the next stage. The exit, along with a super-charged power-up, is hidden beneath an array of blocks, which can also be cleared using your terrorist’s toolkit. The contents of these can be revealed before laying into Black Bomberman’s cronies, or simply worked around letting them soak up the collateral damage as you go about your rescue errand. Clearing the remaining obstacles entirely isn’t mandatory; it’s locating the magic door that counts. Though you must be mindful whenever you are bombing in its vicinity as landing a direct hit causes a spawned menagerie of enraged foes to be unleashed, and guess what? You can be sure they’ll have an infrared target trained on your forehead!

The single power-up hidden in each map can be snagged to upgrade your bot in a number of unique ways. Some allow you to release an extra bomb before the one on screen has exploded, while others increase your blast radius, allow you to walk through ordinarily solid obstacles, accelerate your walk speed, detonate bombs of your own volition by pressing the spacebar, confer extra lives or time, or even make you impervious to bomb blasts. With the exception of the invulnerability power-up, you retain your upgrades until the moment you kick the bucket. If that happens you’ll be more Weedy Man than Bomber Man upon your return to the battlefront.

Saving the best for last, if you can assign the spacebar to an auto-fire enabled joystick button and use the invulnerability and insta-bomb power-ups simultaneously, you become an irrepressible, mobile, firebomb death trap for anything in your purlieu. Just remember to switch it off before your superpower expires or you’ll be toast too!

Some of the baddies are totally oblivious of your existence and so shimmy about the mazes following their own predictable path regardless of your movements. Other more intelligent creatures will track you like homing missiles, sometimes passing right through walls unimpeded until you shove an IED up their jaxxy, or they kick your butt. You can think of them as the Bomberman equivalent of Jack Torrence.

Whatever their level of threat, they have one thing in common; they are all exquisitely animated and so adorably cute you might think twice about blasting the inventive gribblies into the middle of next week… until you come to appreciate the comical, shocked expression on their faces as they bite the dust that is. Add sadism to the list!

If you’ve read Linda Barker’s (not that one I don’t think) review in Amiga Format you’ll know one thing Dyna Blaster has going for it is, “there’s no colour-clash”. Well I’d certainly hope not in an Amiga game! Linda did edit Your Sinclair for a year so I suppose she can be forgiven for getting confused.

The innocuous, catchy music consists of twiddly-twoddly, toy-town, honky-tonk ditties that plod initially before escalating in tempo as the action heats up. They’re plucky, sweetly genial numbers framed with an oriental twangy flare that leaves you in no doubt that the game emanated from furtive minds of Asian origin. It’s guaranteed to transport you to an insouciant inglenook from which you’ll be in no hurry to escape.

On the eighth stage of each level there’s a boss battle to contend with, though these are merely a prelude to the main event where you are obliged to confront the bogey-bot kidnapper himself, the Black Bomberman, loyally aided by the remaining cast in the chroma-bot line-up.

When you finally have him cornered, the game’s politically incorrect credentials seem to flip one hundred and eighty degrees; rather than kill BB, you sort of bomb him into submission. He’s shooed away until he suffers a breakdown, falls to his knees and starts blubbing, while your girlfriend shakes free from his tyrannical grasp and flees, almost into the open arms of her saviour. Oddly enough, she stops just shy of the cliche embrace, appearing bemused and catatonic. Perhaps it’s a reflection of the Japanese stand-offish stereotype… perhaps the sprite animation artist ran out of time… perhaps it’s just an insignificant detail and I should button it and move on…

Why the non-lethal denouement? I can only proffer that you must have been discharging those life-affirming bombs, you know the friendly ones that propel shards of love and goodwill? I believe Hallmark sell them to mark special occasions.

Dyna Blaster, whilst an enjoyable single player experience, really finds its stride as a deliciously manic, five player party game. It was originally packaged with an adapter that plugs into the Amiga’s parallel port to allow you to attach two additional joysticks. Couple these with another keyboard player and you’re really cooking on TNT.

In effect, the joystick adapter served as an anti-piracy device of sorts; to get the most from your blitzkrieg adventure, you’d have to bite the bullet and pay a premium (£30.99 to be exact) to get your mitts on the original game.

Millions of gamers watching the in-vogue pop group, Take That, blast each other to smithereens on GamesMaster as part of a celeb challenge wouldn’t have hurt sales either. In case you’re curious, Robbie Williams was the last bot standing, and hence the winner of the golden GamesMaster joystick.

Dyna Blaster is one of those preciously rare titles that are instantly accessible, yet like chess, tricky to truly master at competition level. Thinking a few steps ahead of the action, and … … … timing, is everything. Practice enough and you’ll be able to accurately predict where and when to discharge bombs to ensure your opponents stumble helplessly into their path precisely upon impact. There are few play mechanics in arcade gaming to match the delectably gratifying ability to pull off this maneuver at will.

Hudson Soft teach us that terrorism is perfectly acceptable as long as it’s fun and undertaken in the privacy of your own home. I think that’s the moral of the story… that or, if your sentient cyborg creations show an inclination towards kidnapping your children, prise out their batteries immediately and keep them in a child-proof box.

2 thoughts on “Jack of all bombs

  • July 26, 2016 at 11:28 am

    I thought Dynablaster was okay, but we used to have three player games on Bug Bomber, which we all thought was FAR superior.

  • July 27, 2016 at 4:44 am

    That was entered in the same game design compo as Worms, and bizarrely also dismissed.

    It's an interesting twist on the original, though it would have benefitted from bomb upgrades as well as the new eggbots.

    Masterblaster is another variant worth checking out.

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