Review: Bomb Monkey (3DS eShop)

Enough bang for your buck?

Welcome to Bomb Monkey, which does in fact feature both bombs and a monkey. Whew, that's a relief! Now that we no longer have to worry about false advertising, we can talk about the game itself.

As any screenshot will suggest, Bomb Monkey is a colour-based puzzle game. You hold your 3DS book-style, and use either the D-pad or circle pad to control the action. Touch screen controls are also available, but they're nowhere near as responsive as the button controls, and we're fine with that; Bomb Monkey is old-school puzzle action to the core, and its controls follow suit.

You're mainly in control of the titular explosive simian, moving him left and right, and pressing down to drop whatever he's carrying. Pressing up, however, will speed up the groundswell of blocks that threaten our hero — a feature that may seem unnecessary but is quite welcome considering their typically glacial pace.

The monkey will drop either blocks or a bomb, both of which come in two types. With coloured blocks, your goal is to arrange them so that they're contiguous, as a blast will destroy all blocks of the same colour that are touching. With explosive boxes, you'll want to arrange them so that they do the most damage, as a bomb dropped onto them will trigger a massive explosion either vertically or horizontally, depending upon the direction indicated.

The bombs are a bit more straightforward. A normal explosive can be held by the monkey indefinitely, and will destroy the blocks around it in a plus shape: up, down, left and right. A time bomb, however, is more powerful, with a larger blast radius. It also explodes if the monkey holds it for too long, preventing him from dropping anything else until he recovers.

There're also locks that appear on the coloured blocks at random. A normal bomb will knock the lock off, leaving the block behind to be destroyed later, whereas a time bomb will destroy the block outright. Locks can also interrupt the chains you've set into motion, so it's a good idea to get rid of them quickly.

That's pretty much Bomb Monkey. The endless mode keeps the blocks coming endlessly — as you might have guessed — and is the main single player attraction. All of the other modes are slight variations on this one, such as a three minute score attack mode, a Numbers mode that requires you to blow up certain blocks in numerical sequence, and Rescue mode, which finds you bombing a cage in order to free your monkey friend in the middle of the normal block-blasting chaos. The latter two modes add a minor puzzle element to the game, and it's nice to have them.

The real draw here, though, is multiplayer. Bomb Monkey requires two players to share the same system, with player two using the face buttons as a D-pad. The proximity required to pull this off makes it a true head-to-head match, and it's a lot of fun. You can either face each other competitively, dropping extra blocks on each other Dr. Mario style when you score a chain, or cooperatively, combining your talents to earn a larger score. Needless to say, the competitive mode is far more exciting, but they're both great features.

Unfortunately we do have some reservations, which really hold it back from its potential. For starters, the touch screen must be used to select a mode. Why you can't use the D-pad to navigate the menu is beyond us, and it's quite irritating as you need to dig out the stylus just to tap a game mode, and then quickly stick it away before the game begins.

The random nature of the game also works against it at times, as you're far too frequently stuck with no way out of dire situations. Dr. Mario and Tetris can both leave you stranded without the piece you're waiting for as well, but at least in those cases you can use the pieces you are given to do something constructive in the meantime. Here, the only thing that can clear blocks is a bomb. If you don't get a bomb, you can't win, and you just have to watch the blocks creep slowly up to kill you. That's a frustratingly banal way to end an otherwise exciting Endless session.

Our most serious issue is a much bigger problem, though: for a game whose main reason for existing is score attack, it sure doesn't seem interested in score keeping. Every mode remembers the highest score, but that's it. Believe us, we're far from expecting every game to have online leaderboards, but even a top five per mode would have been better than this. There's also no way to enter your initials in order to 'claim' a score, which severely impedes on bragging rights when playing the game with friends.

Perhaps worst of all, the game doesn't even make it clear to you that you achieved the high score. There's no notification, and no way of knowing unless you memorize your score and then check the main menu to see if that's what's displayed. This is particularly egregious when you realize that the upper screen goes entirely unused throughout all single player modes. Okay, yes, it displays a dancing monkey, but it would have been much nicer if it included, at least, the current top score so that you could see how close you are to beating it. Instead every round feels like its own experience, which isn't inherently bad, but prevents the game from reaching its full competitive, urgent potential.

Presentation-wise, though, Bomb Monkey is lovely. The artwork is beautiful, the sound cheery and appropriate, and the button controls couldn't be tighter. And for your required dose of Renegade Kid shenanigans, be sure to check out the manual. It's more fun than helpful, and it'd be a shame if you missed it.

Conclusion

As a harmless time-waster, you could do far worse than Bomb Monkey. There are some relatively minor concerns, but the big one for us is the way the game handles its record keeping, which is rather disappointing for a score attack game. Bomb Monkey's nothing truly explosive, but it's certainly no dud. It's a charming addition to the eShop, but with just a few tweaks it could have been much more satisfying.