Sanuk Games' Bombing Bastards isn't so much a Bomberman clone as it is an evil twin; it's an evil twin that is fun to be around and easy on the eyes, but it's evil nonetheless. Everything from its subversive premise to its ironically cheery visuals add to Bombing Bastards' slightly off-kilter feel, but it's the gameplay that will really bring out Sanuk's sinister intentions. With a difficulty curve that borders on sadistic, it's not going to win any points with gamers who are attracted by its casual-friendly cartoon look. For those who miss Bomberman and the addictive puzzle/battle gameplay, however, Bombing Bastards should be a welcome addition to the Wii U library.
Bombing Bastards places gamers in the shoes of the titular robot as he follows orders from Dr. Wallow to destroy every living thing in sight. As the Bombing Bastard, players traverse an arena filled with creatures, obstacles and hazards, planting bombs and destroying all on screen. Folks who have played any Bomberman game (save for maybe Act Zero) will be right at home here, but the core gameplay mechanic is very simple and easy to pick up. The single-player adventure mode is made up of several different themed worlds, adding familiar twists to the stages, like slippery ice and hazardous gas threatening to slow down or even kill the hero / villain.
Arena layouts are randomly generated. While randomly generating the arenas does make for a different experience each play-through, the stages re-generate when you die, so it's impossible to try to memorize or strategize; let one thing be clear — the Bastard will die. A lot. This is a dastardly difficult experience, and not in a satisfying "just one more try!" way. Enemy AI is absolutely brutal; creatures learn to avoid bombs very early on, and we found that power-ups were often the only way to complete stages. Some power-ups expand the reach of bombs' explosions, while others upgrade the bombs to detonate only when the player sets it off.
There are also boss battles in which you must avoid constant obstacles while bombing a giant enemy, but these infuriatingly difficult stages are thankfully skippable. As creatures are so good at avoiding the traps set for them, players will become reliant on these power-ups instead of feeling a sense of progression and accomplishment. That said, finally outsmarting an enemy can be satisfying.
In addition to the single-player mode, a local multiplayer battle mode is available. Multiplayer works the exact same way as Bomberman's storied multiplayer battles, with players scrambling to defeat each other. We'd hoped that there would be a more robust multiplayer component to offset the frustration of the single-player campaign, but with no online features and a limited option set, the mode is disappointingly limited. For fans of classic Bomberman, though, it should be a large draw.
Bombing Bastards' presentation is a mixed bag. The soft, cartoony visuals are pleasant and serve the game well, while the frame rate is consistent and the screen isn't cluttered. Dr. Wallow's announcements when an enemy is killed are hilarious. Statements like "Hasta la vista, baby!" and "Sorry...not!" are corny but charming. The rest of the sound design doesn't fare so well, unfortunately; background music is relegated to public domain remixes. You've never listened to "March of the Sugar Plum Fairies" this much. While it is possible to play on the GamePad, meanwhile, there's no sound at all; it's not clear if Sanuk will fix this omission in the future, but it's a significant misstep.
Bombing Bastards doesn't stand up to the high standards set by some recent Wii U eShop releases, but it's a competent if unremarkable action puzzler. Serving a niche that hasn't been served in several years, it has its place in some Wii U owners' libraries, but for everyone else there are more satisfying and exciting titles to be found on the eShop.