Bomberman, in its competitive incarnations, is quite possibly the best of all multiplayer video games, its best renditions comparing favorably to the likes of the Quake series and other FPS titles. This is odd, because on the surface Bomberman seems to have very little in common with those games.

The game of Bomberman is played on a grid of passages that fits neatly onto one screen. Each player (of up to four) takes control of one of the cute little robotic Bombermen, each beginning in one corner of the board. The passages are defined by a regularly spaced array of indestructible blocks, but filling the interior of the grid are a large number of randomly-placed destructible, or "bombable" blocks. At the start of a round, the players are usually entirely separated by these blocks.

Phase One: Excavation
Of course, Bombermen cannot travel through solid surfaces (ordinarily, that is). So the first order of business is to carve out some breathing space in which to maneuver. This is done by the use of bombs, which are really the sole weapon Bombermen have at their rather limited disposal. So, usually a player will move to the piece of rubble to be cleared, then press the button and drop a bomb there. Then, the player usually runs away at top speed, for an exploding bomb is no respecter of person. It will kill anyone and anything its blast hits, be it destructible block, player or powerup, with the sole exception being the indestructible concrete slabs that define the grid. Bombs explode in a cross-shaped pattern, sending four gouts of flame along the grid, one in each of the four cardinal directions, up, down, left, and right. As the players begin using these powerful devices, the board begins to clear.

Phase Two: Collection
At the start of the board each player is only capable of having one bomb on the screen at once. Once a bomb is dropped, it takes two seconds for it to explode into glorious, glorious fire. As the ephemeral blocks are flamed into nothingness, some of them reveal powerups. The most common of these are the "flame faces," which we sometimes call "flammies" (this is a Secret of Mana reference) and look pretty much like their name. Every time a player picks up one of these, the range of the explosions of his bombs gets a little larger. Bigger explosions mean more fun! Also common are extra bombs. For each of these picked up, that player can have one extra bomb on the screen at once. Both these powerups are cumulative, so whoever collects a large number of both is a force to be reckoned with. The other powerups vary from game to game, but most common are ROLLERSKATES, which each increase the speed the player up by a small amount, PUNCHES/GLOVES, which allow bombs to be moved out of corners, KICKS, which can be used to send bombs sailing easily down hallways, MAXIMUM RANGES, which instantly give the player about ten flame faces, red SUPERBOMBS, which cause your blasts not to stop with the first destructible block they hit, allowing a player to clear out many blocks and/or players at once, and the ominous bomb-in-a-heart that is the DETONATOR, which means your bombs no longer have fuses, but go off when you tell them too. The only bad powerup is the evil SKULL, which gives the collecting Bomberman a disease, such as Bomb Minimum Range, Massive Slowdown, Massive Speedup, Invisibility, and the dreaded Fuse, which causes your Bomberman to automatically drop all his bombs as fast as he can. The Fuse usually means instant death. All of these diseases wear off in time, but dangerously, and increasingly entertainingly, diseases are contagious. Any time a player with a Skull Effect touches another player, that player gets the effect too! It is not unheard-of for a beFused player also saddled with Massive Speedup to pass it off to all the other players in the space of a second, and have them all kill themselves before the impending column of fire has even had a chance to catch up with the originating player. This is not always fair, but it is certainly fun to watch.

Right about this time, the comfy little caverns belonging to each player have been expanded to the extent that contact has been made between Bombermen. In true xenophobic fashion, the stalwart robots greet each other with fiery doom. The foremost modus operandi at this stage is to try to trap an opponent in a dead end with a bomb, though it is all too easy to trap yourself in the process. At this time one may learn wisdom from the fundamental maxim of Bomberman, which is this:

"A Bomberman's Worst Enemy Is Himself."

Phase Three: Mass Destruction
Usually one or two players get bombed out by this time. When a player dies in multiplayer Bomberman, most of the stuff he was carrying is scattered about the board in random locations, allowing the other players to snarf up some easy goodies. This makes the survivors more and more powerful. Now that most of the blocks are cinder, there are increasingly fewer places in which to trap your opponent. Conversely, there are also fewer places to hide. Most times the remaining players can each have three or more bombs on-screen at once, and often these are not the weak explosives with which they began. Now the players start to get desperate. They know if they wait too long to settle things the dreaded Hurry-Up will begin, so they start to get more and more bold with their arsonistic fervor. Surrounding a foe with bombs is a good tactic unless he has a Kick or Punch. An experienced Bomberman can be difficult to pin unless you place multiple bombs across multiple hallways and around corners in a chain, so that the first explosion sets off all the others in a matchbook effect. The chance of inadvertent suicide in these cases is great.

Phase Four: Exasperation
The game clock begins, by default, at two minutes. Once half of this is gone, the game declares "HURRY UP!!" in big letters on the screen. This means the walls are beginning to close in. With less room to dodge it becomes increasingly likely that someone, anyone, will meet his molten demise. Few games last this long. In most cases there will either be one player remaining before now, who becomes the winner of the round, or no one will be left, in which case it's a draw and the round is replayed on a new board. A draw is also declared if the clock runs out, at which time everyone dies, ha ha ha.

To conclude, let me state that the single player mode of Bomberman ranges from the merely okay to the outright annoying. Don’t play the single player mode. Also, Super Bomberman 2 for the SNES is not as good as the original SNES Super Bomberman, no version for the N64 is all that good, and neither are the Gameboy renditions I have tried. I don’t know about the original NES versions, or the Genesis version, or the Saturn version (but I hear good things about its eight player mode), or the TurboGrafx versions (which should be good), or the Playstation version. Judging from all available info, however, I would have to tentatively present Super Bomberman as the pinnacle of the series.