Super Bomberman R Online dev talks blowing the battle royale genre wide open
Why Google Stadia was the perfect platform for this unique battle royale formula ... for now.
Google Stadia's most explosive console exclusive bucks the battle royale trend by splitting the difference between traditional experiences like Fortnite and more novel variations like Tetris 99 and Super Mario Bros. 35.
Riffing on the Nintendo Switch launch title from 2017, Super Bomberman R Online — which was released on September 1 — scales-up the classic multiplayer title from 8 to 64 players, effectively making it a battle royale even larger than Apex Legends or Fall Guys. Inverse spoke with Assistant Producer Tatsunori Matsuo to learn more about how exactly Konami transformed the Bomberman experience into a battle royale for Google Stadia.
“We saw a lot of requests from fans saying they wanted to play Bomberman with many other players, so we decided to really make it happen,” Matsuo said.
While it hasn’t reached the levels of popularity of its new battle royale peers just yet, the game still offers a thrilling experience that'll keep gamers on their toes. Despite the drastic increase in the number of players, the game maintains the series' charming character designs and easy-to-understand gameplay that make it accessible for even novice gamers.
The 37-year-old formula is a simple one: Players place bombs on a grid and try to knock enemies off the grid to become the last one standing. It's a perfect fit for the battle royale genre.
Konami was looking to increase the appeal of Bomberman and turn it “from being a game you enjoyed with your close family and friends to now an online experience where you can battle with anyone from around the world.”
This resulted in Battle 64, Super Bomberman R Online’s flagship game mode. In a similar vein to Tetris 99 or the upcoming Super Mario Bros. 35, Super Bomberman R Online has 64 players fighting simultaneously. Multiplayer has always been a focus of the franchise since it began in 1985, but it’s never been done on this scale before.
To adapt that base formula, the team used 2017’s Nintendo Switch launch title Super Bomberman R as a base. It features somewhat simple graphics in a top-down perspective and features crossover characters from series like Castlevania and Silent Hill.
Matsuo considers the Bomberman games “simple and easy to understand,” though a lives system has been implemented in the new game. This double-elimination format gives players an extra chance to win a match so they don’t feel immediately dissuaded from playing more. There are also a variety of different characters that all have special abilities, so players can experiment to find which playstyle suits them the best.
Matsuo says that the biggest challenges Throughout Super Bomberman R Online’s development arose by exploring the core battle royale concept, in “figuring out how to make that happen without losing the core gameplay that is unique to the Bomberman series.” The team considered showing all 64 players at once or having gameplay be from a POV perspective, but both of these made it hard to see all the action on the board, which is a necessary part of any Bomberman game.
The team ultimately settled on having players fight in smaller groups that progressively get merged together as the best players survive. This balance is unique within the battle royale space. While games like Fortnite have you encountering upwards of 100 players and Tetris 99 only has tangential interaction with others, Super Bomberman R Online finds a balance somewhere in the middle.
Matsuo is happy with the balance the team ultimately found for this battle royale version, calling it a “quite exhilarating” take on classic Bomberman multiplayer.
The game did end up as a timed Google Stadia exclusive, but the developers think it is a natural fit for a casual multiplayer game like this. Director Takuya Sokukawa told Google in an official blog post: “Being able to access the game and play Bomberman anytime, anywhere on several different types of devices is by far the biggest advantage.” It also ensures that matches can stay full for a long time.
Matsuo is particularly excited about the Crowd Play feature that lets viewers hop into a streamer’s game with just a link. “Because it’s Stadia, fans could access that link on the fly through from a large number of supported devices,” they explained. “We’re really excited to see how communities connect through this new feature.”
While Google Stadia has its own content problems, Super Bomberman R Online is a solid addition to the platform’s exclusive lineup and seems to have been a success on the service. While Matsuo wouldn’t comment on plans for future content in our interview, it’s clear that the new direction Konami has taken the series in is engaging.
“To try to shift the system in a different direction is quite difficult,” Matsuo said. “But that is why we continue to look into new ways of playing Bomberman that utilize the traditional elements while giving it a fresh new way to engage.”
Super Bomberman R Online is available now for Google Stadia.