I am a huge Bomberman fan. It feels weird saying this, but I am one of the most knowledgeable Bomberman experts outside of Japan. I’m not trying to talk myself up or anything. I’ve spent the last seven or so years finding as much information about Bomberman as possible – translating Japanese manuals, guidebooks, flyers, old official pages, etc., scavenging through Japanese sites for information on merchandise and events and whatnot, closely examining the games themselves to figure out how they work… Ask me just about anything, and I can probably answer it. As long as it’s not about B-Daman Bakugaiden or the Bomberman Land series. I know jack about that.

But every now and then, I’ll turn up things that just don’t have satisfactorily conclusive explanations – unused graphics hidden away in games, or entire games that never saw the light of day. Rather than becoming discouraged, I make a note of such things and then proceed to think about them forever. I love unsolved mysteries. They’re just so intriguing. I’ll be listing these mysteries in order from least to most interesting, by my personal opinion. So, please join me as I obsess and speculate over unused stuff in the Bomberman franchise.

4. Mr. Moai: Unused Frames

Mr. Moai is an enemy that first appeared in Super Bomberman 2 for the Super Nintendo/Super Famicom. It’s a fairly generic foe that moves slowly, has 2 HP, and uses Whim Pattern 2. In a lot of Bomberman games, there are only about four movement patterns for all enemies in the game; variations are only in appearances, speeds, HP, and occasionally some form of special ability. Whim Pattern 2 basically just means that the enemy only turns if it collides with an obstacle or if it lines up with the player and there are no obstacles between the two of them. So, it’s a pretty boring enemy, suitable for the first stage of the game.

Moai actually have fat little bodies, but most people probably don't know this anyway.Shogakukan

Real moai actually have fat little bodies, but most people probably don’t know this anyway.

First of all, I’d like to mention that I really like this enemy simply because of its background. It’s a moai, you know, from Rapa Nui (Easter Island). It’s one of two places for which I’ve long held great interest. Furthermore, its inclusion in the game is almost certainly in jest, regarding the many conspiracy theories claiming that ancient aliens must have had a hand in placing the moai there – Super Bomberman 2 takes place entirely on board an alien spacecraft, so it’s pretty amusing that one section of the ship is chock-full of moai heads.

Mr. Moai only ever even appeared in one other game that I know of, Super Panic Bomber W for the Super Famicom. It shows up as an enemy in Kenya because, uh, it looks tribal? I don’t know. This is a game in which you’re pitted against a penguin in an American desert. Don’t ask too many hard questions.

This time, it had even less of a body.Shogakukan

This time, it had even less of a body.

It seems as though there’s nothing else to really tell about Mr. Moai. Why exactly is this largely insignificant little enemy character on this list? Well, some years ago, I dumped the VRAM of Super Bomberman 2 and happened across some never-before-seen unused frames:

My face when I first saw these, probably.

If you’ll remember, the enemy doesn’t do anything except move slowly in a very basic pattern. What on earth is this shit? We can see it (quite disturbingly) opening its mouth up, and then a weirdly long tongue extends outward. I have to admit, I was a little creeped out when I first saw this. But the initial shock was quickly succeeded by intrigue.

I’m actually pretty sure that I know what these were for: eating bombs. Bomb-eating enemy characters are a staple of the series, and while they generally act by simply moving onto bombs to destroy them, there’s an enemy in the later title Super Bomberman 5 that extends its tongue out to lap up adjacent bombs. My best guess is that Mr. Moai was originally intended to eat bombs, but then perhaps the developers decided that it was too advanced of an enemy to include in the first stage of the game. This may seem weird, as the previous installment, Super Bomberman, had such enemies in its first stage,  but we have to remember that Super Bomberman 2 is largely dumbed down in terms of enemy characters. There are only ever four enemy characters in each area, and the enemies all pause before changing directions. Also, that bomb-eating enemy from Super Bomberman that I mentioned? A version of it appears in the final two stages. So, it would appear that Mr. Moai’s special feature was just cut out as part of a difficulty/design modification. However, since I have no conclusive evidence, this will have to remain as nothing more than a theory for now.

3. Neo Bomberman: Unused Characters

Here’s another story about how I was looking inside a Bomberman game and discovered some unused images. This time, it was Neo Bomberman. Now, Neo Bomberman actually has a bunch of unused graphics packed away inside it, such as some frames for a Rui (instead, Super Bomberman 4-style monsters were used for mounts in the final release) and frames of Pretty Bomber riding a Mr. Bird enemy (in the final game, this only appears as a still-frame cartoon drawing and some tiny silhouetted sprites). You can see a full list on Ragey’s website (ignore the “level complete” image; it’s actually used but it’s very rarely seen because you have to suck really bad to get such a low ranking). I don’t have much to say about those things, but I do have some things to say about what I found, which was a collection of Battle Game normal/winning/losing mugshots for the selectable characters… some of whom don’t appear in the final game!

Here’s the stuff I ripped:

The low quality will be explained shortly.

And here’s a picture of the game’s final roster, for comparison:

NeoBombermanRoster

From the cabinet artwork, posted on Ragey’s site.

First, let’s get the obvious things out of the way. None of these images were used in the final game; instead, larger head pictures were used on the scoreboard. Secondly, the colours are all screwy here, as I just picked random palettes back when I grabbed them. I don’t even know if the proper palettes exist in the game anymore. Thirdly, you can clearly see that the characters of Atomic Bomber, Hayate Bomber, and Rubber Bomber underwent some serious design changes. Atomic Bomber had pure white eyes at one time, Rubber Bomber’s face didn’t seem to have its “visor”, and Hayate Bomber’s face was very ordinary. It also looks like they were fooling around with a couple variations on Cat Bomber’s face.

The characters that really stand out, though, are the ones that aren’t selectable in the final game. These include Pretty Bomber (who, in the final release, only appears in cutscenes), some kind of samurai Bomberman, and what I had originally thought to possibly be Hero Bomber from Bomberman Wars/Bomberman World. These are actually reasonably explainable, to be honest. In the final game, these characters are replaced by Honey, Kotetsu, and Golden Bomber. This actually, finally provided a clear-cut explanation as to why Honey had Pretty Bomber’s power from Super Bomberman 2, the Heart Bomb – because she was a graphical replacement for Pretty Bomber. Likewise, it looks like Kotetsu replaced this nameless samurai Bomberman. Perhaps the developers just figured that they ought to include Hudson Soft’s mascots in the game, who knows. It is pretty weird and coincidental that they’d have two characters in the roster already, though, who would be such close matches that they probably didn’t even need to be restructured. It’s rather odd.

As for the character dubbed “Hero Bomber” for so many years… on further inspection, it actually just appears to be Gold Bomber. Look closely, and you can see that the “shoulder pads” are just the puffy white portions of the collar of his red cape, and you can see the big round buckle of his “title belt”. In the final game, he doesn’t actually appear with his red cape, even though it’s depicted on the cabinet artwork. So that’s the only change there.

For one final note, since I’m already here, I may as well point out just how truly bizarre Atomic Bomber looked at an early stage:

NeoBombermanAtomic

Sorry, I just can’t take any villain seriously if they have a phallus sticking out of their forehead.

I’ve talked a little about some instances of unused graphics in Bomberman games, but what about entire games that went unused? Well…
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3. Bomberman 3DS

I almost didn’t include this, because there was so much hype for it and because I’d guess that most Bomberman fans have already read and seen all of the publicly available information on the game, but I suppose for that reason it is important enough to include in this list. Bomberman 3DS was slated for release on the Nintendo 3DS back in 2011. Then those bastards at Konami came along and ate Hudson Soft, silently killing its games while claiming that they hadn’t really cancelled any projects.

It’s a shame, too, because Bomberman 3DS looked pretty interesting. For the last several years of its life, Hudson Soft had been mainly pumping out Bomberman Land games and lazy rehashes of the traditional Battle Game formula in the form of games like Bomberman Blast and Bomberman Ultra, with significant additions (like Bomberman 2 for the Nintendo DS) few and far between. Don’t get me wrong – those Battle-Game-centric games are alright, it’s just that it had felt to me as though we’d lost a lot of the innovative momentum that the franchise had carried along throughout the first half of its life. We hadn’t even had a 3D level-based game since Bomberman Jetters back in 2002, and that game was truly bad. The last decent Bomberman game of that variety had come in the year 2000 in the form of Bomberman 64: The Second Attack! So we were long overdue for a fresh new take on the 3D world of Bomberman, and Bomberman 3DS seemed very hopeful.

Though it was not to be, we still do have some text, screenshots, and video footage to pick apart, which may help us understand what exactly we’ll forever be missing.

In the Battle Game, life bars and custom/selectable characters may be seen.IGN

In the Battle Game, life bars and custom/selectable characters may be seen.

According to the official Hudson Soft page (thanks, Wayback Machine), the Battle Game would have allowed up to eight players in an online match, and would have featured “all-new game mechanics” including a “Life System” (presumably some form of health bar). This could have been a lot of fluff talk, honestly, but it’s nice to imagine that maybe Hudson Soft had a few new tricks in store for us. What’s more interesting to me, though, is the single player mode, in which we would have explored a 3D city called “Central City” either alone or with a co-op partner. We hadn’t seen a co-op game since the aforementioned The Second Attack!, so who knows whether player 2 would have been playing as another Bomber or some kind of weird animal companion. Either way, co-op play is something that the series had been sorely lacking for more than a decade by that point, and I, for one, would have appreciated its return.

Elemental bombs appear in the lower-right corner. It's unclear if the tornados came from bombs or if they're a stage trap.IGN

Elemental bombs appear in the lower-right corner. It’s unclear if the tornados came from bombs or if they’re a stage trap.

As for the nature of the single player mode, we can only speculate. It appears to be yet another branch off of the Bomberman 64 (Baku Bomberman) formula, with open 3D areas. It seems highly unlikely that it would have taken cues from Bomberman Hero, given the fact that no similar games were made after that one. In the screenshots, we can notice that buttons A and B seem to be set to elements such as frost, fire, and wind (in the shape of a tornado), so elemental bombs would have almost certainly made a return. Elemental bombs felt generally underdeveloped, at least to me and some others, in most of the games in which they appeared. Whether or not Bomberman 3DS would have rectified this will likely remain unknown indefinitely. For such an anticipated game that promised to bring back all sorts of things that fans had long been missing, it’s no wonder that its cancellation was such a huge disappointment, such to the point that it’s still a sore spot for the community.

This short teaser clip is all we currently have in terms of real footage:

4. Virtual Bomberman

The Virtual Boy was a floundering failure. This should be news to nobody reading this, so I won’t elaborate. We got one Bomberman game for the Virtual Boy, and it was actually pretty good, even though the hack English localization team decided to butcher it up and make up their own stupid names and dialogue (ah, the 90’s). It was just another Panic Bomber title, but that’s okay, because those games are pretty well-designed and fun. But did you know that there was supposed to be another Bomberman game for the Virtual Boy, before the whole system got canned? Okay, well, a lot of you probably already know, but I doubt that you know much about the game. Well, neither do I, but I have some interesting information I’ve pieced together over the years.

A flyer for the game, circa 1995.Planet Virtual Boy

A flyer for the game, circa 1995.

All we’ve got to go on is an old flyer distributed at Space World ’95. You can download scans of these from Planet Virtual Boy. According to the first flyer, the game was called Virtual Bomberman (バーチャルボンバーマン), it was expected to cost 5800 yen, and it was slated for release on February 29, 1996. Story details revealed within indicate that it was meant to take place directly after Super Bomberman 3 in the canon (Professor Bagura is mentioned, and Super Bomberman 4 had yet to appear in stores). Some kind of “ultimate beast machine god” – I’ve seen this phrase in other media, and will assume it’s some reference to an old anime until otherwise informed – named God Bomber appears and challenges Bomberman, but seems more sad than angry. It’s the kind of bare bones story we’d expect from a Bomberman game, with a basic “friend or foe” sort of twist. The back of the pamphlet shows screenshots of the opening cinema, depicting God Bomber descending upon Earth (and it’s named Earth, so there’s further confirmation that Planet Bomber hadn’t yet entered the main canon) and Bomberman rising up to defend it. It’s nothing to write home about, but God Bomber is interesting, isn’t he? Look at him. He looks a lot like Great Bomber, who would later appear in Super Bomberman 4. It’s not clear as to whether Great Bomber’s design was taken from God Bomber, but there’s concrete evidence that he influenced another game. I’ll get to that in a moment.

On what is presumably the inside of the pamphlet, five “armour” characters can be seen. These are basically the same armours that later appeared in Bomberman World, from their appearances to their names to their dual special abilities. The only real difference that I could find was that Nyanjiro was originally named Nyanjirou. Other than that, we can very clearly discern what these things would have been like in the game, as they were recycled into a later release. Now that it’s out of the bag, let’s go back to God Bomber… The final boss of Bomberman World is a giant robot named God-Header. Its head, surprise surprise, looks suspiciously similar to that of God Bomber’s, even including the crazy pointy emblem on his forehead. In fact, if Japanese Wikipedia can be trusted, its second and final form is even named God Bomber. While this is certainly not the same character, and while there are some really huge changes to the design (very little of the original God Bomber’s design is even retained in the Bomberman World incarnation), it’s clear that a lot of material from Virtual Bomberman got recycled into Bomberman World.

A drastic overhaul, but still recognizable.

A drastic overhaul, but still recognizable.

One last piece of evidence that things that may have transferred over to Bomberman World is the blue crystal that Bomberman is holding in one of the drawings, which he has to collect in each area of the later game. We can also pick out little details like the jungle-esque stage in one of the screenshots, complete with similar trees, the bridge trap, and other scenery, and maybe even the fact that the exits are large stoney archways, though that’s kind of stretching it. However, Bomberman World is certainly not just Virtual Bomberman rehashed. There are things we lost with the canned Virtual Boy game.

The full inside of the flyer, pieced together from scans.Planet Virtual Boy

The full inside of the flyer, pieced together from scans.

The pages between the two flaps describing the armour give us the real meat of what the game is about, information that has, to my knowledge, not yet been translated and disseminated to the Western world. Well, here you go. The story, which I’ve already mentioned, is relayed in the upper-left corner. In the lower-left corner, a new “mixed system” combining the Normal and Battle Games is described. From what I gather, in each stage of the Normal Game, there would be hidden points that Bomberman could reach, which would take him to a special Battle Game in which he’d fight God Bomber. So, that’s kind of interesting. I don’t believe we ever saw something like that in another Bomberman game.

The lower-middle section explains how the game would have been tailored to the demands of the Virtual Boy, utilizing its stereoscopic display and providing a “3D feeling” through parallax stages and backgrounds, and even the characters moving on the screen would have looked 3D-ish. Honestly, despite how headache-inducing the Virtual Boy was to many people, I’m a little curious as to how Virtual Bomberman would have looked, between the text and the screenshots included in the pamphlet. But I digress. This section also indicates that each stage would have contained two floors, and that Bomberman would have to jump up and down between floors in order to pass things like ravines or to drop objects down (assuming that’s what is meant by “falling objects”). This, again, has never been seen in a tradtional 2D Bomberman game. As a kind of side note, it’s also stated that Bomberman himself would have been given a wide range of emotions so the player might connect more with him, instead of just moving around normally. Exactly how this would have been implemented is up for speculation, but if they mean that he’d express emotions during normal gameplay, well, that would be pretty cool, and that’s not something we really even saw in some of the actual 3D Bomberman games, so… shit.

Screens of the opening cinema. Virtual Boy games had to do whatever they could to implement the whole faux-3D gimmick.Planet Virtual Boy

Screens of the opening cinema. Virtual Boy games had to do whatever they could to implement the whole faux-3D gimmick.

The lower-right segment details a “new” mode called “Challenge Mode”, which we’ve since seen in various iterations. The goal would be to clear a specific stage within a time limit (given a choice between a 2- or 5- minute mode) while getting the highest score possible. Then, the player would be given a rank, from “idiot/monkey bomber” to “god (kami) bomber”. If this all sounds incredibly familiar, then congratulations, you’ve played Bomberman World, because what is described here – even down to the “2 or 5 minutes” mode selection – is precisely the same as what we got in that game. It sounds as though they managed to save a lot of stuff from this game and carry it into Bomberman World, which, honestly, is a great idea – why waste all that time and effort just because the system you were developing for got canceled?

Still, postulating that so much work seems to have been completed on this game and knowing that we may never get a chance to play it is really frustrating. The game mechanic of jumping back-and-forth between maps could have been really interesting if executed properly, and I’m actually a little curious as to how the story would have developed and how some of the other novelties mentioned in the pamphlet would have played out. I suppose all we can do is hope that one day, someone uncovers a playable prototype.

As a final aside, I’ll show you one last surviving piece of Virtual Bomberman that is truly strange. Over the years, there were a lot of series of Bomberman keshi – little rubbery figures that came in all different colours, for a wide variety of games and anime and the like. One set of Bomberman keshi features the four monstrous Bombermen from the Virtual Boy edition of Panic Bomber, which I mentioned earlier. Well, weirdly enough, guess who else made an appearance in physical form? God Bomber. God Bomber had a figurine made of him. My assumption, until proven wrong, is that he was released alongside those other four characters in a sort of “Virtual Boy” set, in a gachapon (capsule toy machine) series or something. Perhaps Hudson Soft had already had a figure designed and molded for him and didn’t want to waste it, or perhaps he was some kind of exclusive handed out at an event. I’ve seen a lot of them, though, and I even have one. Mine is missing his cape attachment (he was cheap and I was buying in bulk), but you can tell that this is unmistakably God Bomber, for whatever reason.

I'm addicted to these things. I'll probably tell you about it someday.

I’m addicted to these things. I’ll probably tell you about it someday.

If anything, this speaks pretty loudly as to how far along Virtual Bomberman was in development when it got canceled, which just adds further frustration…

Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed taking this lengthy trip through beta mysteries in the Bomberman franchise. This article is already quite massive, so I’m just going to cut it off here. Check back in the coming weeks, and I might have another article about even more unused things in Bomberman! Seriously, I have so much stuff to talk about. Please share my passion. I’m begging you.

h/t: Images from Ragey’s Totally Bombastic Bomberman Shrine Place, Planet Virtual Boy, and IGN. Some information and images taken from Super Bomberman 2 Hudson Official Guidebook (Shogakukan, 1994) and Super Bomberman Complete Encyclopedia (Shogakukan, 1995).

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