Last year, Bomb Chicken was released for the Switch – a refreshing puzzler that does exactly what it says on the tin. You play as a chicken who solves puzzles and defeats enemies by laying bombs – literally laying them, it’s a chicken – to solve puzzles and defeat enemies. One critic called it “Bomberman-esque”, which is true – when you think planting bombs tactically, you think Bomberman. But there’s another game in the bomb-planting genre, released 20 years ago, that has slipped into the realm of forgotten PlayStation greats alongside 40 Winks and Kurushi. And this is a shame, because it’s one of the most unique, innovative and downright challenging experiences out there.
While it utilizes the concept of planting and stacking various bombs, and detonating them strategically, Silent Bomber is more of an arcade-action game than a puzzler. Set in a sci-fi environment – a moon-sized spacecraft named Dante – the player takes control of mercenary Jutah Fate. The player can simply plant bombs, or cast them into the distance; if you hold down the plant button, a targeting arc will appear. With this you can either lock on to an enemy or freely aim – planting multiple bombs on as many enemies as you can.
There’s an abundance of blowing-shit-up, accompanied by a thumping electronic soundtrack. On the surface it seems mindless; a fact that probably accounts for the toe-curling marketing campaign it had in the UK. Game stores were provided with a life-sized cardboard cut-out of glamour model Jordan in a grey, futuristic latex catsuit – cleavage on full display – cradling the Silent Bomber logo. As Lewis Packwood says in Kotaku magazine:
…it was laughable in its crassness. A relic from a time when ‘booth babes’ roamed the aisles of E3 and the gaming public, in the eyes of marketers at least, was all desperate, sex-starved teenage boys. There wasn’t even a link between the advertising and Silent Bomber: Jordan wasn’t dressed up as a character…
Maybe it was an attempt to target the hedonistic clubbing gamers, who, arriving home after raving and gurning all night, played Wipeout until the onset of the comedown. The soundtrack certainly has enough repetitive beats. It does make you wonder; had the marketing been more effective, would it have been more commercially successful?
Either way, it’s a lazy advert for such an inventive and advanced game – and Silent Bomber still is so twenty years on. Other game-changers reaching the two-decade mark, such as Half-Life and Metal Gear Solid, have since had their respective genres built on and arguably mastered; see Bioshock and The Last of Us. But Silent Bomber is still the only game out there in its own unique, explosive genre. It’s also worth saying that while it wasn’t a commercial success, critics loved it.
Let’s return to the gameplay. Bombs can be stacked, either where Jutah stands or wherever he casts them. And it isn’t just the enemies that you blow up; it’s your environment. Quite a high percentage of your surroundings can be destroyed, and it’s in these inanimate objects that you collect items. The more of each area you destroy, the more chance there is of picking up an E-Chip. This is essentially an experience point, or an upgrade, so it pays to be destructive.
The E-Chip isn’t an overall power-boost either; you can use them to customise Jutah how you see fit. There are three options; “Bomb”, the number of explosives you can plant, “Range”, how far you can cast them, and “Shield”, a self-explanatory defence boost. And what’s even more fun in this picking and choosing, is that the decisions aren’t permanent. Once you’ve customised Jutah after getting the upgrade, you can go back and alter him again for a different situation. For example, there might be a tough enemy close up who needs a good few bombs to beat. For this we can sacrifice the range to get our shield and bomb-count up. And yet, there are times – usually boss fights – where it’s extremely useful to have a long range. The penultimate fight is a good example of this; it involves a giant chess board, and a queen with a lovely habit of putting up a force-field when she’s not blasting out plasma beams.
Along with the E-Chips, Jutah can pick up three other types of bomb – alongside your standard explosive. Unfortunately these bombs can’t be cast, only planted, but they make the destruction more creative. Napalm, as you’d guess, continues to burn in a particular area, damaging any enemies in the vicinity. Gravity is probably the coolest; exploding into a mini-black-hole, it sucks in the surrounding enemies (I don’t think it’s going for scientific accuracy). And Paralysis temporarily jams all robotic enemies, giving you the chance to bomb away without fear. While this doesn’t work on biological foes, Napalm is your best friend when the man-eating plants make an appearance.
The less said about the story, the better. Jutah is a heartless, get-the-job-done, Cloud Strife clone who, along with a few other war criminals, are on a covert mission to save their planet. The story is just there, it carries the game along just fine, but it’s difficult to care about any twists. Yet this isn’t a game you’d play for the plot – like Devil May Cry and the first three God of Wars, you play it to kick ass, and do so inventively, gratuitously and ridiculously. It’s challenging, too. Really challenging.
A downloadable release for the PSN would be very welcome for many reasons. One of which is practical; there’s a bug at the end of a later stage that causes the game to permanently freeze. I thought it might be my copy, so I bought another and it happened again. After much forum-reading, I discovered that the bug is included in every first-edition European release. The only way to bypass it is to skip a specific cutscene. It’s frustrating, especially since it happens after a tough boss, and before you get the chance to save.
The biggest reason for a PSN rerelease would be mere recognition; to honour it a bit. Most young gamers won’t know about it, and that’s a travesty – there’s nothing else like it. What would be really great is a sequel, spiritual sequel, reboot, or, I don’t know, just another Silent Bomber. There is a lot to be built on here. More upgrades, other than Bomb, Range and Shield would be fun to get stuck into. Maybe a few other types of bomb – and why not let us level those up too? Plus, it could be longer – not including deaths and retries, I finished this in about three hours.
Of course, I’m dreaming. It’s unlikely that such a small game from 20 years ago – which barely has a cult following – will get any attention from developers, or decision-makers at CyberConnect2. They’ve been focusing almost primarily on .Hack and Naruto games between then and now, with the exception of Asura’s Wrath (another unique and forgotten gem). Which is all the more reason to grab a copy, and experience this unique madness for yourself.