When Bomberman: Act Zero came out for the 360 in 2006, it was universally loathed, and rightfully so. But an annoying point about the coverage it got is that so much of the negativity was focussed on the concept of a gritty sci-fi Bomberman game, that it was barely mentioned that the game itself was absolute garbage, with only one arena, no local multiplayer, and a single player mode that consisted of playing the same stage 100 times in a row. The thing is, it wasn't the first attempt at a gritty Bomberman for the 21st century. Though it doesn't bear the name of the esteemed multiplayer franchise, Dark Native Apostle was published in Japan by Hudson Soft, and features a protagonist with the ability to drop small timed explosives wherever he goes. (Coincidentally, it was developed by recurring Lunatic Obscurity favourites Tamsoft!)
It's not a multiplayer Vs. arena game, though, but takes the attack mechanic from the Bomberman series and applies to, of all things, a blend of survival horror with the occasional bit of light 3D platforming. Well, "survival horror" in the respect that the plot involves genetic engineering and bio-weapons, and that a lot of time is spent running back and forth finding keys, putting disks into computer terminals and flicking power switches. There isn't anything actually scary in the game, your main method of attack has infinte ammo and there's an ample supply of healing items.
So yeah, you're some genetic engineered bio-weapon guy with amnesia, and you go into the labs where you were made to try and find out your past. It's pretty much the exact same plot as a billion other games that came out between 1996 and 2005. The combat aspect of the game is incredibly easy: most enemies will stand still while firing at you or changing direction, so you can just drop a bomb at their feet to dispatch them. You can hold the square button down and walk away when you drop a bomb to give it a longer fuse, but I've gotten a fair few areas into the game, and beaten a few bosses and this ability has not yet been useful once.
The puzzle-solving aspect of the game is a lot more difficult, though. Well, I think it is, it might just be my being a bit thick. Though you are expected to comb every room you can go into to find every item and clue that might lead to you opening more rooms and progressing. There is one interesting feature the game has involving the upgrades to your powers: you can equip up to four "chips", each of which improves an aspect of your abilities, like the power of your bombs or you max HP or whatever. But, by equipping them in the right order, you can also gain special abilities! Some of these are almost universally useful, like the dash ability. Some are useful in a few certain places, like the ability to see invisible objects. Some are useful in literally one part of the game and then never again, like the ability to drop blinding flash bombs, that only seem to affect the big purple lizard boss you fight in the sewers early in the game. The fact that you often don't get the chips needed to acquire a special ability until around the time you get the note telling you about it is a disappointment, too: playing a second time around with prior knowledge of all the "recipes" could have possibly led to a sneaky bit of sequence breaking, maybe?
Dark Native Apostle isn't a great game, but it's not a particularly bad one either. I guess the core concept alone is interesting enough to be worth a look, though. An obvious comparision to make is to the Playstation game Silent Bomber, which I like a lot more than DNA, though it is a pure all-out action game, so it's not an entirely fair comparision to make.
I never thought there'd be an EA Sports game on this blog, but it's game that's long forgotten, on a console that no-one cares about, featuring a sport that wasn't really popular for very long (and even when it was, it was never massive). Toughman Contest is an amateur boxing tournament that's been going since the late 1970s, but the only time I've ever heard of it was in the late 90s, though it apparently continues to this day. This game is vaguely based on that competition, though all the boxers in it are fictional caricatures with silly names.
Presentation-wise, it's a bit of a mixed bag in many ways: though the graphics are all competently drawn, the game has an ugly pseudo-realistic aesthetic, and the menus look cheap and low-rent compared to the game itself. The character sprites are all massive, taking up most of the screen, though whoever you pick will always be represented by a green outline. A nice touch is that there are four tounaments in which you can compete: North America, South America, Europe/Middle East and Asia/Australasia, and each of them has their own (heavily stereotyped, in a Street Fighter kind of way) arena. As for how it plays, it's kind of like Super Punch-Out, but worse in every possible way.
Like Super Punch-Out, you view your boxer from behind, and you've got to dodge your opponent's punches and hit them back with the right timing. Unfortunately, it doesn't work as well as Nintendo's game, since in the name of realism, there's no tells when any of your opponents are going to attack or dodge or block, and it just feels like everything happens at random. Sometimes you won't get a single hit on your opponent the whole match, other times, you'll pummel their face in by simply holding up and C. There's also times when your opponent's health will just randomly drop to nothing, a mechanic which I assume is supposed to represent a lucky suckerpunch? Another problem is that I've played plenty of matches, and have never won nor lost by knock-out. Every match has been decided by judge's decision, which also feels slightly random. The final result usually makes sense, and the most successful boxer will win, but it could be a fight where you didn't get a single hit in, and you'll just barely lose by one or two points. Conversely, you could batter your opponent into paste, and just barely scrape a couple of points ahead of them.
I saw screenshots of this game, and gave it a shot, hoping it might be a diamond hidden in the substantial rough that is the 32X library. But it's just another ugly, boring game that's outshined by better titles on less powerful hardware. Oh well, never mind.