Hudson Soft's Panic Bomber may feature Bomberman and friends, but the game itself has more in commmon with puzzle games such as Kirby's Avalanche than it does with the famed maze-based blasting games. This 1995 release for the Nintendo Virtual Boy sends Bomberman to the island of Ever-Mist, a place where fog covers the land. From out of the haze come eleven foes to challenge our hero as he searches for the legendary golden Bomberman statue. In order to find the statue, Bomberman must challenge each enemy to a game of Panic Bomber, and this is where you take over. The screen is divded in half, with your playing container on the left and the enemy's on the right. Blocks shaped like a two-by-two square with the upper right quarter removed fall from the top of the screen and each block is made up of three shapes that by default resemble Bomberman and friends, although there are five different tile sets to choose from. The object of the game is to move and rotate these blocks so that three of the same shapes line up either horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. Doing so causes the blocks to vanish, Tetris-style, and the remaining pieces fall into place where gaps are left. As if that isn't enough to deal with, occassionally bombs will fall into the playing container. Unlit bombs can be placed anywhere you like. Lit bombs will detonate upon contact with a bomb or shape, setting off an explosion that will cause all unlit bombs in the blast's path to explode as well. These explosions leave large gaps behind, causing the shapes to fall into place. The strategy lies in placing unlit bombs in such a fashion that, when detonated, you'll wind up with a series of like shapes that fall into place to create combos. While you're messing with all of this, the CPU is playing in the right half of the screen. Setting off combos causes unexplodable blocks to appear in the opponent's container, and when the shapes stack up and spill out of the container, the game is over. The goal is to not allow this to happen to you. This is quite difficult to understand at first which is why the game includes a tutorial mode to teach you the basics of the game.

Even puzzle-based Bomberman games have their share of power-ups. As you cause more and more shapes to disappear, the blast meter in between the containers will slowly rise. When it reaches full power, a large bomb (called the Decker Bomb) is released into your container and its blast will destroy bombs and shapes in its path. Furthermore, some shapes contain power-ups that are released when blown apart. A Level-Up icon increases the rate at which the shapes fall, while a Flame-Up icon increases the range of explosions. Power-ups are reset between levels. The game is divded up into eleven levels spread across four worlds. The first three worlds feature two normal matches plus one boss round, while the last world includes one boss round and then a match against the final foe, Ms. Flashy. Normal matches are, well, normal, but boss matches involve an additional rule set known as the Skull Match. In a Skull Match all sorts of random things happen, such as new items appearing without warning, the screen becomes obscured, bricks appear in the container, and so on. Skull Mode can be disabled in the game's main menu so that boss matches are played under the normal rules, thankfully. Passwords are awarded between worlds and there are three modes of difficulty available.

Unfortunately Panic Bomber makes poor use of the Virtual Boy's 3D capabilities. All of the action takes place in the foreground with only minimal special effects taking place in the background. This game could have easily been a Super NES game and nothing about the game would have to have been changed. The graphics look crisp and the sounds are loaded with classic Bomberman music, but the various shape tile sets are all so similar that it can be hard to tell which shapes are which. Nintendo licensed the game from Hudson Soft for release in the USA, whereas the Japanese version comes straight from Hudson itself. On the used game market Panic Bomber typically sells for around $10 and the Japanese version is the more common version in circulation. All of the game text is in Japanese in this version, making the tutorial, menu choices, and story text a mystery to the average American player. The passwords - four digit numbers - are easy enough to spot, however. The American version is entirely in English, as expected. Panic Bomber is certainly fun, but in the grand scheme of things it is, alas, a bomb.

Incidentially, this is not the (cancelled) game Virtual Bomberman.