Bombuzal opens with a simple loading screen with an exquisitely drawn uzal and a pretty decent bomb, though the crack monster in the background is less appealing. We get treated to some twee chip music, and the game can begin. A sampled voice tells player one to get ready, and we’re ready to go.
Bomb Uzal is a neat little puzzle game, presented in an isometric view, in which your objective is to blow up all the squares. Your little blue chap can trigger bombs placed around the level, or move them if they were on sliders. Some tiles would disappear after you stepped off them. Bombs would often set off chain reactions, and often a larger bomb would set off a really big bang. It was a simple idea, but one that was executed wonderfully with some really lovely graphics and presentation around what might otherwise be quite a dry concept. Certainly 9-year-old me had a good time with it, and truth be told, 40-year-old me quite enjoys it too. It’s in a similar category to Jumping Jack Son for me, though perhaps JJS has a little more charm.
The first level is simple enough, and difficulty ramps up slowly, introducing new mechanics gently. The first level introduces bombs and disappearing tiles, while the second introduces ice tiles across which uzal slides and bigger bombs which have a larger explosive radius.
Bomb Jack is a different beast entirely. A simple single-screen game, technically it’s not much, and yet it has buckets of charm and playability. The loading screen brings back so many memories, along with a chip tune which isn’t anything special technically but is still reasonably catchy. The basic objective is to clear all the bombs, getting points for each one, and getting more if you get them in the right sequence (the clue is the fuse being lit). You have to avoid nasties wandering the level, unless you pick up a bonus that stops them moving and lets you kill them.
What makes the game is its movement, which allows your character to do a higher jump than you might expect as well as being able to slow your descent. Visually, while not technically outstanding, everything is clear and you know what each object is and does.
Xenon 2 is very highly regarded, but Xenon 1, the Bitmap Brothers first game, is somewhat forgotten. In some ways it’s a little lacking some of the Bitmap’s classic touches – it has the chrome but lacks some of their traditional graphical flair and the colour palette isn’t developed yet. That said, it’s a fairly polished, if somewhat formulaic, shooter. No signs of the coming greatness but nothing to be ashamed of either. There’s a hook that you can switch between ground and air but that’s about as inventive as it gets. It’s very very smooth by the standards of the time, albeit not moving especially rapidly.