Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Matter of Import 031: Bomb Bee [Namco 1979]

It's Matter of Import, the retrogame review series covering games that never saw an official US release. This is the second review casting back to 1979 covering arcade titles.

Bomb Bee was the sequel to Namco's pinball-breakout hybrid Gee Bee, and so similar that if we were covering the first in the series we probably wouldn't be talking about it. However, while Gee Bee was released to US arcades, Bomb Bee never was, so here we are.

There are a few improvements over the earlier title – notably, a greater use of color – but perhaps of greater note is that it was the first collaboration between Namco and Nintendo, where the second company licensed a version of the game for its own arcade hardware.

Both Bomb Bee and its predecessor are also noteworthy as early creations of Touru Iwatani, who would go on to create the far more popular game Pac Man. Iwatani had joined Namco to work on pinball titles, but they'd assigned him to design video games instead – the hybrid games were his compromise.

Okay, enough preamble onto the game itself.

While it's easy to see what Iwatani was going for here, it's also easy to see why neither Bomb Bee nor its predecessor were the hits Namco wanted them to be. On the one hand the game provides one of the more interesting layouts for a paddle-based breakout game, and pinball configurations that wouldn't be possible on a physical table.

On the other hand paddle games had been around for almost a decade, and breakout for two years – with the advent of Space Invaders the year before, video game players had shown that they were ready to move on to new kinds of game, and fans of pinball had real tables to turn to.

In terms of playability, I personally found Bomb Bee's paddles inconveniently small, though that may in fact be more of a reflection of my skills. Taking all the above into account, I'll give Bomb Bee a C rating.

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