Year: 2000 | Publisher: Enix | Developer: Sol | Original format: PlayStation | Version played: PlayStation
One of my favourite online game stores, the wonderful Genki Videogames, classifies certain titles under the genre of “a bit special”. These tend to be games that defy convention or offer an experience so unique it’s impossible to classify. In actual fact, Suzuki Bakuhatsu isn’t one of those games. Genki accurately describes it as a puzzle game on their store listing. And yet I’m not sure I can think of another PlayStation game more deserving of the label “a bit special”.
Suzuki Bakuhatsu is one of those games I’ve heard of for years, intriguingly referred to as the “bomb disposal game”. That alone made it sound a bit special to me, something a little different. But the premise alone isn’t what makes it stand out. It’s the truly bizarre presentation that elevates Suzuki to the next level and makes it a must-play game for fans of all things quirky.
I’m not sure I can accurately describe the story of Suzuki Bakuhatsu. Not because it’s all in Japanese. Actually, there’s very little text or speech at all. Rather, it’s because there’s a sort of dreamlike quality to the plot that defies logic. From what I can work out, you play as a bomb disposal expert, cursed to encounter bombs in the most unexpected places on a daily basis. She’ll find one inside an orange, a cassette tape and even inside a handgun… And that’s just for starters. As the game progresses and increases in silliness, she’ll discover bombs inside a giant robot, a living woman and the moon too!
The basic narrative is fairly easy to follow, as it’s all told through a series of still photographs with virtually zero dialogue. But the situations are so bizarre that it would be easy to believe they’re either dream sequences or real events warped by her overactive imagination. By the time she finds herself singing on stage as part of a TV variety performance, the notion of any coherent plot has gone clear out the window! Which is fine by me. The more unexpected and bizarre the game gets, the more fun it is.
As for the game itself, I was pleased to find it’s surprisingly easy to get to grips with, without an instruction book, tutorial or guide. I’d assumed the bomb disposal would be bafflingly complex but you’re generally limited to just three types of interaction… A screwdriver, a cutting tool, and a magnifying glass. The latter is used to zoom in on and read little clues the bomber has left inside the bomb. Forget that! You don’t need it. The cutting tool tends to be used right at the end of each puzzle when you have to decide whether to cut the red or blue wire. An appropriately tense climax for each stage, but not something you’ll be using a lot. So Suzuki Bakuhatsu, once you get down to brass tacks, is really just a game about unscrewing stuff.
But what a game about unscrewing stuff it is! It’s kind of amazing how tense and entertaining the designers make simple choices like which screw to turn, and which direction to turn it. Of course, it helps that one wrong move results in an explosion. So you’ll find yourself studying each contraption intently for traps before you choose to act. But with a strict timer ticking down toward an inevitable end, you’ll often have to make a leap of faith and unscrew something you’re not quite sure of.
Get it right and the sense of relief is palpable. As you unscrew a panel and watch the contraption break apart in slow motion, taking you down a layer into a whole new set of dangerous puzzles to tinker with, you feel on top of the world, even though you’re still potentially one turn of the screw away from death.
As the game progresses and the situations become increasingly silly, the bomb designs naturally become more complicated too. Cogs and gears (are they the same thing?) intersect and create chain reactions you’ll need to pay close attention to. Will your next choice set in motion the collapse of a mechanism or will it trigger a trap?
Sometimes you’ll need to turn an object around and look at it from a completely different perspective to find the right solution. Sometimes you’ll need to venture into the inner workings of a mechanism, make some changes and then return to the outer layer to see what impact it had. It strikes me that this is the sort of puzzle game that wouldn’t have really worked as well in the 2D era. When Resident Evil debuted on PlayStation in 1996, I was fascinated by the items in your inventory that you could rotate in realtime 3D, sometimes manipulating them in very simple ways, like opening a book or looking at the underside of an object, to discover another key item or crucial piece of information. Suzuki Bakuhatsu feels like a natural extension of that concept, using the power of PlayStation to allow you to explore a complicated object from every possible perspective.
Suzuki Bakuhatsu is a short-lived game. Or at least, I thought it was. Like those bombs, hidden in plain sight inside everyday items, this game conceals within it even more game if you only know where to look. From the fourth stage onwards, you’re presented with a clock face in-between each puzzle. Turn the hands to one of two different times and it will choose one of two stages for you. Outside of trial and error, there’s no way to tell which you’ll get, so this essentially adds some much needed replayability to the game, allowing you to play a different assortment of puzzles each time. Or, like me, you could use save states to do a second run with entirely new puzzles.
Some of these bonus puzzles are extremely complicated, with masses of wires that cross over and wraparound in all directions. They also feature a couple of extra tools; tape to repair broken wires, a spanner and a square-head stopcock key. (Why, yes, I did have to Google the name of that one.) These puzzles are naturally more taxing but if you play them on your second run through, they provide a welcome added challenge to build on your hardened bomb defusing experience.
Of course, additional puzzles also means additional story scenes for each. I particularly like the scene in which our hero is revealed to be playing baseball inside a sort of pinball table. I didn’t really understand it but I loved it all the same. For Enix to include so much content – all those puzzles and all those live action scenes that needed to be photographed with real actors on real sets and in real locations – in a way that it could so easily be completely missed by the average player… I’m not sure whether that’s an act of folly or genius. Most publishers would want the paying customer to be able to easily access all of its content, but Suzuki Bakuhatsu is happier to maintain a sense of mystery. Even now, I can’t be certain I’ve seen everything this game has to offer, and so I can continue to play with the tantalising prospect that if I look at it from a slightly different angle next time, I just might discover one last surprise or something a bit special.
FOUR LITTLE THINGS ABOUT SUZUKI BAKUHATSU THAT I RATHER LIKED
1. This photo makes me want to visit Akihabara in 1999.
2. Fail a level and you’ll have to watch what happens when the bomb explodes. Though, of course, there will be some levels you beat first time without seeing the fail state. At the end of the game, once the credits have rolled, you can watch a montage of every single explosion scene back to back so you can see what you missed.
3. Snipping the wire at the end of each stage is a natural and tense climax to a bomb disposal game, especially as the wrong move will mean you have to play the entire puzzle all over again.
4. The victory screens are a real highlight. Quick, colourful and fun, they display a teardown of the bomb you’ve just disarmed and play a jaunty victory jingle before ending with a cute pose from our hero, who I imagine is making a pair of wire cutters with her fingers.
Finally, how about some music from Suzuki Bakuhatsu…
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