This is the seventy-third entry in the Scratching That Itch series, wherein I randomly select and write about one of the 1741 games and game-related things included in the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The Bundle raised $8,149,829.66 split evenly between the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Community Bail Fund, but don’t worry if you missed it. There are plenty of ways you can help support the vital cause of racial justice; try here for a start. Lastly, as always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

This time, our random selection from the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality is B.O.O.M. – You Win [Early Access], by Kickin’ Rad Games. Its tagline in the bundle reads:

The Explosive Game of Hot Potato

Is it getting hot in here, or is it just your explosive potato?

The bracketed declaration that B.O.O.M. – You Win is in Early Access is important. While I was able to download this work-in-progress build as an owner of the bundle, it’s no longer available to those who don’t own the bundle. Instead, there’s an open demo available for free, although it’s dated 2018, which suggests that this Early Access version may be more recent, given that the bundle launched in 2020. Which makes it even stranger that I couldn’t get B.O.O.M. – You Win to fully work.

It runs fine, but navigating menus was a problem. All control prompts are for a gamepad, although it did seem to recognize certain keyboard keys. Plugging in my ancient third-party gamepad didn’t help much, since none of the button presses matched the on-screen prompts. I don’t blame B.O.O.M. – You Win for that, my old gamepad often causes problems. But usually I can fix it with something like x360ce, which worked perfectly for me in games like Furi and Floor Kids. No luck here, however. Button presses remained as wonky as ever. I eventually figured out roughly which buttons did what, but I was still unable to scroll through menus effectively; the tutorial page has a big list of subjects that I was unable to select. Hitting the “try it out” button for the first tutorial topic just went to a black screen, with the sound still playing.

I had more luck just jumping into the Arcade mode. B.O.O.M. – You Win is clearly designed as a multiplayer game, pitting players against each other in 2D platforming arenas that reminded me of the Super Smash Bros. games, but there is a single player arcade mode in which opponents are controlled by AI. Matches in B.O.O.M. – You Win center on the hot potato mentioned in the tagline, a cross between an American football and a bomb. Players accrue points every moment they carry the ball, but all the while a timer is ticking down, so it’s best to unload it at the last moment and hopefully catch some opponents in the blast. Characters can jump and double-jump (or maybe that’s only the character I picked?) around the arena, and try a sliding or mid-air tackle to take the ball from a rival. I think each player has a special move too, although I couldn’t figure out how to use it reliably.

This core idea is solid. Once I figured out movement and basic tackling, I enjoyed my bouts against the AI, often clawing my way back into a match by cannily avoiding pursuers to keep possession of the ball for a long run. Chucking the ball away and catching the others in the blast also felt great, when I could pull it off. But I found it difficult to judge exactly when the explosion was coming. The ball starts beeping with increasing urgency as its fuse counts down, but I was usually either tossing it just a moment too early only to have an enemy hurl it back in my face, or holding on a tiny bit too long and blowing myself up. I suppose this is part of what keeps the action interesting, as a more predictable explosion might mean players quickly learn to dominate the opposition and lose interest. As it is, timing an explosion just right is a moment of triumph. But I did sometimes find myself caught in my own blast when I thought I was safe, due to the slowly expanding blast radius. Nailing opponents with the bomb triggers a slow motion mode, which only exacerbates this problem. Just as I felt super cool, watching my character land nonchalantly in slow motion while her opponents are hurled offscreen by the explosion, the tail end of the blast would inch towards her and then knock her out as well a few seconds later. Come on, Kickin’ Rad Games, don’t make me keep playing during my slow motion celebration!

But I’m nitpicking here, because overall the matches were quite fun. There are some interesting stages in the mix, including one where the combatants run across the roofs of moving cars on a raised highway, and one that moves from a launch pad onto an actual rocket blasting skyward. An announcer throws out quips and taunts in response to the action, in keeping with the over the top sporting event theme. There’s a large cast of colorful characters already, with more listed as coming soon, and each even has a particular rival that they go one-on-one against in the middle of the arcade mode. With clearer controls, I could see this being a fun local multiplayer game, and for all I know Kickin’ Rad Games are well on the way to perfecting it. The itch page links to their Discord server for interested players to chat about the game and give feedback, but it seems that the only way to get access to the current build right now is via their Patreon. If you want to try it out before donating to the Patreon, you can either play the Early Access version from the bundle if you have it, or opt for the free demo instead.

That’s 73 down, and only 1668 to go!