Recently we’ve covered a good number of games that offer their own take on what fans are another game modus operandi. Some have to go their own direction and found success, whereas others feel like a lesser version of what they’re copying. Given Bounty Battle has some vague similarities to the ever-popular Super Smash Bros., the comparison was inevitable, though it follows a similar path as PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale and other games that rely less on ring outs and offer a simple path to defeat a foe. Both can work fairly well and given crossovers usually generate a good amount of interest, it is exciting to see where the latest indie crossover fighter takes us. However, while Bounty Battle might contain some iconic or at least popular characters, is it a good game or does it coast on name recognition and hype to move copies?
Typically a game like this has a vague story that I poke fun at by highlighting the rather cliché story arc. Something happens, characters from other realities end up in someplace and for another reason, they need to fight and restore balance or something like that. In Bounty Battle, we get an opening that shows portals that bring these characters together but there really isn’t an underline reason for this to occur, the characters to battle or any problem to overcome. In some ways this is fine, the story is often tacked on, driven more by fan service than narrative need, and often exists to add a vague reason for Jedah Dohma, Etna, and Marlone to appear together in one place. But, on the other hand, the story typically adds a fair amount of content, something that Bounty Battle is in desperate need of.
At best I’d call Bounty Battle a minimal viable product. Once you get past the rather robust 30 character roster, your modes include tutorial, tournament, challenge, training room, and local versus. Where tutorial could be an extremely helpful mode, one that helps bridge the gap between novice and pro in a genre that has almost endless amounts of depth and difficulty, it’s, unfortunately, a three or so minute long explanation of things found on the pause menu. Dialogue gives a little insight into how to play but the mode won’t help you much and beyond grasping the absolute minimum needed to hold your own. As a result, it falls on the tournament to teach players the skills needed to succeed.
Despite the name, the tutorial is basically a challenge mode where each character gets five unique missions that you can complete. Every mission you finish without losing a life unlocks a new skin, with progression unlocking new characters and challenges to overcome. If there is a problem with this mode, it’s that it’s frankly frustrating and ill-conceived.
Usually, the difficulty is tied to the character and the whole point is to teach you how to play as each character. The smart design would be to make a specific playstyle, move, or tactic advantageous, ultimately forcing players to master it, but it is wildly inconsistent. I’d be lying if I said Bounty Battle didn’t occasionally do that, oftentimes they exist because of necessity, over good planning. Something that is especially underwhelming when you consider this is one of the most frustrating game modes I’ve played in recent memory.
Now, full disclosure, I was trying to do every stage without dying and it was a feat I accomplished prior to writing this review. That said, the difficulty and logic were wildly inconsistent. For me, no stage was harder and better summed up my feelings than one of the last ones for Sheriff Lonestar.
For this challenge you needed to fight three enemies at once, defeat their team a total of 30 times and do so in less than 100 seconds. Even without dying, that is an extremely difficult task. The other team wasn’t weak enough to be able to casually blast them for an easy win, it legitimately required me to repeatedly use my super move, a large bull that, if properly timed, could hit all three characters at once and defeat them. But even that isn’t enough to win, I also had to use the mana code, a move that restores special, along with avoiding most damage and actually hit enough enemies to win. When I eventually did it, my success wasn’t from an increase in skill or learning a legitimate tactic for Sheriff Lonestar, it was a tactic that worked for this one stage and was entirely luck dependent.
Choices like this aren’t fun and when a good number of losses were simple things like fighting three enemies at once, getting confused (as in the actual status effect that inverts your controls), and/or having a single enemy hit you just enough to throw you over the edge and having no way to recover, it’s extremely easy to get frustrated. Not because the game is better than me, though sometimes the AI would have some extraordinary players, it felt like a cheap tactic to fail. Defeat 19 enemies, need one more, you randomly got grabbed and that tossed you over the edge for an instant failure (if you want the skin) is enough to never want to return.
As for the challenge, that is basic survival, with a training offering a space to practice and versus being the meat. Unfortunately, at the time of review, there is no online, making it even harder to really enjoy what Bounty Battle has to offer. Then again, combat could use a good bit of work.
Perhaps the most unfortunate thing about Bounty Battle is that it feels so soulless. Some characters feel more fleshed out than others, making those like The Prisoner (Dead Cells) feel so much more underwhelming. For a character that has turrets, bows, and other fun weapons, he is rather limited in what he can do. Due to the limited number of potential moves, this is a more tactical fighter, in that you can anticipate what they’re going to do and counter it but it does take away from the novelty.
Similar things can be said about level design and combat itself. If the AI or player doesn’t have assistance or know how to properly use the invincibility and dodge, something that is, at best, barely explained in the tutorial, you can largely infinitely combo players. What will often stop you isn’t a mechanic, as much as floaty controls and odd hitboxes, which will either work for or against you in the weirdest ways. And, to make matters worse, the level design is just depressing. For the most part, stages in Bounty Battle are a flat stage that shows something iconic from whatever it’s referencing. So, the luchador statue, the starting area in Dead Cells, and so forth. As a result, fights are largely straightforward in the most unfortunate ways.
Bounty Battle Review – Verdict
To be perfectly honest, I could probably write another 1,000 words explaining just how hollow this experience is. When you figure you have a bland indie fighter, set in largely linear stages, that has, at best, three modes to play, it’s not an attractive experience. Toss in stiff animations, extremely frustrating stages, underwhelming characters and it’s hard to find something redeeming in Bounty Battle. Heck, I unlocked every costume and can only seemingly use them in one mode, which brings into question why even bother. The really unfortunate thing is, a lot of the problems can be fixed and likely was the goal when it got delayed sometime back but in its current state I struggle to find something positive to say and that is really unfortunate.
[Editor’s Note: Bounty Battle was reviewed on PS4 platform. The game was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.]