“I was walking on the ground, I didn’t make a sound. Then, I turned around, and I saw a clown.”
When it comes to fighting games, it’s always the indie scene that comes through with something truly enthralling to watch unfold. The janky physics-based action of Nidhogg 2, the pocket-sized fun of Rivals of Aether, or the infamous Skullgirls; there’s something about a mind free of restraints that brings wonderful energy to the screen. Better yet, why not go full M.U.G.E.N on a project and make an indie-game spectacle not unlike Super Smash Bros? Thank Christ for Bounty Battle, then.
This is the debut game from French studio Dark Screen Games, headed by one François von Orelli. Other information about the studio and its history is hard to come by, save for their upcoming game, Rise, and the publisher, Merge Games, who’re a perfect fit. Despite none of their indie game offerings showing up in Bounty Battle, it’s the eye they have in regards to their publishing catalog that holds promise.
There’s no real plot, beyond a disruption in time allowing all of these indie game characters to fight against each other, and the roster is quite staggering. You’ve got Dead Cells, Flinthook, Darkest Dungeon, Guacamelee! — they even got Pankapu! It’s a 2010s dream come true, Superman vs Goku on the smaller screen! So if you’re wondering how powerful Fish from Nuclear Throne is against The Penitent One from Blasphemous, now’s your chance.
If there’s one thing that can be immediately applauded, it’s a diverse roster filled with a lot of charm, unique natures, and an eye for their abilities. Whether it’s Guacamelee!‘s Juan being able to throw further or Flinthook‘s Captain Flinthook using his… uhh… Flinthook to grapple onto enemies and into the fray, it’s all attention to detail. It makes you excited to see what kind of crazy antics one can get up to.
As stated above, the angle Dark Screen is going for with Bounty Battle is the ever-popular Super Smash Bros. format: small arenas, no barriers protecting the edges, up to 4 players, and a few trinkets added that can help turn the tide of battle. More arena brawler than one-on-one, the game has a fairly hefty tutorial attached to it to make sure you know how it is.
It’s your standard affair, what with the light attack, heavy attack, slam attack, block, grab, and ultimates. Bounty Battle‘s main gimmicks seem to be related to, well, Bounties, a system that rewards players for unique combos or eliminating the best player in the arena. These Bounty points can be used to buy support characters that can… I don’t know, actually.
In theory, it sounds like a good idea, but it seems to mostly relate to eliminating the MVP, and with the washed-out colors, that’s an issue. A lot of the guest characters from other franchises have been redrawn in order to accommodate with aesthetic Bounty Battle provides, but they’ve been drawn to look the same. The arenas are also awash in darkness, so trying to pay attention to what’s actually happening on the screen becomes a mess.
It doesn’t help that the arenas lack bite or any sort of variety. Beyond a wallpaper change relating to some of the indie games who have characters featured, almost none of these arenas have any sort of environmental punch. It all takes place on one straight line, you can’t force a tighter fight on a tighter space, the only way you can take a fight is all the way to the right or all the way to the left.
Thankfully, there is small respite in the fact that sticking to ranged attacks is a strategy you can pick. You won’t feel good for doing it, but if you play with more than two fighters on the screen, you have two choices: strategic placement of your character and dodging while they attempt to come closer, or simply button mashing in the middle of the cartoon dust cloud.
It seems like airplay is the name of the game here, since a lot of the specific combos and attacks benefit a more aerial approach. It’s not something you can cheap out either, as air-juggling isn’t viable, and A.I. pays a fair amount of attention as to how everyone plays at all times. It’s fairly responsive, quick to spot flaws in approaches, and in the “Tournament” mode, it shows no mercy.
Unless you know exactly what you’re doing, don’t even attempt Tournament mode. Almost immediately, the game spares no punches on your beginner ass and will instantly task you with specific challenges. Very Hard mode fights, reaching a set amount of eliminations via throw-out, 1v1 fights with higher health and/or damage scaling… and there’s 150 of these challenges! five for each character!
It’s quite a meaty treat to tuck into, especially since it actively works to cover all of the bases as frequently and as much as possible. The only issue one could surmise from the entire affair is a lack of forgiveness for mistakes. All 30 sets of 150 challenges have 5 skins you can unlock for each character, but they only unlock if you complete a challenge without losing a life. When it comes to challenges like the set amount of eliminations, the game employs a horde strategy, which enforces that cartoon dust cloud inevitably to a point of frustration.
As for other features Bounty Battle has, it’s all glorified training, with the only other option being a straight-up Versus mode that allows for up to four players. It’s a fair amount of preparation for when the current global pandemic ends, since at time of writing, the game hosts no online capabilities, only local. While one cannot socially distance on a couch, this would be a good time for siblings, if it wasn’t the awful performance this game possesses.
All of this praise one could latch onto Bounty Battle is squandered, since every match lags, freezes, and stutters the second a single hit is registered. Every time a character runs out of life, the game stops for a full second as it attempts to register what exactly just happened, and it is absolute hell to play, for the most part. Does this make the game unplayable? Yes and no.
When Bounty Battle starts acting up and freezing non-stop, you could always just start button-mashing until the game decides it wants to be your friend again. This isn’t exactly in the spirit, though, is it? When you also take into account just how frequently the game decides to freeze and lock up, you only end up with a game with all of its potential lost.
While a lack of online multiplayer knocks the allure of Bounty Battle down a few pegs, it’s the technical shortcoming that kneecap the entire charade. It lacks tight design beyond smart A.I., it lacks features beyond playing with bots, lacks levels with bite, and feels unfinished, both in what it wants to be and how it should be. Despite a unique roster, it has no unique impact.
This Review of Bounty Battle was based upon the Xbox One version. A review code was provided for this purpose.
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