Bounty Battle has one of the best ideas I have seen in a long time: gather up favorite characters from various indie video games and put them together in a Smash Bros.-like fighting game full of arcade hijinks. Unfortunately, the developers squander all of that promise with sloppy controls, boring gameplay and a terrible presentation destined to make this my most disappointing game of 2020.
Sometimes when I play a game, I find myself frustrated early on because it was not quite what I had been expecting. I think as gamers, we’ve all been there. However, I stick with it, because generally with a little extra time and effort on my part, I can see where the developers were trying to go with things. I might not always agree with it, but if I squint hard enough, I can at least understand intent and glean some silver linings.
Things open in promising fashion. When I fired up Bounty Battle I was greeted with a slick movie that quickly showcased so many favorites from different games like Guacamelee!, Darkest Dungeon, Dead Cells, Awesomenauts, Axiom Verge, SteamWorld Dig, Battle Chasers Nightwar and more. It is an inspired roster filled with colorful characters ripe for creating unique move sets that should fuel many hours of gameplay.
That’s our silver lining – and from here it all goes downhill.
It’s interesting to see that this title claims to be inspired by such games as BlazBlue, Injustice, Street Fighter and Skullgirls, because the only thing it really has in common with those mainstays of the fighting genre is that… well, it’s a video game. I know this is a harsh critique, and I hate coming down on something that someone else spent long hours working on, but the fact of the matter is, Bounty Battle feels half-baked at this point. There were warning signs in it being pushed back from its initial release date, but I generally try not to read too much into delays. 2020 has been a really weird year that has impacted people in a variety of ways, and if the devs felt that they needed a bit of extra time to make sure they got things just right? My thought process was: more power to them.
Now I’m wondering what that extra time was spent on. Despite listing those notable 1-on-1 fighting games as the inspiration for Bounty Battle, I think Super Smash Bros. is a much more apt (attempted) comparison. Sometimes battles are 1-on-1, but sometimes you’re taking on multiple characters. You’re trying to knock your opponents off of a platform, generally made easier by racking up damage against them in the process. As a core system, that’s fine. It’s worked exceedingly well for Nintendo’s Smash Bros. games, but this is the end of that comparison, because the combat in Bounty Battle is a murky, slog of a mess by comparison.
For one, the characters feel horrifically unbalanced. It was as though the developers had ideas for the characters and threw them together without really giving any careful consideration to the powerful back and forth aspects of combat gameplay. Some of the characters just feel more fully fleshed out than others, which is a serious no-no in a fighting game to begin with. Visually the art style itself works, but the animations are rough and combat lacks umph, relying heavily on overdone particle effects that seem as much flashy as they appear to be trying to mask the subpart character movements.
It does not help that this game is not very friendly to newcomers. Often these battler games have an element of ease with ‘pick up and play’ for groups to just settle in and wallop on one another. The control scheme just feels chunky and unwieldy from the beginning. There is a ‘minion’ system baked in there that sounds cool in practice, but in execution is pretty lacking. The framerate struggles whenever there are several characters playing at once, and without that smoothness in the controls it becomes a nightmare to string together combos. There is a neat idea buried in here about penalties and bonuses for unique attacks, but given how shallow some of the move sets are (especially for range-heavy attackers), if found myself often feeling panelized for doing what I had to just in order to survive.
Were the combat actually fun, the shallow single player content could be more easily forgiven. However, there is no story mode – just a tournament one that brings together a series of increasingly difficult battles. Each of the five events deserves credit for shaking things up a bit by giving different objectives along the way. It is the best option for breaking up the monotony of the others 1-on-1 battles and training arena.