The Bouncer

Developer: Squaresoft / DreamFactory
Publisher: Squaresoft / Sony Computer Entertainment

Text Review

Developing titles for a system that hasn't even launched is a challenge most developers tend to avoid, as often times the final specs aren't known yet and development software tends to be buggy or incomplete. Yet, often times, studios that take the risk receive their own reward in the form of a promotional boost and sales. With that said, launch titles tend to be hit-or-miss, with the latter being quickly forgotten as tight release schedules, new hardware and other complications often hamper what could have been a quality release.

Indeed, The Bouncer was a game which carried a lot of hype, the graphics looked stunning and it was being jointly developed by Squaresoft and DreamFactory, two developers with proven track records. However, when the game launched, it was quickly forgotten and hardly anyone mentions it today. I'm assuming the challenge of developing a launch title for the PS2 simply proved too great, because simply put, The Bouncer is not a good game.

The Bouncer is a 3D beat'em up, a genre which typically struggles when moving from sprite-based gameplay to a polygonal one. You control one of three bouncers rescuing a girl who was kidnapped by a multinational corporation.

All three characters feature different stats and moves, moreover, defeating enemies nets experience points which can be spent towards upgrading your health, attack, defense or learning new moves. The game even rewards players with multipliers for defeating several enemies in a quick succession. You can even save your upgrades onto a memory card for your next playthrough. 

Unfortunately, all of this is undone by one major flaw; The Bouncer is incredibly easy. Yes, you can learn new moves, but there's no point, you can defeat every enemy by spamming a three-punch combo. Even bosses are complete pushovers. Granted, the final boss requires you to at least defend yourself and occasionally dodge, but outside of a few defensive maneuvers, you can easily beat the game with all three characters by repeating the same attacks ad nauseam.

To make things worse, the game is incredibly slow-paced. Your characters move and run slowly, all of your attacks, basic or advanced, carry a build-up which drags the pace down even further. This issue affects all three fighters but it's downright unbearable when controlling Volt, who has the strongest attack, but somehow manages to control even more sluggishly than his peers.

One odd design flaw I came across is the low number of characters in any given area. Most levels feature a paltry three enemies to defeat before loading another long cutscene, fully healing you and bringing you to the menu screen. Not only that, but throughout most of the adventure, you have two friendly AI characters helping you out, and they're surprisingly useful at dispatching enemies and damaging bosses including the final boss. This means that at times, The Bouncer feels more like a one-on-one beat'em up rather than what you expect from a Streets of Rage, Final Fight or Golden Axe game.

I should also point out that whatever upgrades you add to your characters are persistent for both you and your A.I. controlled colleagues. So in essence, The Bouncer somehow manages to become even easier with each playthrough, it gets to a point where you don't even have to do anything as your team is so strong that they can handle most threats, including bosses by themselves. Technically, you can can perform special attacks using all three characters, but as mentioned before, you'll never need to actually use this and some bosses will even counterattack when performing said moves.

Now, one doesn't typically expect beat'em ups to heavily focus on the story or feature long cutscene, but this one does, but unfortunately, the plot and dialog is terrible. The narrative most likely stemmed from RPG-centric developer, Squaresoft, but for a studio so focused on storytelling, they really dropped the ball. 

The narrative idea is a solid one, depending on which character you choose between stages, the plot will alter slightly, some plot arcs for example can be left unresolved or may be properly addressed if you pick the right combination. The problem is that this interactivity can't save a poor story filled with stilted dialog, voice-acting that received little to no direction and characters whose intelligence is questionable.

Then of course, there's the fact that The Bouncer's constant barrage of cutscenes keep interrupting gameplay. As previously mentioned, most stages only have three enemies, which can take less than a minute to defeat, but upon doing so, you're then prompted to another 10 minute cutscene only to then fight another trio of foes. 

Even the game's graphics leave a lot to be desired. For some reason, the developers added several bloom and blur filters to gameplay portions. Perhaps this was done in an attempt to hide jagged edges, but all it does is make The Bouncer a visual blurry mess. 

I'm sad to say that The Bouncer is a mess. It carries a misguided focus on storytelling for a genre that is typically better without one. The action is slow, easy and does not require the player to master any moves. The graphics are dark and blurry often making it hard to see where you or your enemies and what little enjoyment there is to be had in its gameplay is constantly being interrupted by more cutscenes. If there is one silver lining in all of this, is that the game is mercifully short.

Trivia: The main character, Sion looks remarkable similar to Sora from Kingdom Hearts while Volt and Kou share similar traits to Zell from Final Fantasy 8. This is because all of these games featured the same character deisgner, Tetsuya Nomura.

Video Review

- Story branch idea is interesting
- The cutscenes look nice at least
- Gameplay is shallow, slow and easy
- The long cutscenes keep interrupting the gameplay
- Excessively blurry visuals

Final Score: D-

Packaging Review: 

I quite like the box art here, Sion is detailed and the use of colors does a good job at drawing in your eye. I will say the collar and necklace he's wearing look a little goofy, but that's just one of Tetsuya Nomura's tropes.

Although the manual feature the same cover art, the disc contains an entirely different image. This time, the blue background creates a nice juxtaposition with the manual's dark-red color scheme.

The manual though short in length is printed on a surprisingly high quality paper, not to mention it's in full color. Sadly, the manual barely has any content other than information on how to boot up the game and basic combos.

In a way, this packaging contains many similar faults to that of the game; all flash and no substance. But I can't deny that shiny packaging works better as a Playstation 2 box than it does as a game.

Packaging Score: B+

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