Fighting games are cool. They have style, flair, hyperbole. They run under a clear structure of competition: press some buttons better than your enemy. Of course, they can have a certain ‘feel’ when played that helps them rise above the rest. But they also have drama, like sitting ringside in real life. Whether it’s Super Smash Bros., Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Injustice, or Soulcalibur, all these games treat each fight like a performance. Bounty Battle, on the other hand, has none of this style, sadly. Even worse, the fights don’t feel good either. Overall, in fact, every inch of the game just feels bad.
Coming to us from a tiny team at DarkScreen Games as a Super Smash Bros. with indie characters, it pits over 25 fighters from over 20 different indies against each other in a handful of modes, from a tournament mode to a challenge mode, as well as some local multiplayer. There is some great indie representation here, with characters from Guacamelee!, Darkest Dungeon, Dead Cells, Owlboy, Axiom Verge, SteamWorld Dig, and more. These are some of my favourite indie games ever, and I was genuinely excited to see a great idea come to fruition. Sadly, however, Bounty Battle is one of the worst games I’ve played in a while.
Gameplay — Unclear & Unfun
The way this game plays is often pretty rough, but the foundation seems to at least hint at something that could have been interesting. There are various different battle types when you play in Tournament mode (where you are given different styles of gameplay, almost like a challenge), whereas there is the classic get-their-health-down-all-the-way mode in Challenge mode (where you face increasingly challenging enemies in the same mode, almost like a tournament). This variation is interesting, but in reality, some of the Tournament mode challenges are too difficult to execute because the game itself handles so clumsily.
There are also different buffs and debuffs in-game, as well as a ‘spammers block’ if you overuse one attack too much. This is a nice idea, but in practice, it is easy to avoid as the combos available rarely go beyond Y/Y/X or some other combination. When playing against the AI, it is pretty simple to use the same combo over and over until you win. Apart from when it’s not, when the AI is suddenly way too difficult. There are no difficulty settings, so I have no idea how the difficulty works in these game modes. It is completely unexplained.
As for those buffs and debuffs, visibility is very poor. I found it genuinely impossible to tell in handheld mode what was affecting me and how. The game only shows you what buffs or debuffs are active by small, white symbols above the characters’ heads and the occasional, dull aura around you or them. This game has quite a dark, flat colour palette, making clarity very hard to find. I recommend turning on character outlines, because it helps, even if only barely.
There are also these things called minions. They are basically Assist Trophies you can pick up with some bounty points, which you gain during the match. Except the only difference is they don’t really assist anything. Or maybe they do, but it’s just impossible to tell. I don’t know, but they seem useless so far. All of this comes down to one main problem with the way this game plays: its intention is unclear and its execution is poor.
Even the tutorial is more oblique than it needs to be, with tiny text boxes talking to you through the absolute basics (those that most people who would want to play an indie game brawler would already know), but not explaining the game beyond that. The first character you play as in the tutorial, Azell — made for this game, not taken from another indie — only has one mid-air melee attack, all the rest are ranged. For a game that stars mostly melee fighters, this is definitely a strange decision.
Of course, there is some local multiplayer which I toyed around with for a bit. Really, it’s more of the same and it rarely felt like a genuine competition that I cared about. The way the game plays makes you feel so detached from your characters’ actions that it’s hard to get competitive with it. Also, during these times of COVID-19 and quarantine, launching without online multiplayer is a big hit. There will be a lot of people who can’t play with friends in-person right now, so online would have given Bounty Battle somewhat of a boost.
Graphics & Audio — Ugly & Unplayable
Now, one thing that puts all that gameplay analysis into a new perspective is the poorly animated, unclear, and muggy visuals of this game, all of which run at a really sub-par frame-rate. Not only does the game play badly, but it runs badly, and looks bad, making everything seem even more disappointing. Playing with just two characters on screen leads to some rough frame-rates, meanwhile, with more than two on-screen the game becomes damn near unplayable.
The wonderfully animated intro that opens up this game is gorgeous. Just like the opening sequence of Smash, you see all the fighters tearing through portals and fighting and all that stuff. It got me really excited. But once you actually see these characters in the game, it looks terrible. Not one of these characters look as good as they do in their original game. Even the simple, barely animated Crusader from Darkest Dungeon manages to look worse. If you try and compare The Prisoner from Dead Cells to his original game version, the animation becomes egregious.
This kind of thing continues all the way to the menus. There are strange delays, hard-cuts in and out of battle, the music suddenly disappearing and reappearing. Sometimes it will feel like your controller isn’t working. When you end a battle, there isn’t any fanfare — you character just stands idle, in the centre of the screen, as the phrase ‘Good Game’ appears in white, at the top of the screen, in a font even plainer than the one I’m writing in. The gameplay doesn’t even get saved by some style — there just isn’t any.
I don’t like being so completely down on a game, and there is one saving grace, even if it’s only slight. The handful of tunes in the game are great, and the main theme is a cracker. But, what does that even matter when the game is so bad to play? While the songs are fun, without any game there, they become just as meaningless as everything else.
Bounty Battle was reviewed on Nintendo Switch, and a review key was provided by Evolve PR.