Oh Dear… The Bouncer. Where to begin? After the first clutch of slightly underwhelming titles debuted on the PS2 at launch, attention turned to Squaresoft’s The Bouncer hyped as the game that would really showcase the PS2 revolution. Previews had gamers salivating over a title that promised a deep Final Fantasy style storyline with a fighting engine that would rival Tekken for complexity, all taking place in a fully realised 3D world that would give the Emotion Engine a full workout and transport us straight to the Third Place.
It’s safe to say that what people weren’t expecting was a side-scrolling Beat Em’ Up that could be completed using the same move over and over and lasting just ninety minutes. Less if you exclude the time spent watching loading screens and lengthy cut scenes.
“Play The Action Movie!” blares the back of the box. And to be fair early footage of the game made it look pretty exciting. Remember those clips of the Bouncers charging down a hallway and leaping the ticket barriers of a railway station? And the sultry woman with the hair horns? Well turns out that was not gameplay footage but cut-scenes. Oh how we unwary purchasers of the game laughed (through our tears) when we found out!
But how does it play I hear you ask. You pick a character (one of the three Bouncers) and wait for a cut scene to end. Then you beat up four or five identical enemies in treacley slow combat with the AI controlling the other two bouncers and then watch another cut scene full of stilted and preposterous dialogue and rinse and repeat. You can switch characters at various times which makes a slight difference to the way a scene might play out. This is meant to encourage replays of the game, but the whole story is so inept and off-putting that only masochists, Square fanatics and reviewers determined to play the thing thoroughly in the interests of a fair review (Hi Readers!) will want to subject themselves to the tedium. Sometimes you get a flashback but in text only and even the fastest of readers will struggle to read it all before it moves on. Laughable stuff.
The RPG elements come from the acquisition of Bouncer Points after you defeat an enemy. These can be spent on boosting health, power and defence or unlocking new moves. However actually using those moves might be tricky down to a major flaw in the combat set-up. High, Low, Medium and Jump attacks are assigned to the four main buttons. However light and heavy forms of attack are on the same buttons. You tap gently for light attacks and press hard for heavy attacks using the analogue sensitivity.
In practice this just doesn’t work. The game has a hard time discerning a light and heavy attack and combos don’t help matters. For example, Sion has the following combos. Double Uppercut (Heavy Medium, Light Medium) and Triple Kick (Light Medium, Heavy Medium, Light Medium). It’s very easy for the game to become confused as to which of those two attacks you want to pull off especially if you try and string them together. You just end up mashing one button pulling off moves at random. It should also be noted that the AI of your fellow Bouncers is shockingly poor. They often simply stand still staring at you as you fight alone, or put their fists down and wander across the screen. You’ll often take more damage from their bodies being knocked into you than you ever will from the enemies you are fighting. The camera doesn’t help matters either, often swinging round ninety degrees suddenly leaving you flailing at nothing as the enemy you were targeting is repositioned.
The big brawls we were promised in the game don’t even manage to match that of far older side-scrolling beat em’ ups. Remember the ancient coin-op Double Dragon? That’s got more interactive environments than The Bouncer. In that game you could knock weapons out of enemies hands and use them against them, or pick up and throw barrels and boxes. Can you do that in The Bouncer? Nope! There is also a Versus Mode which you can unlock more characters for by completing the story mode in certain ways. Up to four players can fight at once, but your friends might not thank you for inflicting stodgy combat with suspect collision detection and limited movelists on them.
You have probably flicked your eyes down to the score by now. Those two whole marks are for the designs of the main characters which are rather good in a Final Fantasy VIII science-fiction type of way. But otherwise this game is worthless. An unengaging plot about a doe eyed moppet being kidnapped by an evil corporation (yawn), dislikable characters and a truly pathetic level of interaction and combat means this is the one Squaresoft game that is an unmitigated disaster from start to finish. It was a joke when it first came out and it hasn’t got any funnier in the intervening years. Avoid at all costs.