I would like you to think for a moment about your favorite dessert. Visualize its flavors, scent, and appearance in your mind. Is it an apple pie? A raspberry trifle? Maybe it is a batch of creamy brownies. Now imagine that someone just told you they will be giving you that dessert. You are filled with so much excited anticipation that when the dessert arrives you immediately bite into it. After a short bit of chewing, however, reality sets in. Your mouth is filled with ash. There is no sweetness, nor joy. It tastes, one might even say, a little buggy. This is exactly how I felt after sitting down with the unfinished disaster that is Bounty Battle.
Harsh words, I know, but I do not bear any ill will toward the developers at Dark Screen Games. Their “ultimate indie fighting game” looks great on paper. Taking 20+ characters from hit indie games and pitting them against one another in a Super Smash Bros. style brawler is a wonderful idea.
It is, in fact, an amazing idea. Especially because of the characters that they were able to grab. Owlboy, Dead Cells, Battle Chasers: Nightwar, Darkest Dungeon, Guacamelee!, and SteamWorld Dig are just a few of the indie darlings featured in the game. Not only are those some great games, but their representation within Bounty Battle is done incredibly well. In the true spirit of Masahiro Sakurai, the movesets for characters emulate the way they move and reference their game worlds beautifully. Truly, a lot of work was done in paying tribute to these characters.
However, that is where the list of positive things I can say ends. Despite the love being shown for these indie games, none of them are fun to control. Animations are sloppy, hits have absolutely no impact to them, and trying to see what is happening through the mess of ugly particle effects is a nightmare. Characters even feel like they have differing levels of polish. It is painfully easy to see how Owlboy has much more work put into him than the Shield Maiden from Eitr.
This lack of polish seeps into the gameplay as well. Combat is not fun to any degree. Commands feel unresponsive, getting knocked into the air offers no chance for recovery at all, and pulling off even a three-hit combo is frustratingly difficult. This is made even more frustrating by the inconsistency of hitboxes. On more than one occasion, I would see my attacks phase right through opponents. Of course, that was if I was able to see anything happening on screen at all, since the game shows more lag than any online game I have played this year. Yes, just playing locally on the couch with a friend caused the game to slow down frequently. Even playing the game by myself against bots would result in extended moments where the action came to a complete halt.
That is, if you can call the on-screen nonsense action. Characters have incredibly shallow movesets. This makes one of the game’s worst features even worse. Bounty Battle does not want you to spam a move for too long or you will start to lose some of your score – your score which does not help you win in any way, keep in mind. So, in order to keep your pointless score from plummeting, you must attempt to juggle three different attack buttons that might respond to your button inputs. Meanwhile, your opponent is trying to attack you and they may not care about the no spamming rule. If they do not, and if they are luckier than you, it is entirely possible that you will end up locked against a wall for the remainder of your character’s life. When you respawn, after an awkwardly long wait that feels like the game even struggles to load your character, pray that your opponent did not enjoy their previous, easy victory.
“Wait!” I can hear you say, “if the score does not matter, then how do you win?”. I honestly have no idea. I played the tutorial twice, struggled through challenge fights, slogged through tournaments, and dragged some friends kicking and screaming into many more matches than they wanted. After all of that, I cannot tell you if the conditions for winning depended on your “bounty” score, the lives system, or the way that the planets were aligned. The philosophy of, “hit but do not get hit” worked pretty well. Sometimes. Other times, even that flawless strategy proved ineffective against the amount of stuttering and bugs that would cause the game to crash.
Like that delicious dessert imagined above, Bounty Battle on Xbox One is a great idea. With such lovable and memorable characters from a host of indie games, it seemed like a knockout idea. Yet, horrible visuals, unfinished gameplay, and terrible optimization mar the loving treatment that was given to these indie icons. In many ways, I wish that someone else would take a crack at it. Then again, the risk of repeating the process and creating something this unplayable makes me shiver.