There are few things better to me than a good crossover. Whether it's in TV or movies, I love seeing my favorite characters from different worlds come together. That's true of video games, too. There are few franchises I love more than Super Smash Bros., which brings together the cornucopia of Nintendo's best characters. So when I heard that Bounty Battle would essentially be Smash Bros. for the indie gaming universe, I got excited. There are great indie characters out there, so a fighting game should be a no-brainer, right?
Then I played Bounty Battle. And then I stopped playing Bounty Battle, which I can only describe as a disaster.
Bounty Battle is a crossover fighter that takes over 30 of the most recognizable characters in indie games and puts them in a 2D platform arena. The premise sounds like Smash Bros., but it plays closer stylistically to a different crossover fighter: PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale. Each character has a health meter and scoring points involves taking opponents' health meters down to zero.
Each character has different abilities that are largely based on their native games. Owlboy has different tools from his game, Juan has his grappling moves from Guacamelee, Trace has his blaster from Axiom Verge, and so on. All of this would seemingly lend itself to an exciting fighter, but that excitement is quickly crushed by the weight of Bounty Battle's other shortcomings.
For one thing, the actual fighting mechanics start off extremely confusing. It's true that the game will open with a tutorial, but good luck remembering the information overload that ensues. There's a button for strikes, where players can execute combos and different varieties of blows depending on what direction the player is holding. On the surface, that sounds like Smash Bros., but the functions are so drastically different that it's hard to remember what does what in the heat of battle. Mix in different special moves, as well as the ability to call in "minions" and the systems don't feel any clearer. It's a game where you'll probably just want to get by with a few button mashes, especially with the combo system working well enough, but this game has spam penalties, so that's not really a good idea.
It really doesn't help when the rest of Bounty Battle's problems set in. And there are quite a few of them, so strap in.
I don't want to be so blunt and say that Bounty Battle looks ugly, but it is a visual nightmare. The opening cinematic might be the best-looking thing about the game, because it's all downhill from there. The menus are unsightly and tough to navigate, but it only gets worse once you actually take the next step. The character models looks amateurishly low-res. The thing about Bounty Battle is that it's operating on the premise that "rifts" have brought together all of these chracters, but the visual "rift" effects and the low-resolution models mix horribly. I highlighted Trace on the character select screen and legitimately wondered if there was something wrong with my PC or my installation was corrupted. No, that's just the game. It looks that way by design. Ouch.
The fighting itself is no better, because the framerate is horrendous. At best, I had trouble stringing together combos, activating specials, or utilizing that confusing minion system. (Do I have enough points to summon a minion? Yes? No? Possibly?) Between the framerate hitches and the wacky hitboxes, actually hitting my opponents was often a challenge in itself. And once the fight was over, the game just instantly went to a bewildering fireworks display, one where I had no idea what was happening the first few times I played. At worst, the fights were literally unplayable with chugging speeds and occasional hard crashes. And as bad as the performance was here, it got even worse when I tried to shut the game off, as my screen was frozen for minutes before the window would finally close, as if the giant "B" on the main menu was taunting me for my poor choices in life.
There isn't a lot to do in Bounty Battle, either, since the game doesn't have online multiplayer. Of course, given the aforementioned performance issues, I couldn't begin to fathom how online play would even function. No, Bounty Battle is restricted to local multiplayer and a couple of single-player modes. Challenge Mode is your standard arcade-style mode where you take on CPU opponents while Tournament Mode presents a series of challenges. (I don't have those two modes mixed up. Seriously.) Challenge Mode is nothing special, but at least serves as a nice way to practice the game's many combat systems. Tournament Mode, on the other hand, is a mess. Players can't select their characters and instead have to go through challenges in a pre-determined order. Worse, Tournament Mode will add gimmicks like 2-on-1 matches or four-player free-for-alls and that's where the performance problems are on full display. Speaking of which, you could get a four-player Versus Mode session going to try and emulate the Smash Bros. experience, but don't get your hopes up that it will run smoothly in any sort of way.
A losing battle
Bounty Battle is one of the coolest ideas for a game I've seen in some time, which is partly why I feel like part of my soul has been crushed. This game is an absolute mess. It's presentation is terrible, the character models are laughable, the systems are confusing, and it made me wonder half the time if my PC was broken. Given the rich roster of wonderful indie characters, this should have been a contender. Instead, this fighter's career is over before the bell even rang.
This review is based on a PC code provided by the publisher. Bounty Battle is available now on Steam, the PlayStation Store, the Microsoft Store, and Nintendo eShop for $19.99. The game is rated E10+.
- Cool concept with indie characters bringing their specific skills to a fighting game
- Performance and framerate is awful
- Combat mechanics are confusing
- Tutorials are not helpful
- Hitboxes are janky
- Character models look low-res and cheap
- Menus are ugly
- No online multiplayer
- Single-player offerings are sparse