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1995-2001
GamesFirst! Magazine

bouncer_cover.jpg (10838 bytes)


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by Squaresoft

3-01.jpg (4782 bytes)At Gamesfirst! we get excited about video games. It’s our job and we love it. But sometimes hype can be a bad thing. All too often companies promise what they can’t deliver, fans are left with light wallets and heavy hearts, and we all just have to wait for the next quiet gem. Well, I am here to help. Hopefully, I am writing in time to save you from the next high-profile dud: The Bouncer.

b10-01.jpg (4126 bytes)The Bouncer tells the story of three very tough, very bored, and very strangely attired young men who work as bouncers in a neighborhood bar. Their names are Sion, Kou, and Volt, and they spend most of their time with their feet propped up, staring at the dartboard. That is, until Dominique, one of Sion’s female admirers, is captured by a band of inhuman freaks in red sunglasses and leather mummy-wrap, and taken into the lair of the Mikado, where nothing and no one are what they seem.

b1-01.jpg (3696 bytes)And what a story it is! True, the concept is not exactly unique, and the narrative can pretty much be summed up with "hey, they look like bad guys, let’s beat them up!" However, the plot twists and the sheer abandon with which the story is told are truly inspired. We’re talking: secret agents; twitching, psychotic assassins; giant robots; morphing wizards; and characters that become unwilling conduits for killer space satellites.

b11-01.jpg (3775 bytes)Then there is the how the story is told. Squaresoft has created a look and sound that simply has never existed in console gaming until now. The Bouncer is a cinematic experience: smooth, flawless movie scenes; rich, detailed graphics; and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound (during the movies, anyway). The motion capture is solid, though this is the kind of heightened realism you find in movies like The Matrix or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The voice acting is top notch as well. If this kind of production value is the future of console games, I am in love.

b12-01.jpg (3797 bytes)Too bad the gameplay sucks. Actual quote: "this movie would be really cool if it weren’t for all that interactive crap." That’s a bad sign. This is, after all, a video game. Somewhere along the line, Squaresoft must have forgotten that. There is only about an hour and twenty minutes worth of game time in The Bouncer. Seriously. Sure, add to that the hour or so of movie scenes and you have the approximate running time of a feature film. But I don’t care how you look at it, reaching the end of a game in under three hours is inexcusable. And the pacing is ludicrous. After about fifteen minutes of gorgeous, captivating opening movie sequences and title screens, I finally reached the first fight: me and my bros against four freakish kidnappers. I was primed for action. Less than two minutes later, the brawl was over. Less than two minutes! On it went through another five minutes or so of movie sequences and bam! My next battle was even shorter. And so it goes throughout the entire game; this is all you get. The interactive components of the game amount to nothing more than cut scenes in the movie you are watching, something like a glorified Dragon’s Lair. To add insult to injury, the menu screens keep a running tally of your total in-game time, so you are constantly reminded that even though you have been watching this game for an hour, you have only been playing it for about twenty-five minutes. Then, as if this game needed to be more frustrating, the save points occur before the movie scenes, and you can only skip one scene at a time. So, whenever you die and have to reload your game, you have to spend god knows how long skipping scene after scene just to get back to your pitiful minute-long battle.

b15-01.jpg (4259 bytes)Not that the interactive side of this game has much to offer, anyway. The fighting system is so shallow that mixing moves is a matter of aesthetics, or alleviating boredom, rather than strategy. This is a pure button-pounder. And forget about combos, the characters fall down each time they are hit, so find a move you like and use it until everyone is out cold. You begin the game with four attacks and a guard, and earn more as the game progresses. Under the right conditions, the three protagonists can form a group attack. These are kind of cool, and result in a movie sequence where the characters take turns pummeling everyone in sight, but apparently they do no damage whatsoever because afterward the bad guys just stand up and continue as if nothing happened. The AI is miserable as well. Those fearsome opponents who, just moments ago, were moving at break-neck speed, scaling trees, and leaping across rooftops, stand there like apes and let you hit them when they are put in battle. Then there is the weak level design, a terrible camera system that usually has you running toward the camera so that you can’t actually see anything, even your enemies, and background collision problems. This is one of those games with an invisible field around all objects so that you can’t actually run into anything or jump through open spaces.

b18-01.jpg (2743 bytes)Also, I have to mention the moments when you are not fighting. There are moments in the game that were intended as puzzle elements, you know, to spice things up. Let me give you an example: the protagonists are in a runaway train that contains volatile explosives. To release the car carrying the explosives you must find a card key. There are three boxes in your car, what do you do? You search one, then the other, and then the third. Voila! The card key. Puzzle solved. How’s that for tension?

b23-01.jpg (4257 bytes)Finally, I don’t know what you may have heard, maybe I was mislead, or maybe I am just dumb, but I thought this game was supposed to have a multi-player story line. That is why I wanted to play this game: I thought it was a next-gen Streets of Rage or Fighting Force, or something. Not so. Story Mode is one-player only. The other characters are computer-controlled. Yes, you are free to choose any of the three lead characters, and change at critical plot points, building strength and skills and what-not, but don’t mistake this for branching story lines or possible replay value. The characters share one story line, with only one leg of the game splitting them up. So, essentially all you will get by replaying the game with each character is a different back story (easily intuited from the main story), different catch phrases before battles (one might say "You’ll pay for that" while the another says "You’ll never beat me"), and one or two different levels. The multi-player Versus and Survival Modes are essentially useless. With a fighting system that is barely tolerable in single-player mode, you are better off playing any other fighting game on the market.

b3-01.jpg (2639 bytes)The Bouncer has the strange distinction of being the one of the coolest games I have ever seen and one of the worst that I have ever played. It simply has to be played to be believed. I mean, it does have entertainment value outside of those snazzy cinematics, as an unintentional comedy. My friends and I had a lot of laughs while mocking this game. It really is that funny. Scratch that. If you paid five dollars to rent this game, it’s funny. If you paid fifty dollars to buy this game, it’s very, very sad.

Jeremy Kauffman

Snapshot

Ups: Really pretty graphics and FMV sequences.

Downs: Super short; shallow fighting system; uninspired multiplayer modes; feels like a film with some bad interactive sequences.

System Reqs:
Sony PlayStation 2

 

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