So, it’s been quite some time since I wrote a review of a game, hasn’t it? The reason for that, as discussed in my “Plans for 2019” post (here), is that I wanted to slow down my reviews and take the time to actually write better ones. That way, rather than just churning out low quality reviews, I could actually offer some insights into the game I am reviewing.
With that said, I wanted to get the next review going, and after replaying The Bouncer recently (some of it on stream on my Twitch channel), as well as seeing the mixed opinions on the game, I thought that would be a great one to start with. So, let’s take a look at Square’s first beat-em-up style game on the PS2.
But first, if you are interested in seeing my live reactions and experiences of going back to The Bouncer, you can watch the recording of my livestream below!
Okay, so we’re going to stick with the same, tried and tested format for my reviews. That means that we are going to be starting with The Bouncer’s storyline. This is because the storyline of a game is on the most important aspects of a game in my opinion.
For The Bouncer, the storyline is somewhat weak, in all honesty. At least, it feels weak for a game made by the juggernaut that was Square. In all fairness to the game, though, it is a beat-em-up, and the genre isn’t really known for deep and meaningful plots. Instead, the most famous beat-em-ups revolve around either saving a girl who was kidnapped for no real reason, or taking down a corrupt businessman or gang leader.
The Bouncer’s plotline sort of mixes both of these tropes into one story, whilst actually adding backstories to the characters and reasons for their actions. So that’s already a big positive compared to the rest of the genre.
Starting off with your group’s friend, Dominique, being kidnapped by the Mikado Special Forces, you would be forgiven for thinking that the game is just doing the same opening as so many others. However, things go from generic to mildly interesting rather quickly. For example, you learn about biological experiments on humans, a plot to use “unlimited energy” as a way to gain control over the world, and using cybernetics to save the lives of people you love and care for.
In other words, the plot offers more than your typically beat-em-up. However, I have to be honest, it isn’t that exciting and does take a backseat to the general desire to just punch your way through each level.
There are branching points in the story, which is a nice inclusion. These happen based upon two factors;
- Your actions in specific levels and areas.
- Which character you choose to play as in that specific level.
For example, there is a bit on a train where you can detach a train car containing rocket fuel. If you manage to do it, then the following level will happen slightly differently compared to when you don’t make it.
Another example would be when you learn the history about a specific secondary character. If you are playing as Sion, then he will remember that character and they will survive. However, if you are playing as one of the other two characters, Sion won’t remember this person and they will subsequently die.
As I said, this is a nice touch to add to a beat-em-up game, showing its routes in the development studio behind the Final Fantasy series. However, it doesn’t really have much of a lasting effect on the rest of the game, nor the storyline as a whole.
Therefore, whilst it does add replay value, it doesn’t add anything significant to the plot. And unfortunately, that’s probably the biggest negative about The Bouncer’s storyline; it feels like it could have been so much better.
Personally, there is nothing more annoying than seeing something that is (in all honest) mediocre, but also has glaringly obvious ways to make it so much more! The Bouncer’s storyline feels like it could be a great intro to an amazing plot but just doesn’t hit the mark on its own.
Although I have to say, the ending has a very touching scene, even if it is easily missed due to the still frame images that flash on and off screen.
Typically, where the storyline of a game by Square doesn’t quite match up to expectations, the gameplay is usually top notch. That’s one of the many reasons why Square was my favourite development studio for so many years.
The Bouncer somehow manages to both live up to this and buck the trend at the same time.
If we start by addressing the elephant in the room, the combat could do with a bit more polish. The overall system is really good, with the ability to gain levels like an RPG and learn new abilities and attacks. This should provide a huge amount of move variation and make the combat feel constantly fresh and exciting. In a sense, it almost makes it feel like an action RPG.
And you know what? It does manage to do just that, as long as you take the time to learn and carry out the various new moves that you gain. Sadly, there isn’t really much of a reason to do that.
In fact, it may actually be detrimental to your progression if you try and use all of the moves you can get. Instead, if you are more interested in getting through the game to see the conclusion of the storyline, it’s actually easier to just use the base punch or kick combos!
I managed to get through almost the entire game using just the base combos, smashing the enemies to pieces with ease. The only time I had to use something different was when I came up against the dogs. Even then, all I needed was the low-kick combo that (again) is a base combo that you don’t need to unlock.
The thing is, I’m not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing. It does mean that anyone can pick up The Bouncer and play through it without too much of a challenge. However, it also means that the level up and skill learning mechanics are largely irrelevant. And without those mechanics, there isn’t much to separate The Bouncer from any other beat-em-up out there. Thus, we come up against another issue; the game doesn’t really stack up against the other, more popular beat-em-ups without these mechanics.
The reason for this is simple; The Bouncer feels slow! Everything from the running animations to the actual attacks makes you feel like the entire game is running in a mild Bullet Time effect.
Now, I was playing the game on an original PS2 console, and it felt really sluggish. This may be due to the fact that, as I’m in the UK, I have to play the PAL version which runs at a lower frame rate than NTSC. But as that’s the version of the game we get in Europe, that’s the one I have to look at.
It’s not all bad, though. Probably the best thing about the gameplay is the inclusion of ragdoll physics. There is something incredibly satisfying to watch the enemies go flying across the room after you give them a swift kick.
This, along with the fact that (if you are a completionist) there are a tonne of moves to get, meaning that the game offers quite a lot of replay value. That, of course, is a great thing – as long as you don’t mind playing through the slow and (honestly) rather repetitive fights multiple times.
Okay, so we’ve spoken about a lot of negatives with The Bouncer so far, but now we can get to some positives. Specifically, the graphical presentation of the game is really good, especially for a very early PlayStation 2 game.
The character designs, to be fair, are somewhat outrageous. But then, this is a Square game so you have to expect it. Interestingly, if you look at Sion’s character design, it is rather obvious that his design was a sort of Sora – Version 0.1. He shares so many traits with the lead of Kingdom Hearts.
However, character models aside, the game looks great for its time. The environments feel realistic and lived in, building the world extremely well. Despite the animations being slow, they are animated brilliantly, with each one looking unique and like it actually hurts the recipient.
The cutscenes are also very well choreographed, with each one capturing a sense of urgency, relief or other emotion. I don’t really have anything negative to say about the graphics of The Bouncer; it really does look great for its age. Sadly, that does mean that the other negatives (in terms of the plot and gameplay) become ever more obvious.
This is due to the fact that the developers were able to make an early PS2 title look as good as it does, but not manage to reach the same potential with the other aspects of the game.
And That’s All Folks
The Bouncer feels like a game that could have been absolutely amazing. It had the pedigree of being developed by Square, one of the top development studios in the world in the ’90s. This shows through in the graphics and the branching parts of the storyline.
However, the overall implementation and execution of the game just don’t live up to the potential that it had. The oddly slow, and repetitive, gameplay is a real hindrance to your enjoyment, and the story tries to add more to the genre but doesn’t quite manage to pull it off when it comes to getting your invested.
The Bouncer isn’t a bad game. It can be fun to play, but it doesn’t quite reach the level of other beat-em-ups, nor does it succeed add being an action-RPG style game either. Instead, it sits somewhere between the two, almost as if it were a Jack of all trades, yet master of none. This is a real shame, as The Bouncer definitely could have mixed RPG elements with the beat-em-up formula really well, but just didn’t manage to do it in the end.
If you are a fan of Square, then give this game a try. You may very well enjoy it! Just, don’t go into it expecting their previous levels of innovation to shine through.