Bounty Battle review – Super Smash Bros. goes indie

Bounty Battle review – Super Smash Bros. goes indie

Indie characters from Guacamelee, Dead Cells, SteamWorld Dig, and many more combine in this attempt to create an alternate Smash Bros.

On the face of it Super Smash Bros. seems like a game that’s impossible to copy, with its dozens of characters, from across the whole history of gaming, and so many modes and extras it’s almost impossible to see and do everything. But since it’s also hugely successful that hasn’t stopped people from trying, most obviously with PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, but also a range of licensed games, such as Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion, and even a few indie titles. But no indie game has ever tried to replicate the same scale of cameos and, judging by Bounty Battle, they should probably never should again.

In strictest terms Bounty Battle is Super Smash Bros. with indie games, in that it’s a 2D, four-player fighting game that features a wide range of characters plucked from a dizzying array of completely unconnected games. There are 30 playable characters in total, from some very well known indie titles, such as Guacamelee, Dead Cells, Darkest Dungeon, SteamWorld Dig, Nuclear Throne, Owlboy, Axiom Verge, and Awesomenauts.

There’s also lesser known games such as Blasphemous, Jotun, Battle Chasers Nightwar, Death’s Gambit, Blocks That Matter, and Pankapu; as well as one’s we’ve never heard of like EITR, Super Comboman, Flinthook, Doko Roko, Tower Of Samsara, Blubber Busters, Ruin Of The Reckless, and The Bug Butcher. It’s an impressive line-up, especially as there are unique characters made just for Bounty Battle on top of that. The only problem is that the game is terrible… which as problems go is a fairly big one.

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Sometimes the best thing a blatant clone like this can do is help you to appreciate the game it’s trying to copy even more, and that’s probably about the most positive thing you could say about Bounty Battle. Not only do you appreciate how well polished and intricately designed Smash Bros. is but also how difficult it must’ve been to make – no wonder the poor director ended up hospitalising himself due to overwork (and then coming in anyway, attached to a IV drip).

We’re sure developer Dark Screen Games worked very hard on Bounty Battle too but apart from anything else Smash Bros. is a huge development project involving multiple highly experienced studios. As far as we can tell Dark Screen Games haven’t made a game before, which leaves us a little confused as to how they managed to talk so many other companies into getting involved.

Bounty Battle makes a poor impression from the very start, with an animated intro showing the various characters being sucked out of their own games via a portal. Except when you start the game there’s a whole thing going on where it’s pretending it’s glitching out – as if that’s the way the various games were thrown together. The glitchy aesthetic really doesn’t seem a good idea for a game whose interface is this slow and cumbersome though, as we frequently thought it really had broken. In fact, the presentation in general is awful, with the whole front end being needlessly dark and murky, like a surly teenager’s bedroom.

Although we suppose that does prepare you for the horrors of playing the game, which makes an absolute mess of trying to emulate Smash’s simple but versatile control system. Instead of using the right stick to activate different moves you’ve just got some generic light and heavy attacks, and a few character specific special moves. These, and the ability to call in an assist character, are powered by bounty points, although the game makes a poor job of explaining exactly how these are earned.

It makes a poor job of almost everything really, with some really terrible animation that frequently makes it hard to make out what your character is supposed to be doing or whether you’re connecting with your opponent. And yet there are obvious attempts to add depth, with a fairly versatile dodge, moves that launch opponents into the air, and a vertical teleport. But the controls are far too unresponsive and imprecise for any of this to matter and make the whole thing feel like some half-finished Flash game from 2000 rather than a modern video game you’re expected to pay £20 for.

To make things even worse the game runs terribly on the Switch, with frequent frame rate problems, especially if you try and play with four people at once. Whether it’s better on other versions we don’t know (although a quick scout around on the internet suggests it’s just as bad everywhere) but it hardly matters since even when you do get a one-on-one match with no technical problems it’s still almost impossible to read the action properly. And that’s just the character you’re controlling – trying to anticipate anything your opponent does requires an act of pure clairvoyance.

The variety of modes are limited to local multiplayer and an uninteresting select of single-player challenges and tournaments (except weirdly the names are backwards and it’s the challenges that are actually tournaments and vice versa). It’s all incredibly simplistic and poorly put together, although given how bare bones the multiplayer is it’s hard to say which is the afterthought, perhaps both.

If it weren’t for the celebrity cameos Bounty Battle would go completely without notice and we wouldn’t normally pick on a low-quality indie game like this for a review, we’d just ignore it. But given the characters and premise involved this is likely to attract a lot more people than it deserves to, all of whom are going to be bitterly disappointed.

We will admit that the sheer awfulness of Bounty Battle is strangely fascinating, but while some indie games are so good they expose their AAA equivalents for the unambitious corporate products so many of them are a bad indie game just makes you want to retreat into the cold embrace of a carefully planned marketing strategy. Bounty Battle is just such a game and we expect it’ll end up being the worst we play all year – and god help us if it isn’t.

Bounty Battle review summary

In Short: A staggeringly inept attempt to clone Super Smash Bros. and populate it with indie characters, whose only achievement is to make you appreciate the real thing even more.

Pros: The selection of different indie characters is very impressive and we’ve no idea how it was organised. The static artwork is fine.

Cons: Almost unplayable in terms of the basic controls and the terrible animation, which makes it extremely hard to tell what’s going on. Horrendous frame rate problems. Awful single-player and too few options in general.

Score: 1/10

Formats: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC
Price: £19.99
Publisher: Merge Games
Developer: Dark Screen Games
Release Date: 10th September 2020
Age Rating: 12

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