It’s not uncommon to see indie game characters appear in one another’s games. There’s a real ‘don’t hate; collaborate’ mentality with many indie game designers that are happy to lend their established characters to other up-and-coming titles. I don’t think any of these cross-overs have ever been as ambitious as ‘Bounty Battle’. This new 2D fighting game asks the question “What if Super Smash Bro’s was purely indie game characters?” and the answer is a very interesting melting pot of idea’s that’s fast fun in multiplayer, but seriously lacking in single player.
There’s a plot of sorts in Bounty Battle that is presented in an opening cinematic (which is identical to the above trailer) and never really mentioned again. A whole host of indie characters were going about their usual business when glitches started to appear and teleporting them from their own game into others. In the video, Juan from Guacamelee crashes through a glitch and squashes Fish from Nuclear Throne before being charged by The Crusader from Darkest Dungeon. The sword wielder can’t get close though as he’s trashed by both Gully from Battle Chasers and Otus from Owlboy. This kind of chaos continues as characters from a whole host of indie games are introduced. According to the games website, this is supposed to represent “a huge vortex that has formed above each world, allowing its inhabitants to communicate with and travel to other worlds, thanks to a new material called the Ethereal Mana”. Each character has apparently had a bounty put on its head and they’re fighting to see who will become “Master of the Universe”. I don’t really see any evidence of any of that in the Bounty Battle game itself however (more on that in a second).
In total, 30 characters from 22 indie games are represented in Bounty Battle, including a handful of original creations. Here’s the full list;
- Azell, Atlas, Tyran, Lazarus & Lilith, all of whom were created specifically for Bounty Battle.
- Ollaf from Dark Screens’ previous game Ollaf – A Dwarf Chronicle.
- R-182 which… I’m not sure about. I think it’s a studio mascot?
- Stargrove from Ruin of the Reckless.
- The Prisoner from Dead Cells.
- Struggles from Super Comboman.
- Rusty from Steamworld Dig.
- Otus from Owlboy.
- The Hermetic Champion from Tower of Samsara.
- The Penitent from Blasphemous.
- Rudy from Blubber Busters.
- Gully from Battle Chasers.
- Captain Flinthook from Flinthook.
- Oddmar from Oddmar.
- Fish from Nuclear Throne.
- Tetrobot from Blocks That Matter.
- Shield Maiden from Eitr.
- Harry from The Bug Basher.
- Thora from Jotun.
- Pankapu from Pankapu.
- The Unslain from Doko Roko.
- Agent of Death from Death’s Gambit.
- Trace from Axoim Verge.
- The Crusader from Darkest Dungeon.
- Sheriff Lonestar from Awesomenauts.
- Juan from Guacamelee!
I think you’ll agree the Bounty Battle has the most impressive collective of indie game characters in one game since…maybe Runbow? It’s an eclectic group that cover some of the most high profile indie games from the past few years as well as some sleeper hits and a handful of original characters to top things off.
Each character has a unique set of moves that are all mapped to the same button press combo’s involving 2 buttons. On the PS4, square represents simple attacks and triangle triggers strong attacks. Both buttons will also perform a different attack when in combination with a held up or down direction pad, either doing a launcher/anti-air or charged attack. There’s also a grab with can be activated and countered (should you find yourself being grappled) with R1. Characters can double jump with X and do a variety of dodges with circle. Lastly, every player has both a Special Attack and Ultimate attack. Strong attacks and their variants, as well as the Ultimate and Special attack all cost Mana to use. You begin each match of Bounty Battle with 5 bars of Mana to spend which refill over time or with collectables. This system is there to prevent you from spamming Strong attacks and it works. If you’ve every played Smash Bros., this’ll be an instantly familiar set-up that won’t take you long to adjust too.
There’s also a bounty system, as hinted at in the opening cinematic. As other players/the AI are defeated, a bounty will be put on the most deadly players head. Claiming that bounty by defeating them rewards you with in-match currency. This currency can be exchanged for an assisting character that float around the battlefield and can assist the summoner. Each of these summons are tied to the source material of the indie game hero – Juan from Guacamelee spawns a flock of chickens, for example.
What I find most impressive about Bounty Battle is how each character’s moves are representative of their original source material. The characters armed with nothing but a sword aren’t suddenly whipping out ranged attacks. Some characters are pure melee, others are entirely ranged attacks, many have a mix of both.
This plays into the balancing of the game too. The attacks of someone like Azell who are totally ranged can do a decent amount of damage but are slow moving and can be avoided. Jotun’s Thora can do massive damage with her axe but each swing is sluggish. Fish from Nuclear Throne has a mix of both ranged and close quarters that are quick to execute but do only small amounts of damage. It’s easy to find a favourite character here that suits your play style. There’s a few issues with the balancing right now – I think Tyran is massively overpowered with an Ultimate attack which can wreck multiple opponents across a whole stage – but for the most part, no matter who you’ve picked, you have a chance to win so long as you can utilise that characters moves in the right way.
Bounty Battle is best played in Versus mode. With multiple game modes based on the number of lives or eliminations needed for victory, and with the ability to play in a myriad of team dynamics like every character for themselves, 2 vs 2 or 1 vs 3, it’s here where you can play against your friends in local co-op play. Against 3 other human opponents, this game really leans into that “gamer party game” vibe. This isn’t a game that’ll appeal to some given the nature of the characters involved. It’s best played by a group of players that know their Sheriff Lonestar from their Lone Ranger as the game play is more complex than a typical party game but in a way that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s disheartening that there’s no online multiplayer in Bounty Battle (although you can play it online with SharePlay if you can put up with the lag) but this might be for the best. It’s a game that certainly lends itself to the social side of gaming, playing elbow to elbow in a living room.
That’s because the single player content in Bounty Battle is disappointingly shallow. When this game was originally pitched on Fig, there were mentions of a story mode with different endings for each character. There’s no sight of that mode in this finished product. There’s a tutorial that explains all of the mechanics in an easy to understand, step-by-step method and a training arena so you can try out heroes without being in a battle. There’s also a challenge mode that pits you against a seemingly endless stream of other heroes in 1 vs 1 battles. Lastly, there’s the most interesting aspect of the single player content – the tournament mode.
Bounty Battle’s tournaments have you play through 5 events as a single character. These events can be anything from “Defeat any of the 3 opposition heroes X times”, “Defeat this foe who has 150% health” or “Defeat all of these heroes before the timer runs out”. The last test is always a boss battle of sorts. There’s aren’t the most imaginative events but they make the combat more interesting than a straight up fight. The issue I have with this mode is that you have to complete them in a sequential order. You can’t choose what character’s tournament to play without first playing through all of the previous ones. What’s more, these tournament’s start with the 5 original characters made specifically for Bounty Battle with which you won’t have built any connection with, making it a bit of a chore. Complete these events and you’re rewarded with some concept art. Do so without dying and you unlock a new skin for that character.
You’ll need these skins when playing against your friends on Bounty Battle because when certain default skins are played on some of the shadowy levels, the game can be incredibly difficult to read. It can be too dark and with all of the action going on, it can be hard to tell where your character ends and the next begins. This isn’t helped by a burning black and red effect that covers any and all characters if they’re hit with some charged strong attacks. This is when the games in-built “Spammer” prevention can become frustrating. If Bounty Battle detects that you’re using the same move over and over, it’ll stun you (one of a few status effects that can be inflicted on a character). I can’t count the number of times I lost a round in this game because I’d lost track of my hero on the screen, tried to pull a move a few times, finally figured out where I am only to find myself stunned and floating over the arena edge to my doom. Personally, I’d have preferred if this anti-spam mechanic was an option you could turn on or off – I’ve always believed that overcoming spam is an integral part of playing these types of games.
Thankfully, with the unlocked skins and with the accessibility options to give characters an outline or a floating character indicator above their head turned on, it greatly improves the readability. In fact, it feels like they should probably be on as default for all levels.
There’s 2 types of levels in Bounty Battle; there’s the traditional Smash-like levels with edges you can grab/fall off and closed levels without any hazard area’s. Many of these stages are inspired by the indie games the heroes appear in. A section of a town from Guacamelee, A flying island from Owlboy, a hook covered level from Flinthook and a handful more (all of which have their original soundtrack or something very close too it) are joined by some original and admittedly generic creations that offer little in personality. What’s most disappointing about the stages in Bounty Battle is how all but one of them are a straight line with no higher or lower elevations to brawl on. They’re almost exclusively just one platform from left to right.
That’s not the only disappointing aspect of Bounty Battle. The AI can be deficient at times. Drop a huge glowing ball of energy that moves slowly across the screen and they’ll simply walk into it. Repeatedly. Playing as a ranged character, I’ve alternated between simple and strong attacks to game the anti-spam system and simply picked off an AI opponent that simply walked into a barrage of fire until the explode. There’s no options to change the difficulty of AI opponents either.
While there’s a few disappointing aspects of Bounty Battle, one thing that blew away my expectations was the art style. Every character in this game has been aligned into a single art style which sounds like an impossibility. How do you draw Fish, Juan, Pankapu and the flamey head chap from Dead Cells in the same art style and it work so well? Dark Screen Games managed to do just that. A painterly, hand drawn feel brings all of the characters together while retaining their own individuality. That’s a triumph for the developers and artists that worked on this game.
Bounty Battle might be the most ambitious cross-over event in indie gaming history. It unites 22 indie games under one banner and has their heroes duke it out in Smash Bros-esque fashion. This project might have been too ambitious though as the touted story mode is missing, the existing single player content is mundane, the AI needs work and the fight stages lack variety. Still, the game looks first-rate and with friends, all the mechanics are there for a good night of scrappy indie combat.
Bounty Battle is launching on PS4 (reviewed on a base PS4), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC on September 10th, 2020.
Developer: Dark Screen Games
Publisher: Merge Games
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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