The Bouncer (PlayStation 2) review
"On the back of DreamFactory’s The Bouncer (developed by makers of such fine software as Tobal No. 1 and Ehrgeiz), the tagline “Play the Action Movie” is prominently displayed. When I unloaded a whole six dollars on this game, I didn’t realize that it literally felt like playing some forgettable popcorn flick with the occasional 30 seconds of brawling. Alas, I was tricked by the vaguely homoerotic cover art adored with the main character Sion Barzahd. I mean, Japan has..."
On the back of DreamFactory’s The Bouncer (developed by makers of such fine software as Tobal No. 1 and Ehrgeiz), the tagline “Play the Action Movie” is prominently displayed. When I unloaded a whole six dollars on this game, I didn’t realize that it literally felt like playing some forgettable popcorn flick with the occasional 30 seconds of brawling. Alas, I was tricked by the vaguely homoerotic cover art adored with the main character Sion Barzahd. I mean, Japan has pumped out some sweet games with men of uncertain sexual orientation on the cover. Like all of artist Tetsuya Normura’s creations, Sion’s ridiculous name complements his gaudy wardrobe, which includes an open hoodie to show off his prepubescent-looking pectoral muscles as well as a dog collar and 30 pound medallion that looks like it belongs on either a car or Ghostface Killah.
So what does a pretty boy with bling bling and the latest in canine wear do? He’s a BOUNCER (apparently this is pretty awesome because Sion angrily informs the villain of this fact to scare him … or something).
Of course our total badass hero has a heart of gold. There’s a 15 year-old girl named Dominique that Sion takes care of as an adopted sister/forbidden lover. Don’t worry though. Dominique turns out to be a SPOILERS robot-zombie-girl-thing so there’s nothing creepy about The Bouncer at all! Well ol’ Dominique gets kidnapped by some sci-fi ninjas employed by the evil Mikado Group. Sion and his buddies – a big beefy guy that wears fake horns and some dude decked out in enough tattoos to make the cast of Miami Ink blush – go and rescue her by beating up security guards, beating up ninjas, and other manly stuff (like beating up robots).
The Bouncer’s core combat system actually works really well. You start with four different attack buttons, but the game employs the Dualshock 2’s pressure sensitive buttons so that a light tap may execute a quick jab while a firm press will deliver a fierce punch. It takes a couple of fights to get used to, but it allows for a huge variety of sweet combos. The game’s engine also employs exaggerated ragdoll physics allowing you to easily juggle opponents or throw enemies into each other. Another interesting feature is that you’ll usually fight with two AI-controlled allies, and you can execute combined attacks with them.
Every felled enemy will earn your character experience points, which can be spent on stat increases or new special moves. Each fighter has a large list of special moves including throws, uppercuts and the like. Basically there’s a ton of options for kicking ass. Unfortunately it isn’t all it should be. The pre-set camera is unreliable and enemies can often become obscured by objects. Additionally, the game auto-targets the nearest enemy and gives no option to cycle through opponents. But easily the biggest problem is there just isn’t enough action at all.
The Bouncer can be finished in a scant 90 minutes, and most of that time is spent watching story scenes. For every 5+ minutes of cutscenes, you’ll get one battle that typically consists of a mere three enemies. Three enemies with two allies on your side is too easy. Give me bigger groups or at least more than one wave of goons! After that it’s right back to watching more cutscenes, which typically showcase our heroes talking, running, or talking while running. You’ll quickly be frustrated by the game flow because there isn’t nearly enough brawling. It ends up feeling more like an interactive movie only the dialog is stilted, the story and plot twists range from generic to cringe-worthy, and the lengthy backstory is never really explained resulting in a lot of confusion or total indifference to what the fuck is going on.
Say what you will about the Metal Gear Solid series, but at least all its story scenes had high production values and enough ridiculous shit to grab your attention. The Bouncer’s story scenes look pretty thanks to interesting art direction, which mixes FFVII’s Midgar and the sci-fi elements of FFVIII, and realistic facial features similar to what we’d later see in FFX, but that’s about all they have going for them. Even old FMV games like NightTrap had camp value that’d make them ‘so bad they’re good.’ The Bouncer’s story is just a total bore about an evil guy wanting to use his sister to blow stuff up with a satellite. Fuck, I’d have been happier had the game taken a sexy turn into some hot yaoi action. I can just picture it now: Sion would yank off his opponent’s pants and then spank their ass cheeks with his gigantic medallion. Sion is just begging to be chained up too. I mean jeez, the kid wears a fucking dog collar!
So thanks to wasting all that time on a trashy plot, there’s only a collection of extremely short bursts of brawling left in The Bouncer. These brief clashes aren’t going to satisfy your bloodlust. You don’t even earn enough experience in one playthrough to upgrade your stats much or even buy more than one or two special moves. There are some divergent paths from choosing different characters and unlockables that require replays, but the incentive is too small to want to replay The Bouncer’s dull, easy spurts of brawling.
The Bouncer is basically a tech demo and a relic from a time when games like Onimusha were considered the best on the console. Even 7 years after its release, the graphics hold up pretty well because it’s clear that’s what a lot of the work went into. DreamFactory also made a really solid combat system, but they unfortunately forgot to make a game to put it in. Classic arcade beat ‘em ups like Final Fight or Cadillacs & Dinosaurs have more substance, and the PS2 has many of better brawlers like the 20 or so Dynasty Warriors sequels or Chaos Legion. This just feels like a direct-to-DVD action movie with some minimal interactivity. There’s no reason to play this game other than out of curiosity. I wish I had put that $6 toward a ticket for the new Batman.
Featured community review by Genj (June 26, 2008)
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