Surprised by how much I enjoyed the Streets of Rage games earlier this year, I look upon beat ‘em ups in a new light nowadays. However I have yet to play one in 3D, disregarding games which feature beat ‘em gameplay but rely on many more elements, like Batman: Arkham City. Therefore The Bouncer is my first foray into a 3D beat ‘em up with a traditional, simpler focus.
The Bouncer was released very early on in the PlayStation 2’s life cycle. It was developed collaboratively by Square and Dream Factory and published by Square Electronic Arts on March 5, 2001. With Square being more familiar with RPGs, I assume most of the game’s development was handled by Dream Factory, known for fighting games with minor RPG elements at the time. Regardless of the pedigree, The Bouncer is a beat ’em up.
The Bouncer follows a group of three bouncers as they rescue their kidnapped friend. Sion, Volt, and Kou are all working when Dominique, a young girl who Sion recently found, gets captured by ninja-like thugs. As they search for Dominique, they get involved with a major corporation run by a megalomaniac named Dauragon. He is the root cause for their woes and they deal with him and others as they get closer to finding Dominique and unraveling Dauragon’s plans.
It took less than two hours to complete The Bouncer and I liked the pacing of events. Unlike an RPG which may resolve a minor story thread over the span of hours, The Bouncer introduced a few key players early on and dealt with them over the short run time. I didn’t know a lot about the characters, but I didn’t need back story to understand them. Sion had strong feelings for Dominque and wanted to rescue her. Dauragon had a complicated past that shed light on his reasoning for kidnapping Dominque, but then the plot in general snowballed into craziness.
Whereas the older beat ‘em ups are primarily gameplay with little story development, The Bouncer is mostly story with minor gameplay bits. I haven’t tested it myself but some say that 2/3 of The Bouncer is cutscenes, and that sounds right and maybe for the best.
I didn’t like The Bouncer’s gameplay. Attacks felt like one-time affairs that could rarely evolve into a combo and never be chained with another attack. I had four attacks: low, medium, and high as well as a jump attack. I never mixed and matched attacks with any success and combos were short bursts of the same attack dependent upon how much pressure I applied to the attack button; The Bouncer took advantage of the PS2s unique pressure sensitivity feature. I found that I could lightly press the high three times and get a nice combo and I stuck with this.
Because attacks felt like one-time affairs, the combat felt stilted, very stop and go. The same can be said for the overall pacing of The Bouncer. I’d witness a few cutscenes and then get to play, only to defeat two enemies and watch more cutscenes. I found it jarring how little I spent actually playing the game. Most of the combat took place in closed off areas resembling arenas with only a few stages requiring me to get from point A to B. Some of the stages lasted less than a minute.
When I did get to play the game I had the option of choosing which bouncer I wanted to play as. They each had their own stats that could be upgraded. Implementing an element of RPGs, I gained experience from each enemy I took out. I could then apply the experience to level up Sion, Volt, or Kou’s health, power, or defense, or use the experience to learn a special attack. I stuck with Sion and focused on boosting his stats and it had a noticeable effect.
The Bouncer, my first foray into a traditional 3D beat ‘em up was lackluster. The gameplay was rough around the edges, what little of it there was. The addition of the experience system is actually a solid idea and tied with the game’s short length and multiple playable characters, it’s conducive to me playing more of the game. In retrospect, maybe I should’ve given more credence to the pedigree, because at the time Square seemed more interested in making movies, not beat ‘em ups.