Trust Square to create a PS2 launch title about a group of bouncers and make the whole thing look very glamorous. Of course, the game is not about throwing unruly revelers out of a bar, but to chase down ninjas working for a sinister company after they kidnap a young girl. According to the manual the girl, Dominique is somewhat of a mascot for the bar and very close to the three bouncers especially Sion who was celebrating his first year on the job when everything went down.
There was a lot of hype surrounding The Bouncer as it was co-developed by Square and DreamFactory. Square, of course, needs no introduction as they are the masterminds behind the wildly successful Final Fantasy franchise. DreamFactory on the other hand created the Tobal series as well as Ergeiz, all fighting games for the Psone. Logically, everyone assumed that this partnership would yield a fighting game with role playing elements. While this turned out to be partially true, I do not think anyone was quite expecting the amount of cinematic content the game also delivered.
The good news is that for a launch title, The Bouncer looks absolutely gorgeous, but then again I expected nothing less from Square. The character designs are by Tesuya Numura who is a Final Fantasy veteran. The characters all look very stylish in their own bizarre way and the futuristic look is quite unique. There are tons of cut-scenes, which flesh out the story, and shows off the game engine but these might just be a bit overdone. I can understand that the game is very cinematic, but when you spend more time watching the action unfold instead of participating in it, you know something is wrong.
A lot of attention to detail has gone into facial animations which are really cool, but I would have preferred to see some environmental interaction as well. Ancient beat ’em ups like Double Dragon could do it all those years ago so why not The Bouncer? During story mode, you get to pick which one of the three bouncers you want to control and apart from their own moves they also have different motivations for wanting to rescue the girl.
While you are given plenty of opportunities to switch between them, I would advise sticking with just one for each playthrough. The game is very short, so this should not be a problem and you will be able to appreciate the story more. You also earn “Bouncer Points” after defeating foes and these can be used to upgrade the life, offense or defense of your bouncers. It is also used to unlock new moves and while you can spread the points around, there is usually not enough to make it worthwhile. This means that it is better to focus on one character. Characters not under your direct control is handled by the A.I which is quite disappointing since the game supports four players via a multi-tap but only in one of the games versus modes. It is not too big a loss though, as the fighting sections in story mode rarely last more than a few minutes before it is back to the cut-scenes.
The overabundance of cut-scenes might have been forgiven if the actual gameplay sections were worth the wait, but sadly these suffer from a myriad of problems. Firstly, the game feels very sluggish, which is never a good thing in a fighting game. To make matters worse, one has to endure horrible fixed camera angles, which makes it very hard to see what is going on around you. You cannot choose your targets either as your character automatically goes for whatever enemy is the nearest. Your companions are not much help either as more often than not they are knocked into you by off-screen enemies which causes major damage. Most enemies are dumb as dirt, however and there is no difficulty setting which means the game is quite easy. On the rare occasions where you are killed, it is often a case of having to manually reload a save game and then manually skipping up to ten cut-scenes just to get back into the fight.
The bouncers can pull off a lot of moves, but thanks to the sketchy controls it can be hard to do the ones you intended. You have high, middle and low attacks, but the strength is determined by how hard you press the buttons. This is an interesting idea, but makes pulling off combos very tricky due to inconsistencies. Most enemies can be defeated with the same repeated moves so the fancy moves will come in handy when doing the versus mode. Here you can take on friends using all the characters unlocked during the Story mode. It supports up to four players if you own a multi-tap but A.I bots can also be added if you are low on friends or hardware. It suffers from the same problems such as sluggishness and imprecise controls, but it is at least more entertaining than beating up stupid bots. There is also a survival mode where you can take on waves of enemies, so while it is a very short game there is at least some replay value.
While the gameplay segments are very short and usually consist of beating up less than ten enemies at a time there has been a few attempts at injecting some variation as well. These can be anything from running down corridors to beat closing doors to imitating enemy gestures while in disguise so as to not blow your cover. None of these sections lifts the gameplay much however. There is even a brief escort mission, which is an absolute pain thanks to the person you have to defend insisting on coming between you and the enemies the whole time.
The game does a great job with visuals and audio, but the gameplay is just not enough to carry it. It is basically just a modern version of those “interactive movie” games that were all the rage a few years back. It is really a pity because the story and characters had a lot of potential. If you don’t mind a game where you will be watching more than playing, then give it a shot otherwise it can be safely ignored.
*Review originally published July 2001.