The Bouncer Impressions
Though we weren't actually allowed to play much of the game, we were able to sit down and watch as Square showed off the final version of its Final Fight meets Hollywood PS2 game, The Bouncer.
Square's latest US PS2 project is a cinematic beat-'em-up that puts you in the shoes of three burly bar bouncers who have to punch and kick their way through hordes of karate-savvy thugs in order to rescue the trio's female friend from her mysterious kidnappers. We recently had a chance to sit down with members of the localization team and watch as they played the final version of the game.
The Bouncer tells the story of Sion, Volt, and Kou - three tough brawlers who make their money by working as bouncers at a small bar called Fate. The daily grind of tossing out drunks and working the velvet rope is interrupted one night when a group of mysterious figures break into the club and kidnap the young Dominque - the love interest of Sion. This leads to a night packed with roughneck action as the trio sets out on a mission to rescue Dominque and ends up getting themselves into a series of scraps along the way. Your roughhousing eventually leads you to the Mikado group and its evil leader, Dauragon. Dauragon is a powerful martial artist who was trained by the same man as Sion, and he appears to be the brother of Dominque. The story gets much more complex from here, and it eventually leads the trio into a quest to save the world from Dauragon and the Mikado group's evil schemes.
The game unfolds in a very Hollywood-like fashion - there is over an hour and a half of in-game cinematics that are broken up by fighting sequences. First you view a cutscene that sets up the fray, then you fight. Each fighting round allows you to pick one of the three bouncers to control, and the cutscene immediately following the fray is then told from that character's perspective. During these sequences, the story is personalized to the character you chose, and it reveals bits of information about that bouncer. As the game's story is told, you'll learn that each of the three bouncers has a relevant story that motivates him, and learning these stories is part of the mystery of the game. From what we saw of the story mode, it appears that Volt knows most of the Mikado group's main characters and has survived some sort of hellish experience. His zombie-like strength and the devil horns on his head most definitely play a part in this, and his story seems to be an interesting one. Kou appears to be some sort of wise-cracking secret agent who is working undercover unbeknownst to Sion and Volt in an effort to keep tabs on Dominique, who appears to have some higher significance. Sion's story appears to focus on his relationship with Dauragon and eventually reveals Sion's feelings for Dominique. Each sequence has an important event that is only viewed from one character's vantage point and actually has an impact on the overall story of the game. Choosing certain characters at vital junctions can change the story and give you a different take on the events of the night. As such, the game must be beaten with all three characters in order to get the full experience of the story.
Most of the actual gameplay in The Bouncer is found in the numerous fistfights that pepper the game. All of the combat in The Bouncer is hand-to-hand melee-style brawling. The development team responsible for The Bouncer is also responsible for Tobal and Tobal 2, so it's not much of a surprise that most of the fighting animations look like they were taken directly from the Tobal games. Each of the characters in The Bouncer has a unique martial arts style that mimics the style of a character in the Tobal series. The controls are laid out exactly like they were in the Tobal games - the L1 button is the special move button, while the face buttons correspond to the high, low, and mid attacks. The game make use of the Dual Shock 2's analog buttons - pressing an attack button slightly will deliver a weak blow, while pounding on a button or holding it down with deliver a slower, more powerful attack. Attacks can be strung together to form some devastating combos, and the special move button can be used in conjunction with an appropriate direction and attack button to deliver a fairly impressive special attack. After you defeat all the enemies in an area, your character is awarded with bouncer points. These points can be used to either upgrade your character's three basic stats - power, life, and defense - or to purchase new special moves. Each bouncer can learn more than eight special moves, most of which also closely resemble moves from the Tobal series. Additionally, the three bouncers can team up to execute a trinity rush - a team attack that requires you to line up your bouncers in a certain formation. When executed, the trinity attack involves the bouncers teaming up and tossing the enemy character back and forth while unleashing flashy and painful attacks on that character. The trinity rush is difficult to execute, and it takes some time to get used to, but it's well worth it.
The graphics in The Bouncer are some of the best seen on the PlayStation 2 to date. The characters are drawn very well, and they sport an amazing amount of detail. Most of the cutscenes are rendered using the game engine, but they still manage to look gorgeous. All of the characters in the game have extremely detailed faces, and they express themselves in a very convincing manner. The voice acting is actually synched with the characters' moving lips, and other facial features change to show a whole range of emotions. Very lush and colorful backgrounds with no trace of pop-up or fog really tie the game together and give The Bouncer a very polished look. And though most of the game's cinematics appear in the in-game sequences, Square couldn't help but toss in a few of its famous CG sequences for good measure. Its cinematic presentation and movie-quality production make The Bouncer one of the most graphically dramatic games yet. Square also made sure to secure some top-notch voice acting, and the localization team did an extremely good job of translating the text for the US version of the game. The voice acting in The Bouncer is very good - each of the characters sounds like you would expect, and the dialogue is delivered with just the right amount of inflection. The conversations flow, and they never seem forced or like they're read from a script. The game has some awesome background music, and it features plenty of sound effects to round out the audio package.
There are a few other modes in The Bouncer. Besides the single-player story mode, the game will feature a multiplayer versus mode, where up to four players can fight in a small arena. There is also a team battle multiplayer mode, where two players control a team of three fighters in a megabrawl. The game will also feature a survival mode, where your chosen character faces an endless barrage of baddies. Your upgraded character from the single-player story mode can be used in the multiplayer modes, and players will even be able to bring memory cards of their upgraded bouncers to friends' houses and load them into the multiplayer mode.
Square admitted that The Bouncer is a short game - players should be able to run through the single-player story mode in around three hours, and playing to unlock every single stage and costume will likely take around ten. Even after completing the story mode with each of the three main characters, The Bouncer is still a fairly short game, even by beat-'em-up standards. Additionally, the game seems to be more focused on telling a story, almost to the point of letting the gameplay take a backseat to the large number of cinematic sequences. Still, Square promises that the story will be rewarding, and watching the high-quality cinematics unfold is definitely an experience that is not to be missed, even if the game's premise is a little surreal. The Bouncer is definitely a meld of game and movie, and it may disappoint those looking for deep gameplay. Still, with some of the most dramatic and compelling storytelling ever seen in a console game and a dash of button-pounding beat-'em-up action, The Bouncer will definitely reward those who are more interested in style than substance.