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Bounty Hounds

Platform(s): PSP
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Namco
Developer: Xpec
Release Date: Feb. 1, 2006

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PSP Review - 'Bounty Hounds'

by Agustin on Sept. 15, 2006 @ 1:06 a.m. PDT

Bounty Hounds is a third-person weapons-based action game for the PSP in which players utilize a massive selection of weapons and armor in order to fight more than 40 alien species across 40 expansive missions in a future gone awry.

Genre: Action
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: XPEC Entertainment
Release Date: September 12, 2006

Despite providing near PS2-quality graphics, most games in the PSP library have this strange PS1-era feel to them. It isn't necessarily the lack of a second analog input that causes this; after all, the dual shock was established as the standard for quite a few years of the original PlayStation's lifespan. Perhaps these PSP development teams tend to have PS1 veterans on staff. Or maybe developers take advantage of their smaller budgets in a positive way by digging back into their old, unused design documents and finally making the games they wanted to five or more years ago. Regardless, the PSP invokes the PS1 in a strong way, and not necessarily negatively.

Bounty Hounds couldn't have existed in the PS1 era, yet the way it feels sends me straight back to that time. This Dynasty Warriors meets Phantasy Star Online presentation is definitely a product of the Dreamcast/PlayStation 2/Xbox/Gamecube period. It's all in the presentation of the game. This generic sci-fi look seems like something that would have been quickly green-lighted six or seven years ago, but begrudgingly now, given the new market benchmarks (i.e., urban crime games). The murky, pseudo-political storyline recalls late-'90s attempts on earlier platforms. And sure, these types of games still come out from time to time, but they're usually abhorrent budget titles. Bounty Hounds seems to be at least moderately financed.

Despite the short draw distance, the meat of this title would not have been possible on the original PlayStation (although it might have made for a nice five-frames-per-second Nintendo 64 experience). Between five to 10 enemies crowd the screen at almost any given moment. On the other hand, their A.I. recalls 1997 quite vividly: charge enemy, stand still for a moment of planned vulnerability, and attempt a most likely futile attack. Repeat thousands of times.

This formula isn't uncommon with modern games; we've all played Dynasty Warriors, and even next-gen games like Ninety-Nine Nights have the same concept driving them. But Bounty Hounds, with much faster action than the aforementioned games, seems to need something more than this. Unlike Dynasty Warriors, there isn't much of a method to the enemy formations. There aren't positions to defend. There are no ranks to break up. No officers to dispatch. Enemies simply spawn and seemingly expect to be killed.

That isn't to say there isn't some fun to be had within these incredibly tight limitations. Playing as an awesomely equipped inter-planetary bounty hunter is usually an amusing premise, although I'd prefer Nintendo's take on the concept (Metroid) over this one. The real point of Bounty Hounds is getting the opportunity to watch your character wipe the floor with his slow-minded enemies in as spectacular a fashion as possible, mostly by figuring out which combos are the most spectacular to see. The system is simple: main character Maximillian can equip two weapons at once, one for each hand, which are controlled by the Square and Circle buttons, respectively. Mix and match rhythmic button presses (without the tighter time constraints of similar titles like Phantasy Star Online) and experiment with weapon-switching, and you'll probably master your current inventory within 10 minutes. Add easy weapon-switching by pressing R and the left- or right-arm buttons, and you've got the most intuitive setup in a game of this type that I've played yet. The problem is, the fun only sustains itself for about another 20 minutes before the game is exposed for the simplistic, linear design that serves as its backbone.

Like Phantasy Star Online before it, Bounty Hounds is split up into small sub-areas within much larger stages, except these can be exited at any time; players are not required to defeat all enemies first. If not for this ability, this game would have been incredibly trying to play through, considering how many re-spawns occur in each sub-area. In the context of the story, it would make sense to try killing everything in sight. Maximillian's goal is to wipe out all alien presence for the xenophobic purpose of making life on these planets habitable for mankind. Somehow, this storyline seems topical ....

For my first try, I attempted to complete each sub-area. I only did this for the first planet before finding myself with an incredible ache to do anything with myself but play this game. It was nearly worth it, in terms of the game; I received at least four extra level-ups that I would not have otherwise seen. But, even after hopping back to the mothership, the only place, inexplicably, where experience and skill points can be distributed, yet no real change to my character was seen. At level nine, it still took two hits to kill most of the same enemies from the beginning, and about five to kill the larger few.

So, while you'll be pressing the same combo commands over and over, killing the same enemies over and over, and, I might add, listening to the same generic orchestral pieces that always seem to dominate sci-fi games, I should be fair and note that it'll look damned pretty while you plod through these things. There aren't any technically impressive effects employed, and the character designs are too generic to be noticed, but the PSP is really put to the test here, even with the short draw distance. 2D lighting effects and explosions are used to great artistic effect, heightening the excitement and illusion wonderfully. You might find yourself experimenting with combos just to see how much of a fantastic visual mess you can create on-screen.

Not a single enemy proved to be a real challenge after a few seconds of observation. The boss fights are long, but with half a brain, most gamers could complete them with ease. As for the intuitive controls, these are counter-balanced by the ambiguous character development and equipment systems. The storyline itself is, again, best described as "murky," and has no real relevance to anyone but those with affection for generic sci-fi literature.

Without any co-op play, even the presence of the rare PSP single UMD multiplayer isn't enough to keep this game afloat. Had it been online, or at least featured robust local multiplayer, it might have been something special despite its misgivings.

Still, Bounty Hounds is the best portable game of its type, and would make a nice way to pass the time if you're especially hell-bent on getting those aliens the hell off of "our" planets!

Score: 6.8/10


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