From the Vault of the Cult
Game System: PS2
Distributed by: Squaresoft
Reviewed by Frank L. Ocasio
"Sion is a bouncer in a Dog Street bar called 'Fate'. An organized kidnapping by the Mikado Group's special forces draws Sion and his friends into an incredible battle beyond the mean streets of the future."
I know what you're wondering: "... What?"
And there's only one answer: The Bouncer.
If you watch anime, this will be simple: imagine playing a great anime with a lot of fighting. This anime doesn't really have the best story in the world (a story that's only good because it's classically terrible) or the best dialogue in the world (which, at parts, can also be classically terrible), but you still absolutely love it because the characters manage to be so extremely charming and the experience, overall is damn fun.
That's exactly what The Bouncer is.
Because the box's synopsis probably confused you to no end, let me explain. The Bouncer starts at a bar called 'Fate' (and yes, Fate is on Dog Street, and yes, that is classic). Although 'Fate' is a tiny dive, it enlists three bouncers to keep the rowdies of the future out on Dog Street where they probably belong. These three bouncers are Sion Barzahd, the classic 90's anime angry punk protagonist who gives everyone hell for pretty much doing anything, Volt Krueger, a leather and chains clad gentle giant of a man with, shockingly and originally enough, as much brains as he has braun (and tiny horns implanted on his head), and Kou Leifoh, everyone's favorite, irreverent, and tattooed smart ass.
You're introduced to the three as another character, Dominique, Sion's love interest, arrives for her shift at Fate (doing what I'm still not sure). As Dominique presents Sion with a "birthday gift" to celebrate the one year anniversary of his becoming a bouncer, ninjas descend from the sky (pretty literally) and the action begins. Your real-time cut scene (which is graphically impressive for an early PS2 game) freezes and a menu pops up at the bottom of the screen asking you to choose one of the bouncers (among whom Sion is by far the worst--perhaps for the sake of establishing a difficulty setting, but pretty hilarious regardless).
Once you choose your bouncer, it's clobbering time. Using your analog and pressure sensitive Dual Shock buttons, you can either tap out combinations, push down for hard strikes with X (Low Attack), Square (Medium Attack), Triangle (High Attack), or Circle (Jump Attack), or combine button taps with pushes of your analog to perform running attacks. For some reason, button sensitivity is at an all time high in this game. Because of that, and the fact that your characters lock into a combat stance that makes them inch around like tanks, you may get a little frustrated at first. But remember that R1 is a block button and at least fight your way through this first bar room brawl.
Because when it ends, it's level-up time. That's right--level-up time. After each fight ('scene' is probably a better way to think of them though because they steadily grow longer and involve both roaming around and winning multiple fights) you're taken to a Rank-Up screen where the BP (Bouncer Points) you earned in battle can be used to upgrade any of your character's three stats (Life, Power, and Defense) or acquire new special moves for them.
This isn't really what makes The Bouncer amazing though. What does is character; this game is a 10-man brawl full of it. Sure, the voice acting can be bad (again, pretty hilariously, Sion's is terrible), but it can also be awesome (Kou Leifoh is voiced by Steven Blum [working under the alias of David Lucas]). That's the guy who performed as Spike in Cowboy Bebop and Vincent Valentine in Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children for crying out loud). And even when characters do have bad voice acting or bad lines, these flaws will make you laugh at the worst. And even so, Kou's wise cracks, Volt's duality of tenderness and tougness, and Sion's attitude are going to make it easy to keep playing despite the occasional slip up. And to boot, later down the line, interesting character development will totally out-weigh any major issue you have with this game. You'll discover that there's unexpected complexity and drama to all three bouncers' pasts and personalities, and that there's more to it all than just Kou's wit, Volt's horns, and--classically--Sion's very Cloud-esque hair-do.
And despite this game just being a fairly short 3D beat-'em-up, it even has great replay value. After you beat it, you can replay it with the Rank from your last game. Again though, character is what will have you coming back--the story is told differently depending on which bouncer you choose and some twists will only be unveiled if you spend a lot of time playing each character to experience their side of the adventure.
But for your sake, just play The Bouncer. And don't choose only one bouncer through the whole game--not the first time. You can go back and be surprised by added story your second time through. You can try to succeed with action sequences that can change the course of your game on your third time through.
But no matter how many times you play it through, you're going to love The Bouncer. And when you put it down, you're going to miss the old days when games were simple and varied--the days when they were fun and weren't just FPS's or a collection of second-long mini-games. And the days when you could say, "I really wish there was a sequel to The Bouncer," without having to correct yourself because you realize that that sequel would probably be flat-out terrible.
One Last Thing Before I Quit: There's a Versus Mode and Survival Mode in The Bouncer too. Neither will be absolutely amazing, but they'll feature some good ol' 90's replay value. That's right. Alternate costumes.
Grading: On a Scale From 1-10, 10 Being the Best
Overall Gameplay: 8