Like Brad, I too was confused by The Bouncer from how it was pitched early in its development. I struggled to understand where the game was coming from conceptually, and what it was trying to achieve as an interactive experience. Still, despite poor word of mouth from the press and gamers alike, I still gave The Bouncerthe benefit of the doubt. In the process of playing through the game for the purposes of my review and enjoyment, I tried to look at it from different angles, but no matter which context I tried to look at it from, it still pretty much stank up da house.
As a hand-to-hand combat game (or beat-em-up as my astute colleague noted) in the grand tradition of Double Dragon and Final Fight, The Bounceris inept at best. The fighting engine is about as deep as the kiddy end of a swimming pool. Outside of holding down the block button to parry occasional attacks, there really isn't much more to fighting than the near mindless yet universally popular technique of button mashing. You would think that Squaresoft would try to keep things interesting by interjecting a robust game engine capable of executing devastating combos, diverse grappling moves and capping things off with being able to get medieval on some bad guys with loads of foreign objects and weapons. Shockingly, The Bouncer strikes out on all three possibilities.
The fighting end of the game is a limited affair because—regardless of some of the special attacks that can be obtained during the course of play—enemies usually can't take more than a couple of attacks before falling to floor; making long strings next to impossible. There are no extensive follow-up ground attacks, either. As far as combo attacks go, the game makes a huge case for the analog buttons being outright faulty by design. In The Bouncer, some combos are performed according to the level of pressure applied to the analog sensitive buttons. This may have sounded like a good idea on paper, but the final implementation proved to be an exercise in confusion. I don't if we should blame Sony for the technology or Squaresoft for utilizing it so poorly. Either way, it doesn't work (not consistently anyway) and that's only one of the major problems with the game.
Even as an interactive movie or story book in the grand tradition of Dragon's Lair and Night Trap as Brad tried to the defend the title, I still think The Bouncer comes up short in a number of big ways. For starters, the pacing is all wrong. Constant load screens and the save game option disrupted the flow of play and had me feeling detached physically and emotionally. In addition, for a so-called "interactive-movie," there isn't much to interact with. Despite the promise of a storyline that alters according to player action and character selection, the experience is very linear in design the final outcome is still the same. The changes in the storyline were mostly cosmetic, and there aren't any convincing branches in the story arcs that made me feel I could mold the plot.
I also strongly disagree with Brad about the quality of the story. I felt the story was bland, shallow and predictable regardless of playing the game from different character perspectives. The script was unintentionally laughable at times, and despite some solid voice-acting and potentially interesting characters (excluding Sion, the prototypical brooding bad boy anti-hero hero with the gaudy '80s style New Kids On The Block outfit), most characters still come up severely underdeveloped.
The final angle that I tried to examine The Bouncer from was that of a graphical benchmark; a demonstration of CGI wizardry. Yet even on that level, I think the game is weak. Yes, the Hollywood-style camera work and action-film-like opening title sequence will initially impress most gamers, but after several minutes into play, the "wow" effect quickly fades away. It's not like we're witnessing groundbreaking CG work here. Films like Dinosaur, Toy Story 2, and even the preview of Squaresoft's own Final Fantasy: The Movie, easily surpasses that of The Bouncer. So not only are we not witnessing anything new here, even on a visual artistic sense, there's not much substance to hold on to. One quick side-by-side comparison to the opening introduction movies between The Bouncerand Capcom's latest take on the survival-horror genre, Onimusha, will tell you what's wrong. In Onimusha's movie, there's much attention to drama, style, ambiance and lighting. Almost all of those elements seem missing from The Bouncer in one way or another.
That last line is symbolic of my review. I would have loved to hail The Bouncer as some sort of digital ode to Rashomon or even the classic Choose Your Own Adventure book series of my childhood, but alas that was not the case here. Anyway you look at it, The Bouncer is simply lacking.