The Good, The Bad, And The Average

HIGH Brilliant concept that combines ’90s JRPGs with Western themes.

LOW Anything that isn’t the writing.

WTF All the animals look like textbook image scans.

If I tried, I could probably count every Wild West-themed video game I’ve played on one hand. It might be a sign that I don’t play enough games, but I’d like to think it also means cowboys are severely underrepresented. Sure, Rockstar gave us the Western of all Westerns with Red Dead Redemption II, but what else is there?

Well, I never expected my next Western to be a 16-bit RPG, but Boot Hill Bounties, the second in a series by Experimental Gamer Studios, combines elements of Westerns with ’90s RPGs. Unfortunately, the results are mixed.

BHB puts players in the shoes of The Kid — a young, hotshot farm boy whose father died trying to bring justice to a small town. Since then, The Kid has become a part of a group with the goal of taking down five legendary outlaws.

Doc is clearly the rogue outlaw who keeps to himself. Moon is the Native American member of the group, important to the story. Rosie, the badass female gunslinger, serves as the headstrong member looking to help out in any fight. They each have their own stories to tell and their own purpose to go on this quest for vengeance.

Every great Western needs the right posse and I commend the devs for the diverse and interesting cast supporting a story that is surprisingly sensitive to Native Americans — as the campaign deals with a conspiracy against a local tribe, it’s nice to see a cowboy story that doesn’t rely on Native tropes. Aside from that progressiveness, the story is ripe with Western film cliches like small town saloons, stagecoach ambushes and characters riding into the sunset.  

Between heavier plot points is plenty of humor and light-heartedness, as well as the quiet moments so crucial to Westerns where characters reflect on themselves and the morality of their situation. Ironically, the writing is BHB’s strongest asset, though the story itself is fairly average — the plot is just a simple revenge tale, but moments like when the posse is hanging out by a campfire or eating dinner together are where the writing shines.

Although BHB cites Spaghetti Westerns (Italian-made westerns prominent in the ’60s with films like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly) as inspiration, in my opinion it has few stylistic elements in common — a few music cues that remind me of composer Ennio Morricone, perhaps, but I’d also say it takes flavor from classic films like 3:10 to Yuma with its simple tale of good vs evil. However, instead of simply echoing the machismo-driven stories of John Ford films, BHB gives players a more sensitive and diverse adventure that feels like both a tribute to these films, and also a satire of the now-toxic ideals they’ve pushed for decades. 

Unfortunately, while the script and characters hit some good notes, the gameplay holds Boot Hill Bounties back. Players navigate the overworld on foot or by horse. Enemies appear on the overworld, allowing players to initiate or avoid fights at their discretion.

The combat uses a system similar to something like the Active Time Battles found in Final Fantasy — basically, players need to charge a meter before attacking, and every attack takes a certain amount of time. The more powerful the attack, the longer it takes to charge. it’s just personal preference, but I’m not a fan of waiting for a meter to fill before taking an action and would have preferred a more traditional turn-based system.

Apart from that, BHB‘s battles get repetitive fast because there’s not much enemy variety, and seeing the same enemies over and over made the encounters feel like a chore. While I appreciate the use of woodland creatures, fighting the same family of beavers five times in a row gets tiresome.

Another issue with the gameplay is that there’s no journal that keeps track of the current mission.The map is fairly large and it’s easy to get lost or distracted. For moments when the player wants to get back on track, it would have been nice to have a quest log or a recap of recent conversations to remind me what the hell I was doing.

While the central quest in Boot Hill Bounties may have been cliche and the gameplay slightly disappointing, the time spent with my crew made it worthwhile. This Western yarn might not be a consistently excellent experience, but it still reminded me of how much I love the Wild West.

Rating: 5 out of 10

— CJ Salcedo

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Experimental Gamer Studios. It is available on PC and Switch.  This copy was obtained via publisher for review and was reviewed on Switch. Approximately 18 hours of play was spent and the game was completed. The game can be played in co-op but no time was spent in this mode.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E10+ for Alcoholic References, Fantasy Violence, Mild Language and Mild Blood. Honestly, this game feels like a healthy mix between a lighthearted Western and an anime. Most younger players might not be able to comprehend themes of racism and death easily, but there’s really nothing too objectionable here.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes in the options menu.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played the entire game with no sound and had no problems. All the dialogue comes through speech bubbles filled with text, and there are no necessary audio cues. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, the controls are not remappable.

Cj Salcedo
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