Review: Bounty Arms

Is Bounty Arms the Ratchet and Clank of Mobile?

Perhaps this is the original 3D platformer iOS has been searching for. Bounty Arms has the lovable cartoon angle, the lengthy and detailed levels, the sweet sensation swelling in the brain when a boss is disintegrated.

But then something happens: The game has finished. The promise of bounty hunting across an array of planets vanishes like an astronaut sucked into a black hole. The final boss is vanquished. The flaky story resumes. I’m itching to get back to melting robots with laser beams. When I’m returned to the menu screen, I notice that the mission I just completed—the tenth mission—is the final mission.

Bounty Arms sets up a smooth action adventure experience, but fails to take it to infinity and beyond. What distinguishes platformers from other genres of video games are the levels, which are spread across different zones. And that’s how memorable experiences are generated: it’s when a game goes viral because people share their favorite world in conversation. Unfortunately, Bounty Arms is too limited in scope to transcend the common perceived limitations of its medium.

Bounty Arms
Publisher: Kerosene Games

Developed by: Open-Reset and Luma Arcade
Platform: iOS (download), Android (download)
Release Date: July 18th, 2013 
MSRP: $4.99

Like a vacuum, Bounty Arms is empty

The single world in Bounty Arms is packed full of high resolution textures and plenty of objects such as crates, barrels, shrubs, and computers. Sadly, most of these objects aren’t platforms to leap off from in style, which limits the openness of the world. Other than a network of paths, leading to hidden areas and Bounty Crests, the levels are linear.

Bounty Arms also lacks the presence of many noteworthy boss fights (which Kerosene alludes to on their Bounty Arms iTunes page). There is one mini-boss, reappearing in three different levels, and then the final boss to smash into bolts and screws. Despite the lack of ‘exciting’ boss fights, the final boss is a challenge, requiring a mastery of (already hard to learn) aiming your weapon, skillful dodging, and upgraded weapons and pets. Too bad there weren’t more.

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Bounty Arms shows potential with its three distinguishable characters: Drake Mass, a Scottish man with a boomstick; Flux Helix, a Portal-inspired robot spitting out green lasers to toast his enemies; and Goober, a hideous looking frog with a bazooka that fires confetti bombs. Then there is the final boss, a giant nerdy kid with buck teeth and an army of robots to conquer the universe with.

The cast’s personalities are clumsily revealed through storybooks found in the levels. Tap a book, and dialogue boxes pop onto the screen. Animosity grows between Goober and Flux Helix while Drake Mass becomes frustrated and “leads” the group. These moments are brief, and Bounty Arms would have benefited from voice acting; at the very least, characters could have made snappy remarks during combat or failed jumps or death. Instead, a character’s personality construction is left solely to the player.

The lack of characterization compounds with the short gameplay experience. With more worlds to explore, tensions between Goober and Flux could double, and Drake could finally lose his patience. Perhaps it is best put this way: Bounty Arms lacks depth in most aspects. Combat is limited to generic chain melee attacks and repetitive ranged attacks. Through out the selection of ten levels, the cast of characters rely on the same special moves. It would have expanded the world and challenged the player to explore if unlockable moves were hidden in the world. There are pets, however, which aid the bounty hunters by buffing, healing, or damaging enemies.

As a result, Bounty Arms‘ theme never solidifies—this could be a serious mission or a goofy adventure—but it is not only the characters that interrupt the game’s cohesion. The soundtrack also poses a problem: it’s heroic in nature, which does not fit with the concept of ‘bounty’, nor with the storyline, in which the cast of characters are trying to kill their bounty and clear their names off of the bounty board.

This brings me to my biggest concern with mobile gaming as a whole: developers attempt to emulate the experience of console gaming, but the mechanics of the mobile platform simply don’t make sense for the same things consoles make sense for. iOS and Android devices weren’t designed to be used as handheld gaming controllers. Playing Bounty Arms with the iPad resting in the palm of my hands was quite fatiguing because of the cornered edges, and the iPad’s tendency to get warm after extended play meant that needing to have it in my hands at all times to play the game became less and less comfortable as time passed. Bounty Arms doesn’t make the best use of the mobile platform in comparison to others games such as Badlands or XCOM on iOS; mobile works well for such games, where you can lay your tablet flat on the table and play with intuitive taps and swipes. Rather than put the mobile platform’s features to good use (while recognizing its limitations compared with console gaming), Bounty Arms mocks the consoles controls with virtual buttons and sticks, and even if they are fine-tuned controls, they don’t have the feel of holding a controller. This is an unfortunately common approach among mobile games, and it leaves Bounty Arms feeling like it’s lacking something, and, ultimately, failing to leave a lasting positive impression. Mobile gaming is unlikely to shatter its casual-gaming-only perception until more games stop trying to imitate console gaming and start creating something new and memorable relying on the unique advantages of the mobile platform.

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IAP? IAP are no use out here…

Thankfully, Bounty Arms doesn’t include needless in-app purchasing to progress through the game, even though the game is perfectly set-up to include such. During missions, you collect coins–like any platformer–to spend on upgrading pets and ultimate weapons. Ultimate weapons are limited by ammunition, something else to be purchased. And coins aren’t solely used for spending: they accumulate points in levels. The second currency is rubies, a scarce resource. Their only purpose, though, is to purchase pets. And even though they are scarce, it’s not hard to farm them from the first and second levels since those two are the shortest levels. The final currency are summoning eggs, which are required to spawn a pet.

Bounty Arms attempts to inspire frequent playability through high scores, so-to-speak, which can be advertised online (requires an account with Kerosene), sparking a competitive spirit in the player. High scores are achieved via combat chains, collected coins, not dying, and finding hidden shields in the map. At the end of a level, Bounty Arms rewards you with a badge to inform you how terrible you performed. Earning a glittery gold badge requires avoiding death, maxing out combos, finding all Bounty Arm shields and outperforming record times.

Score 5/10 – Review Scale

Despite the good looks, smooth controls and impressive virtual buttons layout, Bounty Arms ultimately felt like an experience lacking completeness. The developers failed to fully capitalize on their characters and setting. Bounty Arms belongs on the pick-up-when-on-sale list. Hopefully, in the future, Kerosene will release new worlds to explore, to expand what is on the brink of becoming the number one 3D action platformer on iOS.

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