Bounty Arms is a moving experience, but not because the game itself is any good. It hints at what the future holds for mobile gaming. This game looks every bit as good as a current generation console title, and on a high-end device, it runs quite well. But there is more to quality gaming than pretty looks, and Bounty Arms falls flat in just about every other area. At the very least, this five dollar game is free of both ads and IAPs. That's worth something - just not enough.
This is a side-scroller where players have full 3D range of movement. Despite the appearance of complexity, levels still largely consist of running from left to right. In the meantime, you will swing at nearby enemies and fire at other foes that hover just out of arm's reach. The controls are handled - and I use this term loosely - by a virtual thumbstick, a jump button, and an attack button. There is no gamepad support.
There are three characters to choose from. Unfortunately, players don't have much control over any of them. The controls feel somewhat responsive, but this feeling fades as soon as there is more than a single enemy on screen. There is no way to switch between targets, nor is there a dodge button to avoid enemy attacks. Regardless of which character you select, gameplay will consist predominantly of firing at targets you will most likely miss and taking shots from enemies with much better aim. It's a good thing continues are unlimited, because I don't see how it would be possible to complete the latter levels otherwise. Then again, the necessity for unlimited continues in a game that isn't at all based on trial and error does not suggest good game design. Also, the game restarts whenever you press the home or back button to check on something else, and don't even think of locking your device. I lost far too much game progress due to the precariously placed buttons on my HTC One.
There are some additions that hint at more in-depth gameplay than what's on the surface. There are two meters visible on screen, a health bar and an energy bar. The former will deplete rather quickly despite your best efforts, so don't bother with it. The latter, though, shows how long until you can launch a special attack when full. Each character's attack is unique and actually makes the gameplay more interesting. The problem is that this bar fills up far too slowly. Alternatively, players can purchase ammo for more powerful weapons, but these amount to little more than marginally enhanced versions of your usual long-range attacks. They hardly seem worth the in-game currency.
In an attempt to spice things up, there are pets that offer varying benefits to your character. The most affordable pet replenishes your character's health, while the next one recharges your energy. They almost add much-needed diversity to the gameplay, but they have to be summoned using special items that are even more expensive than ammo. There are hidden chests and doorways sprinkled through each level that packed with goodies, usually money and health, but guess what? These also cost money to open. Frankly, earning money is too difficult and tedious a task, and the tools that would make doing so easier are too expensive to help. It's a catch-22, and it may leave you wanting your $4.99 back.
The Other Stuff
Even if Bounty Arms had shallow gameplay, I expected it to nail presentation. No dice. The game is gorgeous, no doubt about it, but the attention to detail given to its graphics only draws extra attention to the things that did not get that same focus. There are no introductory cutscenes of any kind for each level. If an animated sequence is too much to ask, just a visual of each character landing on a planet or entering a room would do wonders to set the mood. Instead, each level just begins with a static loading screen that then transitions to one of the protagonists standing in the middle of a barren landscape.
To make things worse - levels end just as abruptly. There's no cutscene, no tacky congratulations banner, nor even a simple door to walk through. Once you hit a certain point in space, the screen simply fades to black, and you're presented with a report tallying up your score. Dying from gunfire results in a very brief animation that isn't accompanied by any distinct sound or indication of your death other than a jarring return to the previous checkpoint. The screen doesn't fade, nor does the level reset itself in any way. Slipping off of high ledges isn't any better. It leads to a long fall into a deep, dark abyss that looks like the level designers simply couldn't be bothered.
The plot, if we can call it that, only makes things worse. I'm not entirely sure what's going on, but it's all conveyed through static text boxes displaying dialogue that doesn't take itself too seriously. Honestly, I wish it at least made the effort. The gameplay isn't good enough on its own, and an engaging plot could motivate me to complete each level in ways that the urge to make money or get a high score simply doesn't.
Should You Play This Game?
Bounty Arms feels like a tech demo, no, a series of tech demos. Each is largely the same as the one before. All are masked in just enough functionality to constitute a game and held together by enough menus to make it playable. There's no extra flare that takes a game from good to great (or from bad to passable). This feels like a launch title rushed to meet a console's release date, but that isn't the case here, and it's a shame. The levels look beautiful, the character designs are worthy of a Pixar film, and the entire experience just hints at greatness. Bounty Arms could have been a showcase of a console experience built natively for mobile, but instead it just provides more evidence for those who feel such experiences were never meant to be. If you just want something pretty to justify that ridiculously high resolution screen, you will get that here. Otherwise, save your five dollars.