Released on July 1 for Windows by Ludicrous Games, The Bounty is a Roguelike JRPG created to be difficult. The player’s goal is to solve puzzles that block physical progress, kill enemies as they appear, collect loot, and, most importantly, get the highest score possible. Inspired by arcade games, programmer Dave Vogt created The Bounty to be enjoyable to a seasoned gamer, but wanted something hard enough to “kick [his] ass.” (Vogt is a world-record holder in gaming, so his bar was admittedly a little higher than one might expect.) In addition to simply wanting to present a challenge to gamers, 5% of all profits from The Bounty will be donated to Extra Life, a charity that supports the Children’s Miracle Network.
Admittedly, I am not a record-setting gamer. When I read Vogt’s game description and saw his gaming history, I was very nervous at the level of difficulty described. However, The Bounty is fun enough that even with failure, I wanted to jump back in and try again, to get further, and correct whatever mistakes I’d made. The enemies start out being fairly easy to defeat, and suddenly you hit one that perhaps you should have healed before meeting…but you’ll know that for next time. The puzzles and secrets are more about paying attention than wracking your brain, so the actual level of frustration while playing is low – it’s only when you’ve died that it sinks in just how difficult things were…and without saving your game, you have to do it all over again every time you die. The game hammers home that point by cheerfully voicing, “you died!” and “epic failure!” in a sing-song voice in the death screen.
This is a 16-bit game, so if you’re looking for completely epic scenery, you’re not going to find it. However, the layout of the dungeon rooms, the objects you need to search, and the enemy design is very direct and visually pleasing. As with many RPG-Maker games, the tone of the game depends on the designer, and there are many different ways your game can end up looking; The Bounty gets its point across and manages to be both interesting and entertaining without so much detail that it’s overwhelming. Enemies look like black ghosts when they’re wandering around, then when you’re faced with them, they turn out to be large rats, bats that glow in the dark, and large green blobs with high HP. Some of them guard treasure, and those enemies are harder to beat than the ones that you just run into. The puzzles get progressively more difficult, and some of them kill you even if you do them correctly.
You begin the game in a room with several options available to you, including entering secret areas, saving (though it’s the beginning of the game, so it doesn’t seem like there’s much worth saving), and changing your character or name. Save points are also available in-game, but using them costs points, and there are special achievements that you’re not eligible for if you save anywhere but in the lobby. My default character was a female in a bikini, and since I didn’t read the instructions thoroughly, I was irritated at the inability to change my character’s appearance. It turns out you have to earn the ability to change what your character looks like by beating the entire game and gaining a code. My character will likely look like this forever.
The music and sound design are very typical of 16-bit RPGs – you slash at an opponent, you hear the attack noise that, honestly, we all know the sound of if we’ve played any early Final Fantasy games (it’s sort of a crunchy smack, with a deeper reverb underneath). The music is fast and kind of jangly, and so repetitive that it can become background noise, and you may forget what it sounds like when you’re finished until you play the game again. That’s not to say that the sound is unpleasant – it’s almost familiar, and for those who are the target audience for RPG-Maker nostalgia, can make the gaming experience that much better.
Controlling your character is easy once you get used to the standard controls for RPG-Maker games, which is to move with the arrow keys, select or act using “Z”, and open your menu or cancel an action using “X”. Navigating the menu is more complicated than doing anything else in the game. The labels on items are very clear, descriptions are thorough, and if you don’t use them correctly, you really only have yourself to blame. It’s simply knowing when to use them where the game relies on you, and where you might get a bit stuck (for example, some items aren’t usable unless you’re standing exactly where they need to be used, which requires paying attention and extrapolating from your environment).
This is not a game for those without at least a little bit of patience, nor is it for very casual gamers (it’s been compared to Dark Souls in terms of difficulty). If you’d like to try it, it’s inexpensive: It can be purchased from either itch.io or Gaming World Wide for $5. You can also download a free Shareware version from this link (it takes you to a shopping cart, so don’t be alarmed – you’re not being charged anything).