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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (478)

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Eiyuden Chronicle: Hund... 2/5
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Boot Hill Bounties   PC (Steam) 

And Now for the Main Course…    4/5 stars

“Boot Hill Bounties” (“BHB”) is the second episode in the throwback, 16-bit style, Wild West RPG by Kickstarted Indie developer, Experimental Gamer. Released three years after its predecessor/part-one, “Boot Hill Heroes,” “BHB” picks up immediately where the first game left off. Unfortunately, Chris and I weren’t able to pickup where we left off due to a number of interruptions both related to the still-ongoing pandemic and not. Thankfully, we were eventually able to schedule enough couch-coop time to get through this second episode, and, even more thankfully, found an engaging, RPG experience that, nonetheless, feels incomplete, this time due to the lack of a proper beginning.

Presentation
“BHB” is literally the second half of “Boot Hill Heroes,” as it is built in the same exact engine, with the same exact visuals, same exact animation, and same exact art style. Everything I said about Part One applies to Part Two, for good or ill. It’s a game that wears its inspirations on its sleeve, and fans of 16-bit retro gaming will recognize all of them, and perhaps get a warm and fuzzy hit of nostalgia in the process. While “BHB” nevertheless feels exactly the same as its predecessor, there are a wide variety of new enemies in encounters, a number of new (and, as always, unique) NPCs, plus new character portraits for the cast of heroes, as there are a number of new hats for them to wear, some of which are quite silly.

Like the first game, Indie composer, Jake Kaufman, is behind the soundtrack in “BHB.” Likewise, as in the first game, the soundtrack is not only excellent on its own, but does a fantastic job of evoking warm and fuzzy nostalgia for the glory days of 16-bit RPGs, right down to the specific MIDI instruments that made SNES games sound so recognizably unique.

Technically, “BHB” is about on par with its predecessor. There’s native Xinput support, with up-to-four-player coop and drop-in/drop-out capabilities. Collision detection is still a bit weird, making it something of a chore to navigate cluttered environments. Likewise, the PC version still refuses to go fully full-screen unless the player sets the Windows taskbar to auto-hide itself. The developer is still incredibly responsive to bug reports on the forums, and generally seems to care about the reputation of his games. However, I have to wonder why “BHB” is a separate game instead of a DLC for “Boot Hill Heroes.” It literally begins where the previous game left off, and even allows players to import their save file from the first game, keeping all their important stuff like character levels and inventory. When I first learned of the existence of “BHB,” I didn’t even realize there was a preceding game, and might have missed out if I wasn’t paying attention. Furthermore, for the Nintendo Switch ports of the ‘Boot Hill’ series, the first game was actually released EIGHT MONTHS after the second game, which is just poorly thought-out all around. Honestly, these two separate episodes could really stand to have an “Evoland: Legendary Edition” style re-release where they’re both stuck together in a single purchase – or, even better, as a single game, which they already are in every way that matters.

Story
“BHB” picks up mere weeks after the anti-climactic events of the first game. After learning how the evil Saints-Little Gang defeated the members of the original Boot Hill Posse a decade prior, Kid Howl, Rosie, and Moon Dancer decide to team up with the last still-active member of the posse, “Doc” Valentine, to track-down and apprehend the gang members, one-by one. Following a variety of leads, the newly-reconstituted Boot Hill Posse travels to far-flung locations across the isolated Bronco County, desperate to find irrefutable evidence that the Indian attack on the town of Ashwood was staged by the Saints-Little Gang in order to start a war between the local Chepakwik Tribe and the United States Army.

Playing out over four self-contained chapters, the narrative in “BHB” is replete with excellent character development for both the heroes and the villains, revealing connections and motivations in more organic and subtle ways than part one’s heavy-handed exposition. Likewise, “BHB” also sees the story through to a satisfying conclusion, with epic confrontations with the villains along the way. There’s even a post-credits scene that sets-up a story hook for a potential sequel, instead of leaving a gaping cliffhanger devoid of resolution.

“BHB,” thanks to the fact that the Boot Hill Posse gets to travel a lot more and tie up all of the loose story threads, is roughly twice as long as the first episode, clocking in at around 25 hours. Personally, I was really happy with the overall run-time of the two episodes, combined, as it falls into the sweet spot for retro RPG length, with enough side content to keep things interesting between chapters, but without any unnecessary padding or filler.

Gameplay
“BHB” utilizes a mildly upgraded version of the battle system from the first episode, which is, itself, an amalgamation of a bunch of great ideas that originally appeared in a variety of Golden Age RPGs from the 4th and 5th Generations of gaming. The core new feature of the combat system is the ability to unlock more than four Vantage (read: Skill) slots on the party’s variety of equippable hats, with each hat granting a fixed selection of Vantages, plus a number of empty Vantage slots as well as new Deluxe Vantages which can, after being learned, can be equipped into any Vantage slot on any hat. Thus the already excellent and tactical real-time/turn-based hybrid combat from the first episode is made even better with more character-building options.

“BHB” is also much more enjoyable as a coop experience than its predecessor, simply because the game nearly always has the entire party of four characters together at the same time. Though there are still occasionally scenes where the party will separate, thus requiring some re-jiggering to assign control of characters to the “correct” couch-coop player, it’s not nearly as egregious in forcing inactive players to passively watch as one player controls one character for numerous scenes and battles. It can still be a painfully passive experience outside of combat, since one player is in charge of leading the whole party in a conga-line, but it would definitely require quite a bit of experimentation and unorthodox thinking to come up with a way to allow players to wander around, talking to NPCs, shopping, and triggering enemy encounters, simultaneously.

Overall
“Boot Hill Bounties” really delivers on the promises made by “Boot Hill Heroes,” with a much beefier story, minor refinements to the already excellent gameplay, and a satisfying conclusion that still leaves an intriguing story hook for the planned third-and-final episode in the series. This is by far the closest any modern throwback RPG has gotten to reaching the pinnacle of the Golden Age. I’m really looking forward to seeing more from this developer.

Presentation: 3.5/5
Story: 4.5/5
Gameplay: 4.5/5
Overall (not an average): 4/5 (4.5/5 if both episodes are played back-to-back)

 

 


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