Bounty Hounds is one of those rare games that makes it into release with little fanfare, leading a cult following amongst those who will explore each crevice to see everything it has to offer. This action RPG offers phenomenal production values coating a somewhat cut and dry gameplay engine. While flawed, the intensity and presentation are well above par on the PSP.
Set in a futuristic war zone, complete with a variety of alien and robotic enemies, Bounty Hounds' frantic pacing leads to rare downtime as the player equips newly discovered armor or weapons. Combat is vivid in color, style, and feel. Both hands can house two separate weapons, easily swapped out through a wonderfully designed interface. The third person action suffers from some heavy camera issues, though the linear path through each stage makes it difficult to become disoriented.
The customization available to the player is unparalled, and with so many options presented, it's a game crying out to be played twice. Hand-to-hand weapons and firearms are selectable, each with the typical array of strengths. It's best to become familiar with either the ranged or close up combat. With the constant stream of enemies, you'll need to be ready to handle the situation with little notice.
While the far-too-good-for-the-PSP graphics handle all of action properly, there's nearly too much of it. Enemies stream from nowhere, and do not stop until the game's developers decided to make them stop. Given the somewhat basic combat, repetition begins setting in by the second level, regardless of change of locale.
However, Bounty Hounds' rhythmic combat is almost soothing. Tearing through enemies becomes a natural extension of the player, and in short sessions you can't get enough of it. Watching the lead character slice through the air is a gorgeous set of animation.
Once downed, some foes will leave behind items, this in standard RPG form. It leads to Bounty Hounds' most baffling design call: forcing the player to leave the level they're in and warp back to home base just to equip a basic piece of armor. If the load times were acceptable, it may not be as noticeable. In contrast to the silky combat, it's a dead zone for the game that's a requirement every time you need to make a change or run out of room to carry new items.
Granted, each change can radically alter your character in one of numerous categories and the interface is complex. Also, changes show immediately on your character through the impressive graphics engine, leading to another hardware strain when a change is made. Still, there's no excuse for not offering some form of quick swap option to take your chances with. While you can return to the exact location from which you left, any excitement has long since been quelled by the time you make the journey.
Whether or not you can deal with the extended pause in the action will determine whether you're part of the small, dedicated fan base or an outsider looking in wondering how anyone can play with the flaws. It's either a case of trying to do too much with the hardware or an ambitious attempt to push it a little further. At the least, Bounty Hounds deserves recognition as a lost sleeper hit.
Bounty Hounds is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Alcohol Reference, Fantasy Violence, Mild Language.