Boot Hill Bounties review: charm that doesn’t survive combat

Boot Hill Bounties makes an interesting first impression. The game unabashedly cribs its visual style from Mother, gently toys with the Western film genre, and plays a bit like Grandia. Seeing as these are all things I tend to get wistful and nostalgic about, my interest was piqued. But although there are plenty of things I admire and applaud in Boot Hill Bounties, in the end it felt like it missed the mark.

The game is the second part in a proposed trilogy that follows the exploits of four clichéd heroes as they tackle the equally clichéd Saints-Little Gang, which is wreaking havoc all across Bronco County. Kid is the wet-behind-the-ears whippersnapper who’s out to be virtuous, Doc is the grizzled veteran who acts aloof but is in tune with the mission, Moon is the righteous and world weary Native American who has to save her tribe, and Rosy is the red-headed tomboy. Their personalities are as deep as a puddle, but they’re still fun in all the ways that their tropes dictate they should be.

Boot Hill Bounties does a good job of catching you up to the story by way of a clever tutorial that sees you walking to the nearest town and picking up companions along the way, but then adds another layer to what you’re out to accomplish. It’s a very subtle way to do a bit of quick world building, and it works. It invested me just enough to be curious about what happens next, which you’ll find out in a bit worked in the game’s favor when other elements weren’t cutting it.

What I absolutely adored about Boot Hill Bounties was the world you explore. Westerns (and for that matter 16-bit RPGs) aren’t revisited that often, so venturing out into pixelated pine forests, Old West towns and canyons was a visual treat. I wanted to explore around every corner and down each beaten path just to see where it would lead me to next. Caves, saloons and every place in between are all lovingly crafted and brimming with lovely details.

But then there’s the combat. A lot of RPGs live or die by the systems they’re rooted in, and while Boot Hill Bounties doesn’t completely fall flat, it does feel like it withered on the vine a bit. The fighting is based on a series of meters that fill for each of your party members as well as for each enemy, and you have to time your attacks using these meters in such a way as to get the upper hand in every battle. You can do things like queue up moves, or defend and cancel an enemy’s attack with proper planning. When I write that down it sounds exhilarating, but in practice the combat system feels too busy, almost to the point of being chaotic. I love a good battle system that challenges you to make deft decisions, sometimes even with a bit of hurriedness, but Boot Hill Bounties made me anxious more than anything.

I wish the combat had clicked with me, because Boot Hills Bounties is otherwise charming as hell. It’s a nearly perfect miasma of long-forgotten ideas, it just overdid it in one crucial area. Regardless, I’m still looking forward to where Kid and crew go next, which says a lot for the game. I just hope tussling with the bad guys doesn’t feel like so much of a chore next time.

Boot Hill Bounties was developed by Experimental Gamer Studios, and is available on PC and Switch. We played the Switch version.

Disclosure statement: review code for Boot Hill Bounties was provided by Experimental Gamer Studios. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.

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