Friday, 17 May 2019

Plk Lesiak’s Shovelware Adventures: Beach Bounce series

Wondering what this series is about? What's with the "crappy" rating system? Find out all about it here!

Beach Bounce was the second title introduced by AJ Tilley, the creator of Dharker Studio, just a few months after his debut with the infamous Sword of Asumi. It stood out from his other work in a slightly paradoxical way while Tilley’s other projects dealt with different breeds of fantasy or experimented with unusual plot elements (ex. Highschool Romance’s gender-bending), Beach Bounce was meant to be a much more standard nukige, placing our average male protagonist in a summer resort with a substantial number of scantily-clad, horny women and no competition in sight (to the point one might think the rest of the male kind was wiped out by some global cataclysm, but the story at least doesn’t mention any such event taking place). The game initially followed an episodic formula, with the first part released in August 2015 and the second one two months later. However, with the termination of label, under which it was originally published, it disappeared for a while and then re-emerged in a new form, as a full, “Remastered” release by Dharker Studio – this final version of the game went live in late February 2019.
                That’s the simplified version at least, as the confusing network of Dharker’s sister companies created and terminated by AJ Tilley over the years, including Brightly Studios, BurstRay Games and StudioX, among others, is hardly worth deciphering at this point. Still, whatever label is attached to a Beach Bounce game, it’s always Dharker Studio hiding underneath and that’s pretty much the only part of the puzzle that is genuinely worth knowing. Going back to our main topic, while the “Remastered” label might’ve been quite a stretch for a game that never before saw a full release, it doesn’t mean things didn’t change – the overall plot, the characters and their relationships were rewritten in rather significant ways and the complete story now included seven different love interests, with multiple h-scenes for most of them. This meant quite a lot of anime smut in a time when porn VNs weren’t available in such as abundance as they are today, especially on Steam. Thanks to all this, while not necessarily a critically-acclaimed title, Beach Bounce proved successful enough to warrant two sequels, Beauty Bounce and Bunny Bounce, released literally two weeks apart from each other, in February and March 2017. Setting aside the question of what went wrong with those development cycles, I’ll focus today on taking the closer look at the Beach Bounce trilogy and find out whether they deserve the dubious honour of being some of the lowest-rated VNs on VNDB.

Beach Bounce starts with our unassuming protag-kun, Tomoyo, being summoned to a hospital by his ill grandmother, the owner of the titular summer resort. Not being able to perform her managerial duties, she asks Tomoyo to help her staff with handling the everyday affairs on the property – a dream come through for a guy who just dropped out from a law school and was thrown out for it by his apodictic father. To no one’s surprise, all the employees on the resort happened to be beautiful, young women and while at first some of them were rather apprehensive towards the protagonist, seeing him as a loser who only got involved with the company because of his family ties, they’re all soon enough ready to jump into his pants at his every word. And as we’re dealing with 4 primary heroines and three secondary, “wild card” love interests, after the short introduction sex scenes are hiding literally around every corner, and as most of them are tied to choices, there’s quite a lot of unique paths through the game’s minimalistic story.
                Be wary of indulging yourself too much, however, as Beach Bounce is one of those rare nukige which constantly reminds you that sex has consequences (it doesn’t acknowledge the existence of condoms or any other kind of contraceptives through). Fooling around with too many girls at once can not only earn you a cheating-related game over, but even being identified as a dick-brained bum you are and deemed unworthy of inheriting the resort. The plethora of bad endings that get in the way of having fun, in a porn game that has no right to treat itself this seriously is a recurring theme in Dharker titles (it should be very familiar, for example, to fans of the original Negligee) and it apparently originated right here in Beach Bounce. There are also some strange bugs within the games, with story paths being sometimes erroneously flagged and your choices leading to illogical results, adding to the frustration the unnecessary dead-ends can generate.
                If you control yourself enough to approach just one girl on each playthrough and your game doesn't bug out, you’re rewarded with h-scenes that are only decent visually (the art is done by Julia Kruse who also illustrated Sword of Asumi – expect shading being consistently a bit off and sprites variations not always fitting each other) and mostly portray just the girls, with the protag playing the role of The Invisible Man with The Invisible Dick. The game at least compensates for this fact quite decently with the quantity and variety of h-content, making for arguably a better value proposition than many later nukige I’ve seen both from Dharker and other EVN companies. As you can imagine, there’s not much space for the story between the sex scenes here, so whenever the characters are not making sex, the game mostly focuses on establishing the heroines. Those are all… Serviceable, even if little more than that. My personal favourite is probably the business-minded, but ultimately friendly Yuuki (also because I’m a huge fan of women in glasses), but both the main and side heroines all have their appeal points and, for the most parts, hold some minor surprises or fun gimmicks, good enough to make exploring their routes reasonably fun.
          In the end, I could hardly call Beach Bounce a good game, but I think the “Remastered” version doesn't really deserve the abysmal 4.43 VNDB rating, which makes it possibly the lowest-rated VN on the site with over 100 votes. It’s a very simple nukige, but it also doesn’t pretend to be anything beyond that and has some genuinely-amusing moments. Whether it’s worth playing, or especially giving money for nowadays… Probably not. But if you even get an opportunity to grab it really cheap, it might still work as a decent-enough distraction for an evening or two – and it’s definitely not the worst Dharker’s title you can pick up.

Final Rating: Rabbit Poo 
If the first game ended with Tomoyo being pretty much the king of life, the sequel had to invent some kind of drama to keep the plot, as minimal as it was, going – in this case, the new source of low-key drama is a highly-dubious bank loan given to the protagonist’s grandmother, now being renegotiated by the bank after her death and threatening to sink the whole resort. Tomoyo’s goal as the new owner is both to appease the man-eating, female bank agent handling his case (preferably with his dick, but optionally just by being nice to her and looking competent), while also making Beach Bounce’s annual beauty pageant successful enough to make the new management not look like a bunch of clueless hacks (thus the “Beauty” part of the title). Two of the original “primary” girls, Rei and Mineko, quit their jobs, while two of the side heroines, Minami and Nymph, are nowhere to be seen – all those were switched for the already mentioned bank agent, a guest nominee for the pageant, Emiko and a fresh employee, Chiasa, as new heroines. Sadly, the former two manage to have even less personality or genuine appeal then the girls they replaced (especially Emiko is purely just h-scene fodder), with only the shy Chiasa having a little bit of charm – that's probably the reason she's the only one that reappears in the final game. Also, considering how comically short the sequel is, there was no chance for any of them to get any kind of real character development, while the already-established girls at least had the advantage of the basic-level characterisation they've received in the original Beach Bounce.
             The game also, disappointingly enough, offers just a single sex scene per route (determined by which of the girls you support during the beauty contest), which further underlines how lazy and uninspired the whole experience feels. Probably the only interesting touch is the ability to suggest what the girl you’re currently pursuing should do and wear for the beauty contest, which results in different CGs for each choice, but I have a feeling this was not exactly what people who liked the first game were looking for. There’s also no direct continuation from the romance routes from Beach Bounce, making the second game one of those sequels that both acknowledge the original story and invent a neutral, non-romantic conclusion for it that never really existed. At least, there is a proper harem ending included this time around and it, more or less, seem like its "true" conclusion, leading directly into the third game. Still, while I thought that Beach Bounce had its moment, this sequel is a really tough sell – approach it only if you’re seriously determined to finish the whole series, as there’s simply not much to see (or read) here.

Final Rating: Smelly Poo
With Tomoyo successfully inheriting the resort and dealing with the threat of the toxic bank loan, there was a need for something drastic to keep the story pointlessly dramatic – and what can serve this role better than a car crash? Thankfully, our protagonist is pushed out of the way by a heroic (female) rando, but still manages to hit his head pretty harshly and wakes up in a hospital. What comes after that can only be described as the Severe Concussion Simulator, where Tomoyo hallucinates every female around him being dressed in sexy animal costumes and hitting on him relentlessly (the latter part was already happening in the last two games, probably making the whole situation even more confusing for our brain-damaged lead). The player’s goal is to guide him through this new reality of never-ending migraines and sexual delusions in a way that won’t lead him to becoming a vegetable, while also preferably not ruining his relationships with all of the girls.
             The game ditched the useless bank employee and guest pageant contestant, introducing an attractive doctor and the girl that pushed Tomoyo away from the incoming car as new heroines. The story this time is significantly more linear, giving you a single opportunity to have sex with each girl in the cast, but also does something way more counter-intuitive – at the end, it established Yuuki as the main heroine of the story and determines the ending by how you treated her during the story and whether you were faithful to her. While I personally really don’t mind this resolution, as she was already my pick since the first game, it’s a really weird way to approach concluding a nukige series, once more, punishing you for doing what the game was more or less designed for and possibly not even letting you hook up with your favourite heroine. Thus, my rating of the final Beach Bounce game is: for the fans of Yuuki only, or those that for some reason like the whole series too much to skip on its final chapter. It’s also arguably better than Beauty Bounce, at least trying to do something interesting and including a bit more humour, but that’s already a very low bar...

Final Rating: Rabbit Poo (if you’re a fellow Yuuki fan) 

Beach Bounce is in a way a quintessential early Dharker Studio title – so uninspired, clunky and generic you might question the reasons for its existence, but at the same having just enough peculiar, trashy charm to not be completely pointless and forgettable. Even though the whole trilogy is arguably just as bad as people make it out to be, it doesn’t pretend to be anything more than cheesy porn game series and in this category, I think it's far from being the worst or most offensive. At the same time, these games showcase one of the arguably cool features of Dharker – sticking to its franchises and characters, even if the effects are not always the greatest. Keeping the games connected and reusing characters from them between the games might sound like a lazy tactic, but in reality, it builds connection to their brand and creates opportunities for enjoyable call-backs – I would surely be much less interested in the upcoming Basketball Girls if not for the inclusion of characters such as Beach Bounce’s Yuuki and Negligee’s Karen, that I already enjoyed in their original titles and feel some slight connection to. For this reason, I don’t regret my time with this series, although I could hardly recommend buying any of them full-price or devoting much time to them. Unless you’re looking for fapping material specifically, watching a playthrough, just to see where certain recurrent characters and themes in Dharker games came from, feels much more reasonable.
                And for now, this is it when it goes to the early history of Dharker Studio. Next time we visit this developer, it’ll quite likely be for one of the few games of theirs that deserve a “serious” review (and as I've already tackled Highschool Romance: Magi Trials last week, Army Gals is the primary candidate to get featured in the coming months). And where the Shovelware Adventures will lead us next? Who knows! For now, I thank you all for joining me on this silly journey. Have a great weekend everyone!

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