For those aware of it, Bounty Arms seemed unlikely to ever show itself. Unreleased Japanese games are hard to lay hand on, and Bounty Arms is quite low-profile. Yet part of it saw an official release. In 1995, a brief demo of the game appeared on the fifth volume of Demo Demo PlayStation, Sony’s early line of discs made for Japanese store kiosks. The demo is incomplete and barely lasts for two minutes of the game’s first stage (five minutes if you take it slow), but it might be all of Bounty Arms we’ll ever play. And it’s better than I ever thought it'd be.
Data West planned to ship Bounty Arms in April 1995, the same month it appeared in Demo Demo PlayStation. Yet the demo included here isn’t finished. That much is apparent even on the title screen, which mentions a lack of “game balance." One can’t help but catch a whiff of desperation in it, as though Data West itself is confessing that their game isn’t ready and asking you to please patiently enjoy this fine product sample.
The character-select screen presents two playable leads: the dissatisfied, red-haired, red-eyed Rei Misazaki and the blonde, ponytailed, coquettishly grinning Chris Prenacaluto (which is how I’m spelling her mess of a last name until this contest is over). While the artwork recalls a low-rung (and possibly adults-only) 1990s Japanese PC game, it’s an improvement on the washed-out illustration that Data West used in a Bounty Arms ad, and the portraits come close to giving Chris and Rei trace amounts of personality, however stereotyped. They’re identical in gameplay except for one thing: Chris wears her Relic Arm on the right, Rei on the left. It’s a seemingly pointless distinction, but it has subtle effects in battle.
The first level of Bounty Arms is a jungle raid, just like Ikari Warriors and Mercs and every other top-down arcade shooter that might’ve inspired Bounty Arms. Once Chris and Rei get going, their Relic Arms show off the game’s novel approach. Press the one and only attack button, and Chris or Rei whips her Relic Arm like a Castlevania lead, lashing out and retracting the pointy, tentacle-like appendage. The Relic Arm does heavy damage, and any bullets it strikes are bounced back at enemies. Holding down the button charges a meter at the bottom of the screen, and releasing it makes our heroines whirl their Relic Arms in huge circles of flame.