March 4, 2013 by solomonlutze
Occasionally a narrative comes along that works best if you don’t question it too deeply. Just nod, accept the premise, and allow yourself to be carried by it. Bleed, an action-platformer by one-man-show Bootdisk Revolution, makes you do just that. Its self-reference and general silliness has a kind of cohesion that you might not expect, and lends itself well to the hectic but precise insanity of the gameplay.
In Bleed, you’ll be controlling Wryn, who has decided to make a name for herself by tracking down each of the six greatest heroes of all time. Unfortunately, these heroes are now gluttonous and greedy shadows of their former selves, and Wryn must defeat them to become the first Hall of Heroes inductee in over a century. Each level will have you fighting through the lair of the fallen hero before the ensuing boss battle.
You’ll earn money from these missions based on the difficulty, how many times you died, and your “style” throughout, which is in turn based on how much damage you deal, how long you go without being hit, etc. Money can then be used to expand your arsenal or purchase power-ups that will make your life easier later on. It helps that Wryn is likable and funny; when you die repeatedly, she’ll tell you to consult a walkthrough or ask if you have an older brother who can try this part. She isn’t usually annoying, and even if she’s ridiculous, she’s tough and chipper enough to be a welcome companion.
The game has the “retro” pixel-art style that can traditionally be a bit of a gamble: tacky when done badly and lovingly detailed when done well. Fortunately, Bleed does it well. The execution is a little Mega Man-esque, which is simple and fitting. Ultimately, it fits the playful tone of the game better than the more menacing direction the creator originally considered. Bleed isn’t visually breathtaking, but it is expressive, fun, and the artwork compliments the gameplay.
The gameplay itself is where Bleed really shines. The movement is basic; you can switch between either of two weapons, and aim anywhere around Wryn. Jump-dash allows you to dive quickly through the air after jumping (up to three times) and you eventually get a slow-time function. You can quickly turn an overwhelming number of enemies and bullets into a manageable fight. These mechanics are at their best when you find yourself trying to manage resources over a period of a couple of seconds, stretched out by slow-time. This is heavily exercised in boss battle sequences. The resulting freedom of bending time makes Wryn feel very powerful.
There’s only a limited number of levels/bosses, but there are a lot of extra goodies that are fun to collect. Buy fancier guns, extra energy, and after beating the game on certain difficulties, you can even unlock new playable characters who are controlled very differently from Wryn. There are also some extra game modes. Challenge Mode allows you fight up to 3 of the heroes at once, and Arcade Mode lets you play through the whole game on one life. This last mode begs for a multiplayer option because it feels so much like a traditional side-scroller shmup.
Some of the extras feel superfluous, but that is about the only criticism with the upgrades and purchase items. For example, once I’d found my two favorite guns, I never used anything else. Meanwhile, some upgrades feel too powerful and take away from the strategy of rationing the slow-time bar (a major, compelling part of early on gameplay). That said, the game is unforgiving enough on its hardest difficulty that you’ll want all the help you can get, and it’s fulfilling to see your character become appreciably more powerful as you keep playing.
Presentation: The art is pretty and cheerful, aligning well with the overall silly, cartoonish visuals.
Optimization: There are palm-moistening moments of intensity where you have to pull out every stop to survive.
Ingenuity: A little like a blended cocktail of Cave Story and classic side-scrolling shmups, only much more ridiculous. Definitely an awesome departure from the more puzzle-oriented platformers that have been topping charts recently.
Sound: The retro-style sound effects and chiptune music fit.
Entertainment: Blow apart dozens of enemies at a time, fight your way past robots, racers, and intestinal parasites, topple ridiculous heroes in ridiculous ways. Immediately and eminently loveable.
Bleed shows off how much fun there is left in the action-platformer. The game isn’t a crowning achievement in platform gaming, but it makes itself known by leaning deeply into its entertaining gameplay. If Bootdisk Revolution keeps making games this great, we will be very lucky gamers.
GamerCheese score: 4/5