Bleed 2

So, there’s this game that came out in 2017. It’s an old-school shooter where the developer, recognizing that most people remember boss battles and not stages, based the majority of the game around such encounters. It features a throw-back art style, clever boss designs and battles, and exhilarating white-knuckle bullet-spraying action.

Oh, and it has multiple difficulty options and is accessible to gamers of all skill levels. That’s how you know I’m not talking about Cuphead.

Back in February of 2017, the sequel to one of my favorite XBLIGs arrived on Steam. I got it. I played it. And then I apparently had writer’s block when I sat down to do the review.. and promptly forgot about it. Awesome. So here we are twenty-something months later and I just replayed Bleed 2, this time on my Xbox One. Now, I really, really loved playing Bleed 2 the first time around, so how on Earth I could let this one slip by? Well, not being dedicated to my game critic duties played a part. Another part might be that Bleed 2 is shorter than your average bout with hiccups.

Fan theory: Wryn is the daughter of Chintai, one of the bosses from Double Dragon. That explains the thirst for homicide.

In Bleed 2 you continue the adventures of Wryn, the girl who dreamed of becoming the biggest gaming icon in the world, and achieved that dream by violently murdering all the other stars in cold blood. Well, if it still counts as cold-blooded if done in the most upbeat, cheerful, “holy crap, I can’t believe how totally violent and deadly I am and that’s fucking awesome” type of way. I loved Wryn. She’s a go-getter. And I love her character design. Bleed 2 even has a taunt button so you can see her joyously raise a single arm triumphantly in celebration of her growing body count, and it makes her look like a Charlie Brown supporting character. Like Peppermint Patty if she completely lost her mind and started gunning down all the other Peanuts for fun.

Bleed 2, like the best sequels, is the evolutionary version of its XBLIG original. The run-and-spray twin-stick gameplay has been refined, along with the responsiveness of Wryn’s awesome triple-jump that feels like it belongs in a superhero game. The main hook this time around is you have a samurai sword that you can use to reflect any pink-colored projectiles or attacks. The sword is automatically used when you’re using the standard duel-pistols and press in a direction to shoot. While it works and offers remarkable precision, it also makes me worry about the health of my controller as proper usage requires a lot of stick-flicking. By time I finished a round of Bleed 2, a ring of white powder that hadn’t been there before (I always check with twin-stick games) had formed around my XB1 pad’s right stick. While it’s not Mario Party 1 levels of warranty-voiding abuse, by the half-way point of Bleed 2 I was questioning whether Ian Campbell was in league with the Mexican Controller Cartels. We’ve all been there. Hell, I used to make a enough money selling the powdered remains of my Nintendo 64 analog sticks post-Mario Party to teenagers as “cocaine” to fund my actual cocaine habit.

The reflect-the-bullets stuff is awesome and combines beautifully with the Max Payne like bullet-time effect. It makes Bleed 2 such a joy to experience. There’s no pretension on display here. This is just a stupid, mindless, white-knuckle action game. No bullshit. No sense of self-importance. With the indie scene trending more towards games that try to tell important “messages”, Bleed 2 is a breath of fresh air. Like Cuphead, it forgoes the notion that people want to play through levels and focuses on multiple boss encounters, each unique from the other and requiring different tactics to beat. They hit one after another, never giving you a moment to breathe. Even games that aspire to be balls-to-the-wall miss the mark with frequent breaks in the proceedings. Not Bleed 2. Often you beat one boss only to have another spawn within seconds. It never lets up, and it never gets boring.

Bleed 2 is such a strange game. You can unlock more weapons, but none of them are as fun or satisfying as the standard loadout. When does that ever happen in games anymore? Not since Painkiller that I can think of.

But, it’s not perfect. The basic enemies are total cannon-fodder, offering less challenge than your average pickle jar. And most of the levels are so uninspired that I wonder why they even bothered putting them in. Perhaps, like Cuphead, they felt like they had to. To all you indie devs out there: you don’t have to do shit. Funny enough, as much as I hated Cuphead, at least some of the actual levels were entertaining. Not with Bleed 2. They’re dull as dirt tofu-based appetizers and serve as distractions to the delicious, meaty main course of the boss battles. I’d love to see a third game in the series that fully transitions to just those parts. Everything about the stages, with the exception of one that removes gravity, feel uninspired, phoned in, and arbitrary. And if that’s not enough mean things to say, give me a few minutes and I’ll come up with more.

The main quest is short. A good player can probably knock it out comfortably in under two hours. Bleed 2 offers a ton of extras, but this is where the game stumbles. The main quest features hand-crafted levels, while the more attractive bonus mode, Endless, uses randomly generated stages in what I can only assume was an attempt to offer some justification for not removing the basic enemies entirely. Also, this is what all procedural generation in games like this should be: a throw-away extra. Unfortunately, while there’s still adjustable difficulty toggles, the endless mode gives you one life and one life only to complete all five stages. This is far out of reach for my ability as a gamer. Why not offer to have endless lives and count how many you need? Not for everyone. Just make it an option? I mean, the random levels are dull and you take on bosses you already fought and I can’t imagine anyone would actually voluntarily want to play this stuff, but gating it off so it’s only playable by the uber-talented seems odd.

This is “Challenge Mode” where you can take on three of the game’s bosses at the same time. Not a boss rush. THE SAME TIME. Even the on-screen menu admits this mode is unbalanced and just for lulz.

But I loved Bleed 2. I don’t really have too much to say about it. Stripping out the majority of useless stuff will do that. I like the way weapon pick-ups (or lack-thereof) work. I honestly had more fun just using the default loadout than I did during a second play-through with rocket launchers and laser beams. Maybe I wish the “main” bosses weren’t just other people the same size as my character, which was done in service to the story instead of the pace and atmosphere. The final boss fight against “the Rival” (who you then unlock as a playable character, only he can reflect yellow stuff instead of pink, essentially making him Sinestro) is so insanely anti-climatic that I didn’t realize he was the final boss until “GAME CLEAR” popped-up on-screen. It was a bit of a let-down, even though it was a pretty fun fight. You know what? Give me rock-solid controls and an hour or two of exhilarating action that leaves me sweating, cursing, in a bit of pain, and still wanting more over a ten-hour experience where I eventually reach the point that I just want it to be over. I’m talking about Bleed 2, by the way, not my sex life.

Bleed 2 was developed by BootDisk Revolution
Point of Sale: Steam, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch

$7.99 (Steam version, normally $9.99 or $14.99 on consoles) think the series isn’t as popular because the name is fucking lazy in the making of this review. Then again this review is like twenty months late.

Bleed 2 is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

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