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BLEED Review

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What happens if you press A? Or B, X or Y? How about hitting the triggers? What about wiggling the sticks?

Sound familiar? If you’re anything like me and have been left with a headache thanks to the massive combos you’re expected to remember from the fighting titles out there, or you’ve been left scratching your head at just how you completed that act of greatness in another of the intricate titles out there, then you’re probably like me and keen to know what buttons you need to remember before setting off on your latest gaming adventure. This is something I did with BLEED too – one of the recent indie titles to arrive on the store. Thirty seconds later however, the controls were the least of my worries. I was on the run from feline aggressors and one eyed flying terrors, as I was left to pursue the path of becoming the greatest video game hero ever.

BLEED – yes, the capitals are necessary – is an action-packed, 2D action-platformer in which you take on the role of pink-haired protagonist, Wyrn – a girl with a big arsenal and an even bigger dream. You see, Wyrn has a serious case of hero envy, and she’s decided that she’s had enough of watching the world’s heroes take all the glory. Now it’s her turn and she is going to be the ultimate videogame hero. Standing in her path however are the six greatest heroes ever, all of which are now monstrous versions of their former selves. With the craving for glory that comes from saving the world, you are sent on a seven-stage quest to rid the world of its greatest heroes and take the throne for yourself.

It sounds quite nice in a weird kind of way doesn’t it? A story about a protagonist who wants to be the best she could possibly be, at least until you realise she’s willing to blow holes into anyone who stands in her way. But then again, a few short minutes with BLEED is more than enough to show that this is not going to be a nice game in any way. If you expect to reach the end on anything more than the game’s easy difficulty, you’ll need to be willing to part with plenty of blood, sweat and tears, and if you haven’t got the dexterity or lightning reactions required to master this true bullet-hell shooter, then you’ll probably need a new controller by the time you’re finished too.

That’s right, BLEED is the latest of the bullet-hell titles to arrive on Xbox One, and for those of you unaware of just what that term means, it means bullets. Lots and lots of bullets. Or in this case, fiery plasma balls… EVERYWHERE. Nevertheless, there are three different game modes for players to play through and test their bullet-dodging abilities – Story Mode, Arcade Mode and Challenge Mode.

Story Mode was my first port of call and is probably the best place to start. Players traverse seven levels, each packed with their own set-pieces and end-of-level boss that need to be overcome in order to progress to the next level. Each stage in itself isn’t exactly a long process, with the whole game able to be finished within roughly an hour or so, but instead it’s the difficulty that makes this one an interesting spectacle. Before starting each level, players can select a difficulty from Easy, Normal, Hard and V. Hard. Normal was where I initially started my playthrough, but it only took a matter of minutes before I decided this was not where you start as a first-time player with BLEED, and swiftly took myself off to the Easy difficulty to get a bit of practice in.

So, what did those controls I had practiced earlier actually do? Quite a lot it turns out. See, the controls in BLEED are exceptionally simple – you have the left stick that controls player movement, the right stick that controls firing and the direction you fire, LB and RB which both swap weapons, LT that slows time, and RT which controls Wyrn’s jump… a jump which can turn into a triple-jump if needed. Something which saved my bacon more times than I care to remember. And that’s about all you need to remember – and that’s a good thing as had they been any more difficult I probably would have thrown in the towel early on.

As I mentioned previously there are four difficulty levels to choose from, and each one comes with unique enemy patterns and behaviours, keeping the game fresh for each time you decide to scale things up to the next level. However, if you manage to beat the game on anything more than the Normal difficulty, you’ll be a better man than me. Even the first level on the tougher difficulty setting feels near impossible, but whilst I would usually relish the intense challenge, it’s not thanks to the level design, or the enemy placement that makes BLEED such a challenging game – all of which are rather impressive even with their simplicity – and instead it’s down to the boss at the end of each stage. You see each of the bosses within the game are exceptionally powerful, bringing new attacks and excessive damage with each hit that lands. But even with a large arsenal consisting of dual pistols, mines, a rocket launcher, a laser rifle, a katana and more, Wyrn is still rather underpowered in every battle that isn’t played on Easy or Normal.

Fortunately, each of the levels in the Story Mode are rather forgiving with their checkpoint system, as getting to the next area is enough to give a fresh checkpoint, something which can be done fairly swiftly even on harder difficulties by making use of Wyrn’s triple jump, slow-mo abilities, well-timed dodges and firing action. Each death also brings Wyrn back to full health, making for a fresh run at each checkpoint which helps keep you going without having to start back at the beginning every time you make a mistake. That all sounds great, right? Well yes. But even though I truly love a hardcore challenge, and that is something most definitely found within BLEED, I can’t help but feel the real challenge is intended to come from the boss battles.

This is probably down to the fact that these are where I spent most of my time. With levels taking mere minutes to get through, I was often finding myself stuck on boss fights for what felt like forever. And even though that isn’t a problem, it may have come across as a little more enjoyable had the rest of the game been equally as challenging. BLEED isn’t a bad game, but anyone not putting full concentration into a level will find themselves in trouble thanks to enemy fire from near on every direction.

A trip to the shop before selecting your level can help to push the boss battle odds slightly back in your favour, with health upgrades, slow-mo regeneration upgrades and plenty of powerful weapons available to buy, but affording these will take finishing several levels to ensure you have enough coin to buy them, something which isn’t a joyous task when you’re breezing through the game’s easy setting over and over just to get something powerful enough to conquer the normal setting.

When you have eventually saved enough, selecting your new weapons is a rather simple affair. Pausing the game brings up an option to change your selected weapons and with two slots to fill, a good way to go is with an exceptionally powerful but slow firing weapon such as the laser rifle or the rocket launcher, and then combine that with something a little quicker. Even with a high-powered arsenal and upgraded health however, later boss battles still prove to be an overbearing challenge when compared to the rest of the game.

Story Mode actually feels rather disappointing in terms of balanced gameplay, but one thing that must be complimented is just how fluid and fun the gameplay actually is. When not in a boss battle, traversing each of the levels is actually an impressive experience, with controls offering rapid response times and enjoyable combat, whilst a decent variety of enemy is present throughout. These are all traits that are a must in any good bullet-hell title.

Unfortunately though, things don’t get massively better for BLEED in the other game modes available, and once more it’s nothing to do with level design, enemy placement or a let-down of the controls, but with the overbearing enemies.

Arcade Mode is essentially that one-stop-shop for speedrunners. It’s a mode in which players are tasked with taking on the entire game with a single life. But with bosses that prove unfair even in a mode with plenty of checkpoints, one with none whatsoever is never going to prove any more enjoyable. Again it’s the enemy boss battles that prove infuriating and take the fun away from this quirky and otherwise enjoyable platformer.

Finally, there is Challenge Mode, and yeah you guessed it, bosses and more bosses. But this time, you have the pleasure, or rage-inducing frustration depending on the end of the scale you sit, of fighting three bosses at once. Seriously. Too much.

If you happen to be someone who comes up with a masterclass performance to beat the game on the Normal, Hard and V. Hard difficulties however, there is also the option to play through with new characters.

One thing I feel I wish to stress however, is that without the overpowering boss fights, BLEED is a game that feels like a must play, but with so much emphasis put into the bosses, it feels the rest of the experience takes a backseat. That is something which doesn’t sit well with someone who likes to enjoy the whole experience rather than just a fraction of it.

The design and gameplay of BLEED offers a refreshing and unique experience, but the overpowering boss battles, truly tone down what would otherwise be an exceptional adventure. Whilst the Easy and Normal difficulties offer do-able challenges, it would have been nice to see the difficulties spread out a bit more evenly to all of the enemies within the game. Nevertheless, anyone looking for a challenging game would do well to dive into BLEED, and with such a small price tag attached, even the exceptionally overbearing boss fights aren’t enough to really ruin the experience.

Carlos Santuana (Sly Boogie1993)
Carlos Santuana (Sly Boogie1993)
After 20 years of playing every game I can get my hands on, I can now be found selling my soul for anything Resident Evil, Gears of War, or Gamerscore related... all of which will be mastered after a good cuppa!

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6 years ago

[…] you remember the cartoonish, slow-motion shooting style of the original BLEED, which released on Xbox One last year, then you can expect BLEED 2 to blow a similar tune with its art style, love of bosses and […]

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