Good old-fashioned revenge is the driving force behind hundreds or possibly even thousands of books, movies and videogames. It’s something we can all understand; the desire to get revenge on those who have wronged us. It’s a theme often found within Westerns in particular, so it’s not surprising that Bloodroots has a Western twang to its tale of Mr. Wolf, a killer who gets betrayed by his own gang known as the Blood Beasts. But Mr. Wolf doesn’t stay dead. He somehow manages to bring himself back from the brink and begins to hunt his former gang-mates down, intent on putting them 6ft under.
The story is very simple and yet is actually rather compelling. Mr. Wolf himself has almost nothing in terms of dialogue, but that just paints him as an unstoppable killing machine hellbent on getting revenge. Meanwhile, quiet scenes with the other gang members conversing help fill out the story as you progress through the game. They aren’t a nice bunch and so you’ll never sympathize with them or feel bad about hunting them down, but these scenes do flesh them out and help you understand how and why they came to betray their leader.
I’m also a big fan of how the ghosts of your slain gang-mates will come and hang out at your camp fire, giving them a chance to interact with Mr. Wolf. It’s a cool idea, and fits in nicely with the games strange mixture of humour, dark moments and Western themes. It doesn’t always manage to get that mixture just right, but for the most part I enjoyed the unusual tone of Bloodroots.
So, you play as a murdering psycho killing other murdering psychos. But between you and your former friends stand many hapless victims that you must carve through using a top-down perspective. Pretty much anything and everything can in the environment can be used as a weapon, from knives to cart wheels to a frying pan. You can ride on barrels, twirl ladders and even smack people with a carrot or shove a fish over their head. Most weapons have a limited amount of uses before they break and you have to grab something else, but there’s always at least a few handy weapons nearby, encouraging you to always try out something else. More importantly whatever you grab behaves differently and learning the quirks, advantages and disadvantages of everything is a huge part of the fun. For examples fireworks can take out a few enemies at once, but you can also use them to perform a double, triple or even quadruple jump. Meanwhile, the sabre launches you forward, but that can also easily lead to you falling off a cliff or getting surrounded if you aren’t careful.
Describing the action as fast-paced is an understatement, a bit like describing Adolf Hitler as a bit of a dick – yes, it’s not wrong, but it doesn’t really tell the whole story. Sure, you can play Bloodroots slowly and carefully, but the game feels like it wants you to go fast. Your movement speed is a health sprint. You die in just one hit and so do the enemies, so staying on the move is vital. Plus, you always need to be heading toward the next weapon because while you can always use your fists they leave you vulnerable for a second after a punch. That split-second is like a lifetime in a game where failure is a single hit away.
Bloodroots uses the phrase “you’ll choreograph spectacular, ultra-violent combos” in its own description and I have to say it’s completely accurate. In a lot of ways this game is more like a rythm-puzzler. If you mistime an attack you usually get smacked and die, and the way enemies and items are laid out means there are subtle pathways through areas. If you can find them then the action feels like a gore-filled dance. Run here, a jump there, grab this, stab, stab, stab, jump onto a barrel, crash so that it sends me up onto this cliff here, grab the spear, throw it through these three guys at once.
Nailing an area in one nearly seamless run feels amazing, especially if you only barely scrape through a few incidents with some quick thinking. Dying only sends you back to the start of that encounter, and each encounter is typically only a few minutes long before you move off to the next area. And you will die. Probably a lot. Indeed, Bloodroots can be bloody infuriating at times, but that just makes figuring an area out all the more satisfying. It’s a gloriously gory puzzle, one that just so happens to involve obliterating people.
Highscores can give you a tempting reason to head back into a level and try to beat your previous efforts. I frequently got through sections on my first try, but found myself knowing I could have done so much better. There’s also unlockable hats that provide various different effects when replaying a level, like making enemies explode when punched or giving you a hover jump.
So the action is fast, frantic, kinetic and gets the adreneline pumping. It does have some flaws, though, so let’s jump into those. The first is that amidst all the mayhem it can be easy to lose track of the action and wind up dead because an enemy sneaked in and stabbed you in the face.
The other thing that irked me was how easy it was to die by complete accident. It’s really very easy to go flying off a cliff because you lunged through an enemy with a knife and the momentum sent you hurtling into the abyss. To be fair, that’s something you can learn to compensate for, but even then in the heat of the action it still happens and often doesn’t feel like your fault. Sometimes you can save yourself, and other times it’s as though the game holds up a giant middle finger as you plummet to your demise.
And there’s also the question of input lag. I think. It’s a little hard to tell if I’m just missing the timing or whether the game simply isn’t registering my command to pick up the weapon. Either way it resulted in me standing there looking like an idiot because I thought I had picked up a knife and attacked with it, but actually I threw a punch at thin air before getting my head caved in. The problem is that in the thick of the action it’s bloody hard to tell whether it’s your own mistake or the game.
It also doesn’t help that cliff edges and jumps can be hard to judge due to the art style and the camera angles. Again, it’s a problem that becomes worse when you’re flying around the levels like a nutcase only to plunge off the edge of a building or completely misjudge where a ledge is. Things get worse when the game decides to introduce a few levels involving ice that sends you skating around. The laws of physics just seem to get thrown out the window at this point; sometimes you can stop yourself quite easily and other times you’ll go sliding to your death.
Thankfully the speed at which the game loads up the last checkpoint and the fact that there’s only usually a few minutes until the next save point stops these deaths becoming too frustrating. Still, that doesn’t negate the fact that these problems exist.
The visuals were heavily influenced by Samurai Jack and the other work of Genndy Tartakovsky. It looks pretty awesome in motion, like a blur of beautiful colours and blood. You especially get to admire the lovely animation work during the final kill of each area when the game plays a quick cutscene of you brutalizing the unfortunate sap with whatever weapon you were wielding. Honestly, I wound up spending an extra hour just playing about with the various weapons so I could see all the fun murder scenes.
For the most part the performance on my PS4 Pro was great, and bugs and glitches were non-existent. The only thing to note was that in a couple of sections the framerate dropped. It never got unplayable, but it was certainly noticeable contrasted against the normally smooth gameplay. And it does make me wonder how the regular PS4 might perform.
Now we come to the end of the review and I must, with a heavy heart, put aside my massive bias when it comes to Bloodroots. You see, dear reader, I share a bond with Mr. Wolf, the special kind of bond that can only be formed between two people who share the same name. But as a complete serious, totally dedicated videogame journalist person I must push that bond out of my mind in order to be completely fair and impartial. *cough*
Bloodroots is a lot of manic, sweaty fun for a reasonable price (£16) that has a couple of flaws, none of which manage to anything more than slightly mar the adrenaline fuelled mixture of rhythm game, brawler and puzzler. Yeah, sometimes being the bad guy really does pay.
3.5 out of 5