I’m going to throw it out there; I’m getting a bit bored of retro-era style graphics and sounds. I loved my SNES, and chiptune is basically the soundtrack to my childhood, but the novelty is wearing off for me. So when I loaded up BLEED, I’ll admit that the broody, 16-bit opening intro made me roll my eyes a bit. Set in the year 21xx a plucky, purple-haired heroine ‘Wryn’ has decided to rid the world of the old heroes, who have all but retired, and claim the title of worlds best hero for herself. After the initial wave of yawns subsided, I resigned myself to playing through yet another old-school style shoot-em-up.
Isn’t it refreshing when something turns out much better than you thought it would? After playing through the first level, I was pleasantly surprised at just how solid BLEED feels to play. It’s a side-scrolling twin stick shooter, so of course one stick moves Wryn around the screen, and the other stick shoots in the direction you press. Jump is assigned to R2, and subsequent presses while you’re airborne will allow you move in any direction a further three times (the game calls this a triple-jump, but that’s four by my count). Pushing L2 slows down time for a short period. Enemies appear, you pump them full of lead, face a couple of bosses, and move on. It’s this simplicity that makes BLEED so much fun to play and allows you to pull off such stylish kills with little effort.
At first, having jump assigned to R2 felt extremely alien, so I mapped it to X instead. After a few failed attempts at the first level, I decided to map it back to R2 and noticed an immediate improvement. Mainly because having R2 as jump meant my thumbs were free to shoot while I was in the air, allowing me to dive over enemies and spray death upon them from above. Riddling an enemy with bullets whilst triple-jumping through a tiny gap of incoming enemy fire in slow motion looked and felt extremely badass, and rewarded me with style points I could spend at the shop for extra health, bullet-time or new weapons, which in turn, allowed me to execute even cooler looking kills and aerial manoeuvres.
The weapons available for purchase in the shop are all different enough to warrant switching up your play style a little, and can be carried in any combination of two, which allows for some pretty cool ways to complete each level. Revolver and rocket launcher? Go for it. Shotgun and flamethrower? Be my guest. There is a Katana that reflects projectiles with proper timing, which is obviously sweet when paired with the slow motion ability to get yourself out of tricky situations. And there are times when those tricky situations will be thrown at you in droves when you factor in that each level has two or even three bosses for you to defeat.
The bosses themselves all seem thought out and offer some interesting patterns you’ll have to master to best them. Theres a chopper mini-boss spewing rockets and Vulcan cannons at you, a pair of giant worms, some robots; nothing is particularly inventive, but all of them provide a decent enough challenge and require proper use of the slow motion in order to inflict maximum damage and progress through the stages, which are also well designed and present their own different mechanics. One level sees you battling on the roof of a train and needing to reach lower ground as tunnels approach, another segment on a different stage sees you being chased by swarms of robotic sentries, shooting buttons to open doors in a timely fashion, again, nothing mind-blowing in terms of originality, but enough variety to mix up the way you play and for the most part, extremely entertaining.
Even though the game is relatively short (I defeated normal mode in just under an hour), I’ve found myself going back to replay it again and again to see if I can do it a little better. You probably wont earn enough points to buy all the weapons and upgrades with just one playthrough on normal, so if you want to play with all the toys, you’ll be coming back to it. Playing on harder difficulties beefs up enemy toughness and switches up the placement of traps and such, so much so that I’m still yet to actually beat it on hard mode. There is arcade mode, which gives you only one life to complete the whole game, and a challenge mode which allows you to select any combination of up to three of the games bosses to battle at the same time which is also a blast to try to beat, so the longevity is there. Playing through on normal and calling it a day is one way to play, but you’ll be missing out on a lot the game has to offer.
At the start of the review, I lamented at the fact that BLEED has retro-style 16-bit style graphics, but honestly they are pulled off so well with this one that I can forgive it. It’s mainly the animation of Wryn as she flies through the air, twisting aerobically and shooting in all directions Max-Payne style that won me over. Other aspects shine through, such as the previously mentioned level and boss design. As retro-style visuals go, these aren’t too bad at all. The chiptune soundtrack has a funky nineties feel to it and compliments the action nicely, so much so that I didn’t end up muting it once.
Bearing in mind that BLEED on the PS4 is a re-release of a game that is about five years old, it plays exceptionally well. I didn’t play it first time round, so unfortunately I’m unable to comment how much of this is new content, but what I see on offer is absolutely brilliant fun. Levels progress along nicely and checkpoint generously enough to prevent too much frustration, the boss battles reward those who learn their patterns of attack, and most importantly it feels really solid to play. A second player can drop in at any time with local co-op (my second controller recently kicked the bucket though, so I was unable to test this out thoroughly), and the other modes available add a lot of life to the game. All in all BLEED is a huge amount of fun, so don’t miss out a second time around if you are yet to give it a whirl.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.