Need to know
What is it? A top-down, ultra-fast action game with blood and gore and physics.
Expect to pay $20/£14
Developer Paper Cult
Publisher Paper Cult
Reviewed on GTX 1060 6GB, AMD FX-4130, 8GB RAM
Link Official site
Left for dead with a bullet to the head, it's hard to think of worse ways to end a Friday night. Beaten and bloodied in the snow, Mr Wolf is thirsty for blood—taking you along on his gore-soaked quest for vengeance across a stunning, painted frontier. Here's the thing about revenge though. It might be sweet, it might even be best served cold. But satisfying as it may be, Bloodroots' cathartic quest starts to wear thin, fast.
This is some bloody gorgeous revenge, mind. Were it not for the buckets of viscera and constant cussing, you'd think was lifted straight out of a Saturday morning cartoon lineup. Kill Bill painted in the sharp, bold strokes of Cartoon Network's late-nineties heyday. Samurai Lumberjack.
Each act has Mr Wolf screaming murder towards one of his fursuited former friends—beating hundreds of their colonial goons into pulp in the process. It's crass, straightforward, but enough to drive another round of carnage. Eventually, you'll end up chatting to the gore-splattered ghosts of your former crew over a campfire that acts both as an exposition spot and your base of operations. It's from here that you're able to replay missions, try on new hats, and set out into the wilderness to paint the woods red.
Once you dive into that painted wilderness, though, all safeties are off. Each level is staggered into a series of arenas—farms, barns, townships and compounds packed with colonial goons. Everyone, yourself included works on the same one-hit-kill rules. It doesn't matter if you're bashing with your bare hands, a chainsaw or a fresh-picked cabbage. It's Hotline Miami for the Canadian frontier.
Whenever Bloodroots' bag of tricks starts to feel thin, it'll throw something completely new into the mix. Every other level brings a new twist to combat. Iron lads who take an extra hit to down. Cowardly snipers who'll fire highly-telegraphed rounds—bullets that don't distinguish between friend or foe, and will easily splat a baddie if baited carefully. This ain't a one-sided arms race though. As the enemy's arsenal ramps up, so does your own. New weapons start to litter the environment. Some of these—your axes and planks and such—are just more efficient at hitting things. Others are useful for keeping nasties at bay. Plungers stick on a poor sod's head. Hay bales stagger and confuse foes—unless, of course, you kick them through a campfire to set the poor lad ablaze.
The best tools, though, are the ones that completely change how you traverse the frontier's deathtraps. Ladders are great for thwacking things, yeah, but leaving one propped against a wall will let you dash to new levels. Rowing paddles make for surprisingly nifty pole vaults. Swords come with a gravity-defying dash for clearing gaps and rushing through traps—but, like axes—they can also chop down trees to open up new routes.
Even the arenas start to mix things up. Running atop barrels or tyres can get you across all those spikes littering the floor. Wagons can be looted for their wheels (useful murder frisbees that they are), but leave them on and any sod caught in their path is potential roadkill. Cannons are a nightmare to deal with, but kill the gunner and poor Mr Wolf can take on a new career as a human cannonball.
At their best, Bloodroots' arenas are brutal murder puzzles. Tight, multilayered compounds and cliffsides to slaughter your way through as optimally as possible. Untangling the game's violent loops is often delightful—diving head-first into danger, scouting new paths, planning and re-planning until you've nailed the right route with the right tools.
At their worst, though, the game is a repetitive slog. Bloodroots' arenas work when they're compact, but a little too often Paper Cult opt for a sprawling gauntlet instead, offering screen after screen of traps and ambushes where one missed grunt can send you reeling back minutes. More than once—to my embarrassment—I'd knock off the last geezer only to fall down a pit, or stumble into some spikes. Bloodroots doesn't autosave 'til a fight starts, so back I'd go to the very beginning of the slog. Rubbish.
That frustration peaked at the game's first boss. A portly fellow in a boar cap and piloting a flying contraption, you chase him through a straight-shot platforming gauntlet. It's rote memorisation, with save points too few and far between. It's naff, and I quit the game several times in exhaustion before finally knocking his head off his shoulders.
That's the problem, isn't it? Bloodroots looks phenomenal, and plays equally so in its best moments. But so much of the larger package feels careless. Some issues are small bugbears, such as a complete failure to show control prompts leading to an awkward moment where the prologue confronted me with an axe I couldn't figure out how to pick up. It's on the down arrow? Sure, okay. But that pacing's the real killer. Bloodroots' levels aren't long, but they're an awful slog. Even as the novelty of finding new murderous toys to play with ramps up, so does my exhaustion wear thin. I can't ignore that I'm quitting the game more often than not after the eighth or ninth run through the same compound or—worse—a lifeless, mandatory 'bonus' level.
Maybe the fairest thing I can say about playing Bloodroots is that it's a bit like looking after a dog. Not a well-behaved one, mind—a right mongrel. It's daft, loud, and I know that under all that grime and matted fur is a complex beast I want to love. But damn, if it isn't an exhausting thing to keep around the house.