A cut above.

As someone who plays a lot of PC games, I often rely on Steam to provide me with affordable, easily accessible gaming experiences that I can instantly load up any time, alone or with some friends. The problem is, Steam is so prevalent that it’s easy to overlook other digital distribution platforms and websites that are indeed out there, packed with some stellar content of their own.

One such case is Bleed, a retro-styled action-platformer available on Desura. Bleed has recently found its way onto Steam Greenlight, and I hope people support it, as it’s one of the finest examples of a 2D shooter I have played in quite some time.

In Bleed, you are Wryn, a chirpy girl who has big ambitions: to take down previously legendary video game heroes in order to become the greatest hero of all time. These “greatest heroes of all time” have grown lazy, greedy, or have just simply faded into obscurity since their implied golden days. Wryn sees this as an opportunity to realise her dream and thus sets out on a quest to put down these old dogs. Wryn herself is a great protagonist; her design and fourth wall-breaking quotes are utterly charming and presented in such a way that she becomes likeable to the point that she becomes rather memorable. She’s a character you actively want to play as, and the game is infinitely more fun because of this.

Bloody Good Fun

The gameplay itself is, in a word, brilliant. Bleed seamlessly integrates several mechanics that are easy to learn, yet hard to master: a technique that is scarce in the industry today, even within the vibrant indie scene. Wryn makes use of a variety of weapons and uses them in conjunction with the fantastic jumping system. Wryn can “jump dash” in mid-air up to three times, which can be used to swiftly weave through projectiles, gain extra jump height and open up possibilities for speed running  The jump dash mechanic is incredibly satisfying in that it’s as smooth as it is stylish. Using it effectively is a good way to measure how good you’re becoming at the game, making it intensely rewarding. Wryn also has the ability to slow time for a few brief seconds depending on how full her energy bar is, which can help during some of the trickier projectile patterns and sections. The camera zooms in slightly while time is slowed, allowing for pinpoint accuracy in evading obstacles.

bleed caterpillar

Caterpie was angry at being kept in a Pokeball all day.

The platforming is silky smooth, but Bleed mixes it up with a variety of weapons. The default (and one of the most useful) weapons are a pair of pistols that deal moderate damage whilst providing a high rate of fire, and are great for mowing down mobs of weak enemies or shooting down projectiles. Other weapons include a flamethrower for crowd control, a beam sword that can deflect bullets, and a high powered laser that requires a good deal of accuracy to use effectively. During a level, Wryn can switch between two set weapons in real-time, but you can pause the game and change these whenever you want. Being able to experiment with any weapon at any time is much appreciated, as finding the right combination of weapons is key to survival, especially on the harder difficulties.

Level design is also top-notch, constructed in a way that utilises the game’s mechanics on a constant basis. It’s also worth noting the sheer variety in scenery and just how different these levels look from one another. The first level, for instance, takes place in a gothic-type mansion, where you’ll cover both the interior, exterior, and even the roof (for a battle with an attack chopper, no less). Another has you atop a moving bullet train, where you’ll have to dash to shorter carriages to avoid smacking into a wall. One of my favourites has you traversing the inside of a dragon, fighting off germs and stomach acid. Additionally, the final stage features an obligatory boss rush, but it has its own clever spin on the standard formula to make it a good deal more interesting. Above all, the level design revels in its own ingenuity; the levels themselves are imaginative and beg for multiple playthroughs.

Insert Coin

That leads me to another of Bleed’s selling points: the impressive amount of replay value.

That leads me to another of Bleed’s selling points: the impressive amount of replay value. By default, you have Wryn and a 7-stage story mode, though completing this on various difficulty levels unlocks new characters that bring their own mechanics to the table, as well as new modes such as Arcade (essentially Story mode with permadeath) and the awesome Challenge Mode where you can fight up to three bosses of your choosing across numerous arenas. You can unlock a good deal of content on the challenging, but fair, Normal difficulty. To get the really good stuff, however, requires Story completion on the harder difficulties, and this game can be sadistically hard when it wants to be. Luckily the tight controls never lead to deaths that feel cheap; every action you take in the game is your own, thus you’ve only yourself to blame for the hundreds of deaths you’ll undoubtedly amass.

bleed shoot em up

Wryn has her very own missile defence system.

A good portion of these deaths will inevitably be at the hands of the game’s eclectic cast of bosses. Similar to Megaman, each stage is themed around the boss that resides within, and each will test the skills you’ve gathered to the absolute limit. The boss designs themselves are fantastically imaginative, and evoke memories of old-school Treasure titles such as Gunstar Heroes, Dynamite Headdy and Alien Soldier. The way each boss behaves in relation to wanting you dead would also not look out of place in a Contra game, with their fast-paced bullet patterns and melee attacks that often call your best twitch reflexes into play. Boss moves are intelligently telegraphed so they rarely feel cheap, and each boss presents a new challenge that contains an all-new set of moves to get yourself accustomed to. What’s more, on higher difficulties, bosses will throw all-new moves at you, extending the difficulty curve beyond simply artificial.

In terms of graphical and sound presentation, Bleed shines once again. The game presents a clean, pixellated look that’s fitting of its old-school stylings. Games of this kind often make the mistake of losing solid game feel amidst top-drawer visuals, but Bleed’s obstacles and enemies actively work in conjunction with the aesthetics ensuring anything that could potentially harm you is clearly visible at all times. Bleed’s chiptune soundtrack is as upbeat and charming as its protagonist, and is honestly home to some of the catchiest tunes of this genre since Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game.

“Love” is a term we attach to our favourite games, as well as games we enjoy a great deal. Bleed is a game I am genuinely in love with; it’s a game with very clear goals and for what it wants to achieve, it executes them flawlessly. Some may be put off by the short length, but honestly, there’s so much character already in each individual stage and a good deal of extra content to unlock that it more than makes up for this. If you like your games charming, tough and endearing, then Bleed is an absolute no-brainer.

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