The first time I got my hands on Bloodroots was during PAX East 2019, and since then there’s been an unquenchable thirst to pickup a blood soaked axe. From it’s stylized comic book aesthetic, to its visceral, chaotic gameplay, Paper Cult‘s Bloodroots manages to possess charm underneath its tale of death and retribution, but did it whet my appetite?
Bloodroots sets the tone straight off the bat, opening up with a blood stained protagonist clinging to life in a cartoon world, a juxtaposition that fittingly suits the one hit kill game perfectly like Mr. Wolf’s freshly skinned apparel. As Mr. Wolf, you embark on a quest to find the man who tried to kill you, Mr. Black Wolf, and avenge the fallen of Tarrytown. Dealing with your past, that eventually catches up to you as the story climaxes in your answer seeking adventure. Telling a slightly silly, yet cohesive tale, Bloodroots has just enough exposition and character building that you can become invested in the characters in between bathing in blood on the battlefield.
As you progress through the game, Bloodroots’ story plays out through cutscenes and boss fights, but also allows you to dig just a tad deeper into the motivations and backstory of Mr. Wolf and his gang of beasts in optional campfire scenes that you can choose to listen to or skip. The additional conversations being skippable is great for players who just want to get back to the action, which on top of the well told Spaghetti Western influenced narrative, is where Bloodroots shines.
The overall gameplay of Bloodroots shares similarities with games like Hotline Miami where you die and restart at the most recent checkpoint if you are hit once by an enemy, while most but not all, enemies live under the same guidelines. It’s a formula that offers fast, frantic gameplay and strategy wrapped into one package, but what Bloodroots adds in abundance to that mixture is the variety in weapons you can use to pulverize the horde of people trying to take you down. A majority of what is in a given area of the mayhem is able to be picked up and used as a weapon. Some items being as simple as a chair or fence post, to more imaginative ones like a bundle of fireworks or the Chain Chomp-esque ball and chain that flings you towards your adversary. This variable of everything being a weapon opens up much more strategy in levels, especially when paired with the the limitations on each item breaking after a set number of uses.
With the great array of equippable goodies at your disposal, they tend to all fall into specific categories. Between blunt objects that usually have a given range of motion, weapons that dash you forward such as the giant barbecue skewer or the rapier, projectile based tools, and ones that latch on to enemies and pull you towards them. Not only do these weapons offer up a variety in conquering areas, but can also augment your traversal of each area. As you progress through Bloodroots, the game slowly adds more weapon types to that arsenal too so there’s always new unique ways to eliminate your enemies and move around the world. You do have the option to use your fists, but the downside to forgoing a weapon is that the downtime after a fist kill usually leaves you wide open for an enemy to eviscerate you and send you back to the checkpoint.
Aside from the base mechanics and arsenal of weapons littered around each level, an underlying mechanic that perpetuates the game is the combo system. Obviously in a one hit death scenario, combos need a different parameter for measurement since a hit equals a death, so there is a certain interval between each foe you strike down which will continue to multiply your score if you can move quickly and react fast enough.
Besides the variety in weapons offering up range for your traversal and combat, it’s integral to Bloodroots replayability. With an online leaderboard system that is showcased at the completion of each level, Bloodroots offers those looking for bragging rights a reason to perfect strategies, try out different weapons to keep your combos in tact, and continue to shoot for high scores. In addition to that, achieving score requirements on certain levels will reward you with different skinned animal masks which alter your base attributes. These can only be used on levels that you have already completed, so use these to your advantage to tackle certain stages and climb the leaderboards. Though, those who aren’t in it for the glory still have an enjoyable experience ahead on a singular playthrough.
With an art style that looks like a mix of cell shading and construction paper come to life, Bloodroots is simple yet stunning with a variety of locales brimming with striking palettes that all eventually get red smeared across them. In certain moments, the pacing of cutscenes or certain fighting sequences when the blood splats across the crisp white snow-filled fields, or against the neon canyons, the action stops and for a brief moment you can envelope the dark tones through bright red blood. The music behind the game fits the action quite well, but there were moments where the yells and gasping from my defeated enemies were a little much.
One of the things that Bloodroots stumbled on from time-to-time was the platforming. In a game where the combat is energetic and enemies can be overwhelming you on a regular basis, I often found myself dying to wonky platforming or losing the depth of my character on jumps. It wasn’t always, but for a game that nails a fast-paced, combo-driven fighting system it was aggravating at times when the slower moments or the platforming during combat scenarios was what ultimately led to me restarting the section. Though, even with these minor hiccups, I still felt that the overall movement and combat in Bloodroots was excellent.
At the end of the day, Bloodroots is an enjoyable experience that offered up an unexpected plot twist over a solid base gameplay loop laced with tons of variety for revisiting levels again. I can’t deny the exhilaration, once you get the feel of a level and how each weapons function and are zipping around, learning the placement of weapons on given areas and decimating your foes in quick succession. Riding around on barrels, kicking them off into a group of enemies, igniting the houses behind them, and then stuffing a fish on someone’s head is a sentence that can maybe only describe a fight scene in Bloodroots and showcases exactly why Bloodroots is a pool of blood worth wading in.
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