Love. It’s a funny thing. Sure, some can dismiss it as blind lust, coded into our DNA from the beginning as an excuse for proliferation, pass it off as a chemical imbalance masquerading as the feeling, or as the premise and end result of many Korean dramas. None of that changes the fact that, for me, it was love at first sight with Bleed (400 MSP). Still, I began to question myself. For months I wondered if the game would live up to the image I had built up in my head. Now, days after I first nervously pressed start, I remain smitten. Does Bleed make good on expectations? It bloody well does.
Bleed is in essence a finely-tuned platformer, crossed with the self-choreographing mechanics of a very difficult bullet ballet. Your character, the pink-haired and ever-encouraging Wryn, goes guns blazing through seven expertly-plotted and beautifully-realized stages. You’ll see flashes of Mega Man in the bosses, and the storyline follows a No More Heroes / Scott Pilgrim slant, with Wryn fighting the greatest heroes the world has ever seen in an attempt to take the throne and limelight for herself. Each stage will test your reflexes and trigger finger, and each numbered ‘Hero’ fight is as fresh and exciting as the last, with enough loving craftsmanship to fill ten games over.
This alone would be enough to pique anyone’s interest, but all of that is taken to the next plateau with Wryn’s athletic ability to dodge attacks (up to three times per jump) and slow time. Bullet Time is nothing new to gamers, but the way it is implemented here with such ease and accurate handling makes me wonder why it ever took so long to make a proper transition. After a short learning period, you’ll be weaving through danger like a pro. The satisfaction gained from watching yourself improve at Bullet Time and pull off spectacular stunts is immeasurable, and never loses its cool factor. You’ll never suffer from a lack of the spectacular either. Between you and the end battle sits hundreds of tight spots in which you’ll need to maneuver into and out of, and the moves Wryn brings to this dance rival anything Keanu Reeves did while in the Matrix.
Fancy moves are nice, fancy armaments are nicer. While Wryn’s default dual pistols handle the job quite well, a secondary gun you can trust is just as important. From flamethrowers to mines to laser rifles, to a katana that deflects bullets, the combinations and options impress. And style is everything. An always-ticking combo gauge measures your skill at creating beautiful chaos while avoiding hits, and your score on each stage amounts to currency. Upgrades to your health and bullet-time, as well as additional weapons, are available in the shop between stages.
You can replay levels to grind out more money (and occasionally you should), but much like that combo gauge, the emphasis is always on speed and what’s next. The game quickly ushers you to the next stage or mini-boss, never letting off the gas, and you don’t want it to. Every fight is different depending on the difficulty and your gun loadout, and tinkering with both can yield surprising and / or improved results. No matter the situation, there are two constants in Bleed; the purest forms of adrenaline and fun. Well-tested balance and thoughtful checkpoints ensure both stay stocked throughout.
There are more great moments, more intense set-piece sequences, more intelligent designs at work here, than AAA titles you’d shell out $60 for. And that’s just during your first playthough, directly after the ‘Thanks for playing’ script fades. There are additional difficulties to best (that devilishly remix enemy layouts and attack patterns, rather than just up the player damage), and an arcade option that goes retro, tasking you to go as far as you can in one life. A challenge mode gives you the chance to take on the bosses under multiple circumstances, either to practice tactics, or, for the incredibly confident, to tackle up to three of them at once! With plenty of weapons and upgrades still to earn, and alternative characters to unlock, Bleed is a game you’ll log several happy hours on.
It’s pitch-perfect in its execution, and renders all possible criticism moot. I’ve been told I have a flair for the dramatic. I profess love too easily. I’m guilty, even if I truly mean it at the time, but what the hell, here goes nothing; this is the best XBLIG I’ve ever had the privilege of playing. You can be skeptic, but in this rarest of cases, trust me that the game earns that title utterly. If you have a pulse, if even a fraction of your heart is occupied by videogames, you must play Bleed.