MOTHER RUSSIA BLEEDS Review
Growing up I played a lot of SEGA’s classic beat-em-up Streets of Rage. It was unforgiving, loud and full of characters with names like Blaze, Axel and Adam (Adam really got the short straw on the whole naming thing). I also have this ungodly obsession with Hotline Miami and that game is also unforgiving, loud and has lots of characters with silly names. When Le Cartel, the developers of Mother Russia Bleeds, start making statements like “It is like Streets of Rage meets Hotline Miami”, you know I have to pay attention.
Mother Russia Bleeds surprisingly takes place in an alternative history Russia. What is alternative about it I am unsure as nothing much is explained, but it does involve four individuals. We have Sergie the all-arounder, Ivan the powerhouse, Boris the psychopath and (my personal favourite) Natasha the fast one. Each character is part of a Romani camp just outside Moscow that specialises in arena fights for money and respect. After another day of training and fighting the camp is attacked by an unknown group that take all four characters to an underground facility and pump them full of a new drug known as Nekro. After some time our characters wake up and fight their way out to discover who did this to them and get revenge. As a set up nothing is very original here but it does give the game a great excuse for one of its main mechanics, the need for Nekro.
Thats right you play a drug addict. It is a cool concept and the more you progress the more you will need Nekro to survive. You see, the game doesn’t go with the conventional regenerative health system or the more customary street meat that is found in most beat-em-ups. Mother Russia Bleeds has the player drain the drug Nekro from the fallen spasming corpses of the other drug addicts you defeat in your quest for answers. This is a very cool and also sickening mechanic that asks the player to stop combat in order to get the life-giving drug from others. Stabbing yourself with a syringe full of Nekro will give you a bit of life back and the game comes with a whole variety of drugs to use. Unfortunately these drugs are locked behind a whole different section of the game and they require a lot of effort to get. I was only able to unlock two variants of Nekro in my time playing and while one was absolutely useless the other was a cool trade off. You can also use your Nekro to go into fury mode (as the game calls it). This speeds up everything but your punches and kicks become death machines. Unfortunately fury mode is completely useless as the enemies react so quickly in this mode you will spend most of your time on the floor while the fury effect quickly runs out.
Combat comes down to the standard light punch, heavy punch, grab and air-based attacks. While they are run of the mill the combos you can pull off with them are pretty fun to do and see. Punching a dude then uppercutting him in the air is cool but when you jump up, grab him mid-air and slam him into the ground hard enough to shatter his skull on the pavement it just looks and feels awesome. However, these moments are few and far between as the large majority of enemies in the game can be beaten by mashing the light attack. It is a real shame as enemies that would have you mix up combat are in the game but are never cleverly utilised by the developers. Instead they opted to just fill the screen with enemies rather than creating interesting encounters.
Mother Russia Bleeds also suffers from some of the worse balancing I have had the misfortune of playing in a long time. I played a good chunk of the game on the Hardcore difficulty and had no trouble getting to the City chapter. In fact for the previous Club level I got through the whole level without using any Nekro and never getting hit once. However, in the next level, the City, the game's difficulty went through the roof. A section of the game takes place during a riot and your character is told to lead the charge on the government building. With waves and waves of enemies rushing at you without any room to move you will be seeing the Game Over screen again and again and again. This is the section that actually broke me in my playthrough. Up to this point I was perfectly happy and enjoying the experience, but this entire section sullied it for me. The problem really comes down to the fact that instead of smart enemy choice it is just waves of enemies badly put together. You have the standard enemies who take a few punches to defeat but in huge numbers they just rush you. There are dogs that knock you to the floor over and over again. Finally you have snipers who shoot you the instant you stand up from being knocked over by a dog. It is honestly the most rage-inducing section I have played in any game in a long time. Because of this I knocked the difficulty down to medium but ran into the exact same problem so I went to easy mode and everything becomes a cakewalk. Enemies can be defeated far too easily and they do such little damage it is a joke.
One place where the game really shines is the boss battles. Instead of being the standard beat-em-up enemy with a bigger health bar the bosses have actual patterns you have to avoid and learn. There really are some absolutely great boss encounters in Mother Russia Bleeds with some having you dodge attacks and hitting at the right moment, another has you dodging sniper fire while waiting for the perfect moment to attack and my personal favourite has you pushing a boss back into a crushing machine in order to defeat them. If the developer created more instances like this with its run of the mill enemy encounters Mother Russia Bleeds would have really been a better game.
Music is a very important part of the beat-em-up and the game absolutely fails on this front. The music never quite matches what is happen on screen as it is often slow and not exciting. There are also instances where the music is completely taken out to create what I can only describe as moments. Moments where the developer is trying to make a point but I just didn’t care enough to pay attention. I wanted a pumping soundtrack that matched the brutality that was happening on screen and the game never lived up to it. The sound design on the other hard is second to none. The meaty sound of fists punching flesh is beautiful and while the sound of you beating a dog to death is absolutely horrible it still deserves credit for how accurate it sounds.
The final part to talk about is the pixel art and how it is used to great effect in the game; to put it lightly the art is gross. I mean that in a very positive way as that was the aim. Honestly this is some of the greatest pixel art I have seen in a long time and while the subject matter is intended to be off putting it is the pixel art that really achieves this. The way a punch looks as you punch someone so hard their head explodes it is both sickening and beautiful at the same time. The art style and subject is not for everyone and I can understand that but damn does it looking stunning as you play.
Mother Russia Bleeds is a hard game to to review as I really wanted to like it, unfortunately the game did absolutely everything in its power to make me hate it. As I said the art style and sound design are perfect while the boss encounters are a lot of fun to play. However, the rest of the game is just bland and rage-inducing. If the game could sort out its balancing issues and make interesting enemy encounters that fully utilise the excellent combat system maybe the whole experience would have come off better than it did.