Reviewed on Nintendo SwitchAlso available on Sony PlayStation 4, Microsoft Xbox One, PC and Nintendo Switch
Home, Home On The (Firing) Range
The American Frontier is sometimes romanticized even though it was a historically brutal environment. Bloodroots takes the latter to its logical conclusion, and to glorious effect. Playing like an isometric brawler/platformer hybrid and looking like a Genndy Tartakovsky fever dream I was initially a little concerned Bloodroots might end up being more style than substance. It was shortly after the fantastic opening sequence that I realized my fears were unfounded – Bloodroots is more than just a pretty face. If you peel back the layers that are the slick visuals and the unique setting you’ll be rewarded with a delightfully bloody and challenging little action game.
The setting is a unique twist on the wild west, replete with wagon wheels and steam locomotives. The story is presented rather straightforward at first with you, as Mr. Wolf, out for revenge. While that probably could’ve been enough plot to move the game along, a few twists along the way introduce a level of ambiguity that elevates the entire affair. The surly gang comprised of the game’s main antagonists was another highlight worth noting. The dialog they deliver is a wonderful combination of campiness and vulgarity and underscores the tongue-in-cheek tone of the game overall.
The gameplay is without a doubt the star of the show, however, and it’s certainly no joke. Bloodroots is definitely a difficult game, and while it is at times frustrating it never feels unfair – every death can be chalked up to slow reaction times or poor planning before assaulting a group of enemies. It should be noted though that while Mr. Wolf moves at times almost too fast, the benefit is that this allows you to cut (or smash, burn, shoot, bludgeon, etc.) through droves of enemy soldiers at breakneck speed.
While your bare fists are sufficiently deadly, you’ll have no shortage of weaponry at your disposal – nearly everything in the environment that isn’t nailed down can be picked up and wielded. This keeps the game feeling fresh as you move through the well-varied and excellently detailed environments, as large groups of enemies will have you rapidly switching between different weapon types as most can only be used a maximum of three times before they are broken or depleted.
This mechanic, combined with the many large, open areas sprinkled throughout the game, is what helps Bloodroots really shine. In these sections the game isn’t just a brawler - it almost takes on a Tony Hawk sort of vibe, but in lieu of kickflips and nosegrinds you’re chaining together a kill combo with cavalry sabers and flaming hay carts. It lends an addictive quality to the game, and had me replaying areas in an attempt to get a better rank and top the online leaderboards. If you get a high enough score, you’ll also be rewarded with various hats that bestow you with a different ability, but can only be used on a stage after it has been cleared.
It’s not all just high-speed murder – Bloodroots also has some challenging platforming sections, and while they mostly work they aren’t nearly as enjoyable. Mr. Wolf’s speed isn’t nearly as advantageous in these areas and it had me careening off of cliffs or into environmental hazards more times than I’d care to admit. The camera was also prone to zooming way out in these areas, which further compounded the issue. Thankfully, there are only a few of these areas in the game.
While Bloodroots is certainly a competent game for gameplay’s sake, let’s not discount all that style I mentioned earlier – this game looks fantastic. It’s well animated and since there’s virtually no HUD to speak of, it’s almost like watching an extremely violent Saturday morning cartoon. The sound design also meshes really well with the visuals and while the background music does a good job reinforcing the rest of the game’s overall aesthetic, it’s not nearly as memorable the other aspects I’ve mentioned. Occasionally during my playtime, I found a few of the sound effects to get rather annoying, namely the sounds that enemies make when you kill them. Initially their screams are satisfying and provide audible feedback of a job well done, but during extended periods of play they lost their charm.
The boss fights in this game never got old though, and are some of my favorite in recent memory. Each fight is unique and incredibly challenging, and serve as the culmination to each of the game’s three acts. The bosses are also the sole source of dialog and exposition in Bloodroots, and they are so interesting and entertaining that I almost felt bad that I had to kill them.
The only real downsides I could find to Bloodroots were a handful of technical issues. In a few areas, the framerate would randomly drop into the single-digits for a second or two. While this only happened a handful of times, it was enough to interrupt the flow of combat and resulted in me dying each time it happened. An even bigger issue was the game softlocking after completing certain areas – twice when this happened closing the game and re-launching it moved me to the next area without any loss of progress but in one instance I lost nearly 45 minutes of progress and had to restart an entire level. A patch was released at launch that was intended to address these issue but unfortunately it doesn’t appear to have fixed them entirely.
Aside from those technical issues and a couple of nitpicks, Bloodroots was a thoroughly enjoyable title overall. Its combat is fast paced and fun, and when you clear an area with the highest combo possible it genuinely feels rewarding. It has a few twists and turns that I won’t spoil here which completely subverted my expectations, and on top of everything else it was incredibly pleasant to look at. Do yourself a favor and pick up Bloodroots, you definitely won’t be sorry – though once you step into the shoes of Mr. Wolf and pick up his trusty hatchet, your enemies certainly will be.