The beat ‘em up genre has seen stellar titles such as Final Fight and Double Dragon which don’t seem to be getting much attention by developers in recent years and its time for other IP’s to take their place in history as the beat ‘em ups of the modern world of gaming. Mother Russia Bleeds emulates the retro beat ‘em up genre in a good way but not the most accurate. The game is mechanically simple with brutality and fun ways to gore your opponents, with 2-D sidescrolling featuring a variety of enemies and weapons to dispose of them, unique power ups and good old fashioned brutality. However, Mother Russia Bleeds tries way too hard to establish proper narrative.
When I play a beat ‘em up game, I want to dive right into gore-filled and stupidly brutal combat where I can just bludgeon and slice my way through unreasonably large crowds of enemies while going from left to right. While the game does capture this beautifully, the developers have failed to realize that the story is not the focus of a game in the beat ‘em up genre and it would be just fine if it was a generic and barebones plot with a few twists here and there. Instead of this, we get a sloppy narrative revolving around a group of four street fighters who are captured, imprisoned and have their bodies injected with Nekro, an addictive and rather nasty drug that people all around the country are harboring in their systems. As one of these four street fighters, players take on a multitude of enemies ranging from low-life hobos, mobsters and even the military, seeking only revenge for what’s been done to them.
The brutal button-mashing is often interrupted by text-based cringeworthy dialogue that tries to glorify each character as an unrelenting badass whereas they only come across as your average muscular yet simple characters without any well-established depth trying too hard. Lots of games do this but the main problem here is that it happens way too frequently.
Visually, Mother Russia Bleeds is an absolutely beautiful homage to the retro feel of the beat ‘em up genre. With Hotline Miami-esque visuals and music, you can have a blast while beating your enemies senseless and listening to the awesome work of Vincent Cassar from FIXIONS. In each of the game’s stages, there are different environments blooming with various objects that you can interact with, disgusting yet stunning visuals and environmental hazards that will keep you moving here and there unless you want your brains splattered all over the floor.
The main mechanic that separates this game from your average beat ‘em up games is the Nekro meter. In each stage, your character begins with three bars of Nekro and these bars can be used to either heal a significant portion of your health or send your character into a frenzy during which they are stronger, faster and can execute beautifully animated brutalities that dispose of enemies quickly. Since the beat ‘em up genre isn’t usually forgiving and the screen fills up with enemies for you to punch and kick your way through as soon as you jump in, it’s advisable to save Nekro for medical purposes despite the satisfaction achieved from executing an enemy. Nekro can be refilled by walking upto the twitching corpses of certain enemies and leaving yourself vulnerable to extract it from their blood.
Each character has their own unique execution animations but the effects of Nekro are the same for all of them despite their varying stats in Strength, Speed and Agility. You can unlock different drugs by participating in the Arena mode that is unlocked for each stage when you beat a stage, getting to Wave 10 awards you with a drug that has its own unique traits.
If you choose to overlook the painstakingly awful narrative that this game offers, there’s one problem that I believe should not be given a pass. As it’s been mentioned in this review, the beat ‘em up genre is no stranger to unforgiving difficulty and although it is satisfying to clear out a room full of enemies with your character being the last man standing following a furious bloodbath, Mother Russia Bleeds throws various enemies at you with different abilities that must be countered in different ways while expecting you to deal with the risk of refilling your Nekro. Difficulty is derived from the concept of throwing as many enemies at you as possible whereas games like Dark Souls, although certainly from a very different genre, craft their difficulties using a flawless blend of having to skillfully time and evade enemy attacks. The most frustrating part of this rather artificial difficulty system is that the twitching corpses providing you with Nekro don’t twitch for long and you have a small time window to be able to refill your bars.
Overall, Mother Russia Bleeds certainly does have its ups and downs and the game’s visuals, soundtrack, gameplay, enemy and weapon variety are phenomenal whereas the boring and oversaturated story and artificial difficulties make up its shortcomings, the game is a very enjoyable experience and co-op, although only available locally until the PS4 release, doubles the fun that you can have slaughtering your enemies.
Review Score: 7/10 Good