Bloodroots review

Brutal, Unforgiving, but Still Kinda Cute

It seems Mr Wolf has been betrayed and brutally murdered by his other animal-themed buddies. Only it didn’t take, and he wakes up with a taste for revenge. Over the course of three acts, ol’ Wolfie must kill armies of criminal thugs across a bizarre mix of environments that seem to have been formed purely to kill. The overhead isometric-style viewpoint lets you witness all the brutality from on high, but frequently makes judging distances for jumps, ledges, and other obstacles dicey.

Mr Wolf is not a complicated gentleman, but he is adaptable when it comes to murder. The first gimmick of Bloodroots is that almost anything can be used as a weapon. While there are plenty of traditional weapons just laying around everywhere (swords, axes, rifles, chainsaws, etc.), boards, fenceposts, barrels, cogs and wheels, boat oars, haycarts, ladders, and a surprisingly large variety of other objects are all up for grabs.

It’s hard not to be impressed not just with the sheer breadth of available weapons, but with how the developer made sure each one attacks differently. The basic axe just swings, for instance, but the sabre causes Wolf to shoot forward, a veritable lightning bolt of stabby death. Ladders let you turn into a whirlwind of death, oars kill in a wide swath and can be used to pole vault. Oars and other wooden objects can catch fire for extra sadistic fun.

The Right Tools…

Mechanically, combat is a one-button affair, but since each weapon only lasts for a few hits, you’re constantly grabbing new ones anyway. There are also jumping attacks, but largely what combat really boils down to is timing and understanding how each of the countless weapons works. If a crowded area needs to be cleared and there’s a ladder there, the solution is obvious, but oftentimes, you’ll need to use a specific weapon to traverse the ever-changing landscape.

That same sword dash that lets you stab through three enemies conveniently standing in a row will also let you zip across open gaps or safely speed through giant spike traps. Barrels can be ridden over spikes (and people), hay carts can blow through walls and gates, and so on. Bloodroots is all about choices, after all.

The problems come up by the first boss fight though. Taking its cue from the old one-hit-kill ideology of 8 and 16-bit and arcade games, nearly everyone in Bloodroots has exactly one hit point. Including Mr Wolf, the mountain of angry manliness who was too tough to know he was dead in the first place.

This means any killstreak can be instantly destroyed by any bad guy who happens to land a hit. As the game rages on, any misstep equals death. One millisecond of timing off and the enemy troops will take advantage. Don’t jump near them, definitely don’t run away, there’s no room for error in mass murder.

Trapped and Over a Barrel

The exacting combat is one reason the game is just brutally hard, but the scenery is the other. Act One eases you into the mechanics and threats of the game, culminating in an absurdly over-the-top agonizingly hard vertically scrolling boss fight. From there, the levels just get harder, with traps and spiked ground everywhere, enemies in all directions, and Wolf with his one measly hit point.

It gets to be a bit much after a while. You can, at any time, but on the invulnerability cheat. It’s seriously right there in the main menu. Don’t think this will save you though. Even in ‘god’ mode, dying comes wholesale since the cheat only really protects you from direct physical attacks, not misplaced steps to nowhere.

Bloodroots does look great though. The low-poly art style and colour schemes work perfectly for the over the top action, and the score is pitch-perfect for a spaghetti. From Wolf’s base camp, you can retry any previously beaten levels to get a better score or to try out the animal head garb you’ve taken off your cold dead enemies. There’s even an online leaderboard for showing off your mad survival and killin’ skills.

Do You Enjoy Suffering?

Bloodroots is amazingly fun when it works. When everything lines up into a beautiful ballet of blood, it’s satisfying and gorgeous. The game’s completely unforgiving nature, unfortunately, means only a select bunch of players will ever really be able to appreciate the many strengths in the design, especially past the initial opening levels.

So, before you saddle up to take on Bloodroots, you need to ask yourself one question. Do you like pain? The pain of being killed constantly while trying to time a perfect combo. The pain of having finally killed all the baddies, only to plummet to your doom because of a misplaced jump. The pain of being hit once and having to start that section of the level over again. Over and over.

If that sounds like you, well, Mr Wolf would like a word.

[Reviewed on PC]