Sometimes I feel like video game power fantasies could stand to be a little more realistic. You can keep your unstoppable space marines, your intrepid heroes, and your master tacticians. Give me a protagonist who’s capable of making rational decisions, who knows exactly what to say in social situations, and who can decide what to eat every night without agonizing over it. Luckily, the latter problem is one Mega Cat Studios is seeking to rectify with its newest RPG shooter Bite the Bullet. The devs describe it as “Contra meets competitive eating”.
The setup is thus: you are a mercenary working for the not-at-all-sinister DarwinCorp, which wants to catalog all the creatures on a now-ruined Earth. Unfortunately, said planet is now infested by a plague of rabid ghouls. Thankfully, you’re equipped with modified biology that allows you to eat literally anything you want, including the stunned, still-alive bodies of your enemies. All this translates to a run-and-gun side-scrolling shooter in which consuming everything in sight is the order of the day. Will Bite the Bullet take its place on the a la carte menu, or is it a recipe for disaster?
Bite The Bullet Isn't A Satisfying Shooter
Nominally, Bite the Bullet resembles shooters from the 16-bit era glory days. If you're familiar with games like Contra and Super Turrican, you've already got a handle on Bullet's core gameplay loop, although the reality is much more wonky and uneven. As a shooter, Bite the Bullet's mechanics aren't particularly accomplished. As far as the bare-bones basics go, it's fine; shooting works, weapons feel reasonably satisfying, and enemies can be relied upon to die when shot enough. Unfortunately, Bullet doesn't do much to distinguish itself from older, better shooters. It's simply...OK mechanically.
What doesn't work so well is everything else in the core loop. Jumping - and movement in general - is floaty and frustrating. The level design isn't sympathetic to the gameplay mechanics, so it's easy to fail a platforming section simply because the boundaries of a platform end before it looks like they should. Thanks to the strange physics, it's just not much fun to explore levels. When they're not straight corridors with no verticality, they're a jagged mess of uneven platforms and ledges that turn into an exercise in frustration.
Looks Are Important In Bite The Bullet
Bite the Bullet's visual style contributes heavily to that idea of amateurish design. Aesthetically, it's a mess. It's gone for a pixel art style, which makes sense given the heritage it's looking to honor. Sadly, the execution is slapdash. The heads-up display feels much more modern and slick than the game world, which makes it feel like Bite the Bullet can't decide between modern convenience and pixel-art retro homage. Add to this a perpetually zoomed-in camera and some extremely cluttered level geometry and Bullet is consistently nauseating. You'll get used to it, but you shouldn't have to.
The levels themselves don't fare much better. Some of the aesthetics are pretty inspired; a particular highlight is a biolabs level which features colossal human bones as platforming hazards. It's a shame, therefore, that the repetition on display is frankly astonishing. Each level within each world blurs into the last, making it difficult to remember where you're going or what you're doing. This being a Metroidvania game - nominally, at least - exploration is the focus, but exploring never feels rewarding thanks to the muddy visuals and poor level structure. All in all, Bullet doesn't look appetizing in the slightest. A cleaner, more modern visual direction would have benefited it enormously.
Bite The Bullet Never Finds Its Rhythm
Of course, Bullet isn't a pure 2D run-and-gun shooter. It's also got some RPG mechanics to beef up its anemic shooting. On the surface, the unique class system is interesting. You can either specialize in certain types of food or go down the omnivore route, which allows you to eat anything but doesn't offer the same range of special moves. Which class you pick will determine which enemies you want to target with your ravenous hunger. On paper, this is a compelling and intriguing system. Sadly, this is Bite the Bullet, so once again, the implementation is weak.
The issue is that because the core gameplay isn't fun, experimenting with different class combinations doesn't feel rewarding. I opted for the omnivore class, and it felt pretty dull. Eating everything in sight quickly became a chore, a task I had to check off rather than something I was carefully considering. That's not helped by an esoteric and poorly-explained resource system. Each enemy gives a certain number of calories as well as nutrients like fat and protein. Working out exactly what these resources do is apparently a task you must undertake alone. There's a rudimentary mechanical tutorial at the start of Bite the Bullet, but frankly, it's not enough for understanding the labyrinthine interlocking systems.
Bite the Bullet also makes the rather poor decision of including a looter-shooter style gear system. Enemies will periodically drop guns, forcing you to stop mid-rampage to consider whether the gun on the ground's 0.1 power increase is worth swapping your current weapon out for. This is a momentary annoyance, but it happens several times in each level, so momentary annoyances quickly add up. Bite the Bullet's systems are at odds with one another; it wants you to frantically sprint through the level and kill everything, but the RPG systems want you to stop and pore over stats. The upgrade system, which involves spending resources to unlock random weapon mods, is equally baffling. It's probable that using it to its fullest potential will help you optimize your build perfectly, but the monotonous gameplay doesn't exactly provide an incentive to do so.
Skill Trees, Redundancy, And Bite The Bullet
Since Bite the Bullet is an RPG - and the most uninspired kind of RPG at that - it has to include a skill tree. Unfortunately, it's the most basic, boring version of a skill tree imaginable. There are several branches, each of which corresponds to one of Bite the Bullet's classes, and the nodes on each give laughably incremental stat increases. Sometimes, you'll come across a skill that does actually change combat in interesting ways; one allows you to eat projectiles instead of simply reflecting them, for example, while others give you new offensive capabilities. They're few and far between, however; for the most part, you'll be dutifully slapping the A button applying skill points to boring plus-one-percent upgrades.
In the end, that's perhaps the most damning indictment of Bite the Bullet; it's just plain not much fun. It feels like several different games vying for attention, but none of them are getting the spotlight they deserve. The RPG elements need a slower-paced, more thoughtful gameplay style that allows for experimentation and learning stats. If more attention had been paid to the shooting, Bite the Bullet could have been a worthy successor to Contra, but its ancillary systems - eating enemies to gain strength, poring over equipment stats - feel extraneous. Cramming everything together in one package simply results in Bullet feeling simultaneously overstuffed and undercooked.
Bite the Bullet Review | Final Thoughts
Experimenting in the kitchen is always an admirable pursuit. Some of history's greatest dishes have been created by accident, usually while trying to make something much more mundane. Bite the Bullet will not be joining that esteemed menu. It's a frustrating, disappointing mess that never feels cohesive or satisfying to play. Mechanically, it can't hold a candle to games released twenty years ago. If it had chosen to focus on just one of its elements - eating enemies, run-and-gun shooting, or its RPG aspects - it might have succeeded, but as it stands, Bite the Bullet is far too unfocused and overstuffed to be a satisfying meal.
- Shooting Feels Good
- Varied Class System
- Some Inspired Aesthetics
- Horrible, Ungainly Visuals
- Core Systems Feel At Odds
- Stiff, Inelegant Movement
- Confusing Level Design