Sometimes, inspiration is everything. On mobile, countless copycats spawn out of every successful release. On console, Rockstar famously cobbles together movie references into blockbusters on a regular basis. In the case of Bloodroots, there is one direct inspiration that overpowers all others. The devs at Paper Cult set out to make an action game out of Genndy Tartakovsky's Samurai Jack, and they've mostly succeeded. Just like the cartoon, Bloodroots offers an intriguing premise and puts style over substance at every turn. Whether that translates to gaming intact is another matter entirely.
You are Mr. Wolf, a crazed inhabitant of the Weird West. A group of obnoxiously wealthy nogoodniks left you for dead, but you refuse to die and venture forth on a one-man killing spree. Along the way, you'll claim the lives of hundreds of their goons and probably a few innocent bystanders as well. Mr. Wolf doesn't have much to say, but his vengeance speaks volumes as you fight your way through each of your enemy's fortresses.
The best part of Bloodroots is enacting that vengeance with anything you get your hands on. In the hands of Mr. Wolf, everything from carrots to fenceposts is a deadly bludgeon, barrels are carriages of death, and swords grand godlike precision. Each item acts a little differently, with some offering multikills and others giving you alternate modes of traversal. If you grab a ladder, you can spin it over your head ECW-style to kill multiple foes or jump off the top of it to reach new heights. Stringing together creative combos with the tools at your disposal is always satisfying, generating a creative momentum that drives the game forward.
This feeling exists for maybe three levels. After that, Bloodroots loses interest in the player's creative spark. Instead of chaining kills together however you please, levels begin to demand memorization in order to survive. You have to kill every enemy before you progress, and Bloodroots will often hide them in hard to reach areas. If a mook is standing in a sea of spikes, you'll need to roll a barrel over to him. If he's stuck out on a small platform, you'll need to dash out to him with the saber. You'll need to save these items for these kills or you'll find yourself in an unwinnable situation.
On top of that, Mr. Wolf can only take one hit, and dying respawns you at the beginning of each combat section. It doesn't matter if you've killed everyone in the room but one or if you just missed a jump towards the exit, you have to start things all over. This can get immensely frustrating, as the trial and error of figuring out exactly what the developers want you to do grinds everything to a half. What should be a full sprint murder festival regularly turns into an exam where the proctor looks over your shoulder and stabs you in back if you get anything wrong.
I will say that I did appreciate some of the creativity in the scenarios presented, even if I saw completing them an absolute chore. The mechanics at work make the world feel alive, really letting you wreak chaos on the world. For example, you'll learn early on that fire spreads to pretty much everything. You can grab a hay bail, bring it to a fireplace, throw it at an enemy, and you'll suddenly be running through a blazing inferno. This is often not necessary to the proceedings, but it's a small detail that really makes the combat pop.
This style of gameplay draws heavy inspiration from Hotline Miami, just swapping out pistols and shotguns for skewers and chainsaws. Part of the problem is that Bloodroots doesn't feel precise enough to justify the heavy cost of death. Movement is so vital to how Bloodroots operates, but there are countless items that jet you off cliffs or into an enemy's hands in an instant. Worse still, enemies items don't often react the same way, meaning that an action that punished me in a previous life could save me in the next one. There's nothing to master here, there's nothing to learn, it's just executing on a pattern and hoping all the parts work as they should.
Outside of the gameplay, Bloodroots does live up to its inspirations more readily. The art is beautiful, with simplistic and expressive characters and scenic backdrops. The limited dialogue is strikingly unique, getting the most out of each opportunity for worldbuilding and storytelling. The soundtrack is appropriately varied, depicting the range of environments explored by Mr. Wolf throughout the journey. It's one of those games that kept calling me in even though the gameplay pushed me away. It's so stylish that I want to like it, even if I ultimately can't.
Those with more of a stomach for trial and error may find a lot of Bloodroots enjoyable. There certainly is some skill in keeping your combo going throughout a level and instinctually vibing with the developers intended as you grab each new weapon. If you'd rather just beat some mooks senseless, there are much better video games to do that in. There's also potential in a version of Bloodroots that trades in platforming and puzzles for a real sense of carnage, and I hope that someone eventually cashes in on that. We'll see if anyone picks up on that, even if it takes as long as Jack's return trip to the past.
TechRaptor reviewed Bloodroots on PC via Epic Games Store with a code provided by the developer.
- Large Variety of Gimmicked Weapons
- Stylish Presentation and Excellent Worldbuilding
- Exciting Early Sense of Chaotic Momentum
- Punishing Trial and Error Gameplay
- Unreliable Movement Mechanics
- Cheap Deaths Around Every Corner