Bleed: A Plucky Action Platformer With A Running, Gunning Leading Lady

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I was running around a dragon’s insides with a flamethrower when I felt a pang of guilt. True, the fleshy walls I destroyed rebuilt themselves quickly, but all the same, lobbing fireballs within someone’s gullet had to hurt. And honestly, had the dragon done anything to me? Had he provoked me in some way? Under different circumstances, might we have been friends?

I scoffed at myself. It was too late for all that. I had an upgraded arsenal and a college-ruled death list. I was on my way to becoming the greatest hero in the world. Remorse was for the weak.

I’m in favor of any game whose introductory mission is “Storm the Opulent Manor.” I’m also in favor of robots, monsters, explosions, getting dual pistols and a rocket launcher as starter weapons, and kickass female protagonists. Suffice it to say, I enjoyed Bleed.

The year is 21XX, and the heroes of the world have become lazy. Banking on their former acts of glory, they no longer feel the need to defend their titles. They have forgotten what a hero is meant to be.

But Wryn hasn’t. Our confident, punky-haired protagonist is out to become the greatest hero ever, and that means taking the others down. That’s all the story we get, and really, it’s all we need. Bleed believes that sometimes, all a player wants is to jump around and shoot stuff and feel cool. I can’t argue with that.

If you’ve played any classic run ‘n’ guns, Bleed will feel familiar. I consistently had the sense that I was revisiting something I’d played before. Not in a bad way. Not been-there-done-that. There are lots of indie games with old school hearts these days, but Bleed is more concerned with polishing the wheel, rather than reinventing it. You’ve got your underground level, and your laser level, and your moving train level — all gimmicks we’ve seen, but they’re done right, with smooth mechanics and delightful artwork. It’s an homage, not a rip-off, and it works awfully well.

Just like the classics Bleed draws from, this game is a serious challenge. Wryn can dash and double-jump, but her enemies are faster, and endless. Luckily, she comes equipped with an infinite supply of rapid-firing ammo (as a friend commented, “It’s like if Mega Man had an UZI”), and can change directions in mid-air to avoid trouble. I’m not talking air strafing, here — I’m talking jumping straight up, then shooting forward at a ninety degree angle. It’s madness, but I’m all for it. Wryn can also slow time, which becomes crucial in dodging attacks, and has all sorts of nifty weapons at her disposal. The controls are easy to pick up, but utilizing them correctly takes practice. Not that the game gives you much time for that. The bare-bones tutorial hearkens back to the days of yore, when all a game had to say was “Do you know how to jump? Good. Do you know how to shoot? Good. Now go.” The first level throws you into the deep end, and the boss fights become increasingly insane. A mini boss precedes every boss fight, of course, and without a way to replenish your HP, mistakes quickly become fatal. Thankfully, the game ignores the concept of exhaustible lives, meaning you can try again, and again, and again, without needing to start from scratch (a staple of classic games I do not miss at all).

This was a wise choice. The game moves so fast, anything else would’ve been cruel. Many modern platformers give you time to assess the dangers ahead before you jump in, but this is rarely the case here. One level begins with Wryn riding a speeding elevator platform. Without warning, a flying enemy appears, firing missiles. You shoot it down. More appear. Sections of the platform start glowing red. Within a second or two, they begin to do damage. Now you’ve got missiles to dodge, glowing red floor to avoid, and fast-moving baddies to aim at. All within a narrow elevator shaft. My feet barely touched down. My guns never stopped firing.

I love moments like that. It’s like looking down from the top of a roller coaster, scarcely having the time to process how how far you’ll fall before you’re already on your way. If I had to sum up Bleed in one sentence, it would be “WHOA WAIT OH GOD AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA,” followed by laughter.

As for the heroine, it’s hard not to like Wryn. Her expressions are all extremes, from effusively throwing confetti in victory, to despairingly crying “YOU PUSHED THE WRONG BUTTOOOOOOOON!!!” in defeat. Yes, Wryn is fully aware that she’s a video game protagonist, and considers you her partner in her heroic endeavors — even if she’s not always convinced of your abilities (after repeated failures during a particularly tricky bit, she suggested I find a strategy guide).

I liked Wryn for her pluck, and her determination, but also for her simplicity. There’s no deep message to consider here. Wryn wants to be a hero, and she exists in a world where that’s totally cool. That’s it. That’s her whole character. And it’s the right kind of character for a game like this. The reason Bleed works is because it never tries to do be anything more than fun. It’s got bright pixels, cheerful chiptunes, unlockable characters, challenge modes, and two-player local co-op. It’s not a game you’ll be talking about forever. But it’s a few satisfying hours of joyful entertainment, packaged with a big smile and a five dollar price tag. That’s enough for me.

Bleed is available for Windows, Mac, and Xbox 360. It can be purchased for $5 on Steam, Xbox Live, or straight from its developer.

Becky Chambers is a freelance writer and a full-time geek. Like most internet people, she has a website. She can also always be found on Twitter.

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