IMPRESSIONS: Bloodroots

Tuesday, April 7th, 2020

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I want to make something clear from the outset here – I was excited about covering the final build of Bloodroots. I had thought it a standout title when I demoed it at PAX West a couple years back, and was eager to see how it had grown in the time since. However, here at oprainfall we have a set in stone rule that in order to officially review a game, we have to beat it first. And I could tell a few minutes into Bloodroots that beating it might be a chore. And rather than delay the torrent of other reviews I’m simultaneously working on, I decided I wouldn’t be able to fully review Bloodroots. But, I still wanted to show what I liked about the game, as well as what it did poorly. Because despite its flaws, this is still a compelling experience.

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First, the good. Bloodroots is a stylish and visceral tale of revenge in the Weird West. No, not the Wild West or the Old West, as I initially thought. Cause that era didn’t have hover cars and laser guns, for example. But for every standout technological oddity, there’s plenty more contemporary details, such as wagons, cannons, sabers and more. And from the very start, the story is captivating. That’s thanks in large part to the amazing artwork, which makes the game look like a mixture of Looney Tunes and Sin City. Which is fitting, since the premise of the game is this – anything can be your weapon. And I do mean anything.

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You can wield normal weapons like guns, chain links or lanterns, but the real fun comes from the strange weapons. Things like carrots, fish, wagon wheels, skewers and oh so many more. Everything in your environment can either be destroyed or be your tool, which is handy since one hit kills not just your foes, but your character. You play the horribly wronged Mr. Wolf, left for dead by a band of desperados called The Blood Beasts. I strongly suspect he was once one of their number, but they parted ways before the story begins. Regardless, the story is captivating and the concept is strong. Where, then, did Bloodroots go wrong?

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For one thing, despite how cool the combat is in theory, it’s hampered by a lack of explanation or guides. There’s just not much clarity given for how things work. And when you factor in every weapon has a different attack animation, things can get pretty overwhelming quickly. The game obviously wants you to string together an endless combo of murders, and rewards you for trying new things. My issue was that often I would be on a roll, stumble across an enemy I didn’t see, and end up killed. You have to kill your way through various rooms, and once you do, you’ll reach a checkpoint. That means if you’re having a hard time, you’ll continue having a hard time until you get lucky enough to beat the room you’re stuck in. Which isn’t helped by the game’s physics.

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Don’t get me wrong, oftentimes the physics behave in Bloodroots on Switch, but they also like to act up without warning. Examples are when I tried jumping across a gap and instead missed my mark and fell to my death. Or how more than once an enemy was seemingly stuck in stage geometry below me, yet somehow attacked and killed me. And while I’m all for fast reflexes, you have to have lightning reflexes here. Once the meaner foes draw a bead on you, they race to you and kill you in seconds. If you’re not equipped with a weapon, and have only your fists ready, there’s a more than even chance you’ll get destroyed. And sometimes, weapons have alternate uses, such as a ladder flinging you upwards, or an oar thrusting you across a distance. But sometimes using a weapon takes it our of your hand, meaning you can land on enemy ground and be completely at their mercy. The forced camera perspectives also exacerbate things, since they show off the landscape great, but the enemies not so much.

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Most of these issues wouldn’t have been a problem if only Bloodroots had one thing – a dash move. Give me some means to dodge away, temporary invincibility, and none of these would have bothered me. But instead, Mr. Wolf tends to move like a truck, and he’s just as nimble. Plus, each and every weapon only has limited uses, so you’ll either have to memorize stage layouts or get lucky to always have the right tool at the right time. Another frustration is the long load times in the game, which can last for upwards of a minute plus. One positive are the different hats you collect, which give Mr. Wolf different attack bonuses, such as a charged punch and more.

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I will say, the boss fights are pretty inventive in the game. I wasn’t sure how they would work, given the one hit kill feature, but Paper Cult smartly decided to make these more like extended chase sequences, with Mr. Wolf hounding his foes, dealing with distractions, and then murdering them brutally. I did play long enough to defeat the first boss, Mr. Boar, and was satisfied with his squealing demise. Also fun fact, afterwards his ghost haunts you!

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All issues aside, I do think there’s a worthy game in Bloodroots. Maybe the Switch version got the shaft, maybe it didn’t, but all I know is that what I thought would be a smooth and fun experience was very hard and frustrating. And considering I do like games like this, such as the violent and insane Katana ZERO, you would think I had no complaints. It’s just that Bloodroots doesn’t quite balance itself as well as that aforementioned game. Which is a shame, cause I think there’s a lot of great ideas on display here. I’d say if you’re willing to take a chance on a cool indie, give Bloodroots a look. Just don’t expect it to go easy on you.

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About Josh Speer

Josh is a passionate gamer, finding time to clock in around 30-40 hours of gaming a week. He discovered Operation Rainfall while avidly following the localization of the Big 3 Wii RPGs. He enjoys SHMUPS, Platformers, RPGs, Roguelikes and the occasional Fighter. He’s also an unashamedly giant Mega Man fan, having played the series since he was eight. As Head Editor and Review Manager, he spends far too much time editing reviews and random articles. In his limited spare time he devours indies whole and anticipates the release of quirky, unpredictable and innovative games.