Bloodroots follows in the shoes of Hotline Miami and Ape Out by presenting a seemingly straightforward premise – you, as Mr. Wolf, go through each level killing enemies with one hit while trying not to be killed yourself, also with one hit. Kills can be chained together, with grades awarded at the end of each level that frequently convinced me to give them another try in the hopes of bumping that C+ up to at least a B.
What sets Bloodroots apart from similar score-chasing action games, and what Paper Cult makes great use of in each level’s design, is the weapon arsenal Mr. Wolf has at his disposal – and it includes pretty much everything. An axe with a heavy slice? Obviously a murder weapon. A light-but-deadly fence post that whacks an enemy? Murder weapon. A chain-chomp homage that slingshots Mr. Wolf through the air from one enemy to the next? Definitely a murder weapon. A flimsy carrot? The deadliest of vegetables in town.
This arsenal is put to consistently wacky use level after level during Bloodroots’ three-act, roughly eight-hour campaign – that length will likely depend on how often you’re dying. Playing out like a Jackie Chan action film mixed with an art style reminiscent of Samurai Jack, Bloodroots is an unrelenting assault on the poor souls standing in Mr. Wolf’s way. New weapons, like scythes, different guns, and more pop up throughout the campaign, but recurring favorites like those I’ve mentioned and a handful of others are such a delight to master and implement in every level.
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Most levels, unless intentionally designed otherwise, are replete with all these and more improvisational weapons, and Bloodroots always felt like it gave me the freedom to wield whatever tool of destruction I deemed worthy for the task at hand. Replaying through whole levels, or even just sections of them, usually revealed an ideal path with specific weaponry, and nailing those sequences did consistently feel empowering. But I never felt like my weapon choices were restricted in any way if I wanted to stray from that path, and the delight of its mayhem is always enhanced by some key details. Every killing blow has a certain oomph to it as blood spatters out of the pour soul you hit; Mr. Wolf’s speed, at first a bit unwieldy, allowed me to practically glide through woodland terrain like an unstoppable force meeting many moveable objects; and a death sequence highlights your final kill in any given area with a spectacular and silly little cutscene. Never has a fish slammed down on an enemy’s head in such spectacular fashion.
Finding a satisfying way, if not the optimal one, to chain attacks together through a level always felt rewarding. Bloodroots can look like chaos, but it’s a controlled chaos I generally felt like I was dictating. But even when unexpected deaths came, and they did aplenty, every loss felt like a learning experience – enemy behaviors are consistent enough that mistakes almost always came because of my overeagerness or lack of planning. The only aspect that felt unfairly weighted against me was the darn icy patches. When every hit means doom, Mr. Wolf’s slipping and sliding occasionally felt brutally punishing just for the sake of it and never all that fun, rather than an experience to learn from and master.
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Those small moments aside, Paper Cult continually finds creative ways to put its run-grab-kill gameplay to use in new and interesting scenarios. And the levels all act as great learning experiences for the fantastic boss fights that cap off each act. They put all of my skills to the test in wildly different scenarios, from an elongated chase sequence to an arena fight. Responsible for most of my deaths in the overall campaign, I loved inching my way through these ultimately satisfying battles.
And even after I bested the final boss, there’s been plenty left to do apart from just trying to climb each level’s leaderboards – there are a hidden series of wolves to collect, as well as additional hats to find for Mr. Wolf so he can be Mr. Bear, Mr. Dog, and more. And beyond just cosmetic changes, these different hats offer Mr. Wolf enhanced abilities in previously played levels to keep those replays feeling fresh.
The entire experience is wrapped in a gorgeous, stark aesthetic. Buildings, characters, and weapons are all brought to life by vibrant blocks of color, prominent lines, and a variety of woodland, arid, and frozen climates. Bloodroots can even take unexpected left turns into a nightclub aesthetic or a more Roman coliseum-esque locale, but it all feels cohesive with the overall art direction. And each is backed by the thumping jam of a soundtrack that often acted like a renewing catalyst for my mayhem.
Bloodroots, at its core, is a revenge story, and the stoic, single-minded Mr. Wolf often offers little more character in his dialogue than demanding to know the whereabouts of his prey. But his former band of outlaws who left him for dead are all distinctly despicable and interesting to learn more about, like a cast pulled straight from a Quentin Tarantino movie. Mr. Wolf’s character more comes through in what other characters tell us about him, but Paper Cult also finds inventive ways to express his mental state through the gameplay in some particularly intriguing bonus levels. And while Mr. Wolf’s story comes to a somewhat predictable, telegraphed ending that isn’t all that satisfying, the consistent thrill of its buildup isn’t squandered as a result.