Review | Mother Russia Bleeds

Psst… Hey, you wanna try an old fashioned beat ’em up? I’ve got just what you need, they call it Mother Russia Bleeds.

Le Cartel Studio’s debut title published by pixel pusher extraordinaire Devolver Digital. Mother Russia Bleeds aims to combine that classic Streets of Rage beat ’em up style with a bit of the ultra-violence of Hotline Miami. Having spent many hours on those early 90’s era beat ’em ups and some time with Hotline Miami (although not nearly as much as the beat ’em ups) Mother Russia Bleeds certainly has my attention.

So what’s it about?

This gist is quite simple, a crew of street fighters are kidnapped from a gypsy camp by the mafia and placed in a jail. They awake to find they have been pumped full of a new drug called Nekro. After busting out they look for the source of who is behind this and along the way annihilating everyone in their path with a murderous rampage. The battle however isn’t confined to the outside world as the Nekro will also have them facing off against their own demons. Well, that’s about as simple as I can boil it all down to.

There’s actually quite a lot of story in Mother Russia Bleeds. Far more than I was expecting to see from anything in the beat ’em up genre. The dialog sections can be quite lengthy and I found myself slightly confused at times, not by the story itself, but rather the odd dichotomy of playing these drug fuelled street fighters and having conversations that range between swear filled taunts to sociopolitical discussion with droppings of moral dilemma’s here and there. While there is certainly a message trying to be conveyed throughout, I’m not exactly sure that a beat ’em up is the right vessel to do so.

Story time’s over, let’s get to the punching and kicking part of the program.

The mechanics are fairly simple and should be easily recognizable to anyone who’s ever played a beat ’em up. There is the standard punching, kicking and throwing that we all adore. Oh, almost forgot the jump kick, can’t forget that one. On top of the basics is also a run/rush ability. This can help unleash a vicious elbow, sliding kick and also double (triple?) as a way to dodge attacks. Countering aerial attacks is also a possibility. Plus there is a wide variety of weapons for when neither foot nor fist will do.

The “fun” of course is injecting the character with Nekro and unleashing some blinding attacks that almost always end up with an opponent sans head. Last but not least is is a different but equally useful needle, the base one recovers health for the character with an injection. Run out? Not to worry, plunge the needle into a fallen foe convulsing on the ground for some more. This does add a little strategy to the rampant killing. When low on health, try to bash the enemies heads to bits so they flop around a bit on the ground. Unlike chickens, humans don’t tend to flop around on the ground while headless, try to keep that in mind.

Healing isn’t the only thing they can do either. Along with the story mode is an Arena which affords one the opportunity to unlock different injections to customize that “special ability” to a range of different effects. It’s oddly satisfying trying to fend off attackers when hunched over a convulsing body trying to refill your needle like Gollum hunched over his precious. That said however, the general brawling is rather ho-hum at best, even with all the blood and heads exploding. The 4 different characters available all have varying stats, but even Ivan who is the strongest and has the longest reach still has to punch and kick a surprisingly large amount of times to take out even the lowliest grunt. Moving faster or jumping higher didn’t really seem to be all that important compared to the possibility of stuff dying at a slightly faster pace.

The throws were a bit on the unsatisfying side as well. Don’t expect them to be nearly as powerful as they were in the Konami arcade beat ’em ups. They’re more of an opportunity to jump on top of the opponent and unleash a ground and pound that would make Bas Rutten proud. Yeah, it really does take a lot of punches to take guys out. Luckily however, the bosses offer up more than just the meatbag variety. They involve at least one special mechanic to master in order to defeat them. Be it dodging, throwing certain items or smacking them into a thresher with a baseball bat. On all but one occasion the key to defeating the boss isn’t just flat out told to the player, but it’s fairly easy to figure out what needs to happen in order to win.

The finer things.

Can’t have a retro styled beat ’em up without the art and sound to match. The game is set in an alternate version of the ’80’s Soviet Union and the art does that setting justice. It is really well done, zero complaints in that department. There is a lot of weirdness going on in the game though. Any Hotline Miami fan will recognize the not so subtle nod to the game with the nightclub stage. Other than that, the most notable is the random sex type things going on, sometimes in the background, sometime right in front of you. Kind of hard to miss stuff like that.

Does the game have music? Yes. Honestly, all I can recall is that there was indeed music. It wasn’t bad or annoying in a way that made me want to turn it off. Nor was it catchy and made me hum in my head afterwards. It’s there and it’s fine. That’s really all there is to that.

So what’s the verdict?

Mother Russia Bleeds sits rather firmly right in the middle for me. I don’t love it, but I don’t hate it. I’m not so certain that it even moves the needle in either direction between like or dislike. That’s sort of odd. It’s all sorts of gory, yet none of that phased me in anyway. There’s lot of deviant things going on in the background, but again, none of it was actually shocking to me. The lack of response to these things doesn’t seem like it is related to any kind of desensitization. It simple didn’t move me in either way. If you are looking for a beat ’em up to pass the time, it certainly isn’t a bad option, just don’t expect to be blown away.

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