A thick metal wall shoots up behind you as you cross into a new area, mirrored by another blocking your path in front; ten foes stand tall. In the background a twangy, frantic banjo tune starts up, and two simple words appear on the screen in bold, red letters: ELIMINATE THEM.
With the press of a button you pick up the nearest axe, or fencepost, or head of lettuce, and get to work.
Easy to learn yet hard to master, Bloodroots captures you from its first moments, a high-speed adventure with plenty of oddities to be gleefully discovered.
Hesitate for a single moment, misjudge your timing, or fail a tight jump, and it’s all over. As with your enemies, all it takes is one hit to send you all the way back to the checkpoint, to try again (and again, and again) until you get it right.
This is the core experience of Bloodroots, the new action game from indie studio Paper Cult, which you’ll repeat for roughly eight to ten hours across three hilarious, punishing acts. In other, less ambitious hands, what we’ve described above may have ended up a tedious, repetitive slog, due in no small part to the consistently hard but at-times absurd difficulty. One level in the second act, for example, ended with as many deaths on the tally as the previous four levels before it.
What keeps the experience fresh and supremely replayable across the entire length of the game, however, is the developer’s commitment to their vision. Nearly every single object within the game world of Bloodroots, ranging from your usual suspects (axe, sword, hammer) to your absolute oddities (roast chicken, hockey stick, nerf gun), are not only useable as weapons, but carry their own move sets and finishing animations.
Experimentation and speed are strongly incentivised during combat through several overlapping systems. A durability system reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild keeps you moving at all times – each weapon you pick up can be used somewhere between a few times before it breaks and you need to scramble for a new one, learning how it works and adapting your tactics in the split second before the next enemy arrives.
In Breath of the Wild you’d end up bogged down in menus, hoarding the best weapons and using up the ones you saw as expendable. However in Bloodroots the weapons are everywhere, you can only hold one at a time, and the instantaneous nature of starting over makes a miscalculation relatively painless and often, hilarious.
As might be expected for a game of this type, the story of Bloodroots is appropriately light but nonetheless interesting, a simple tale of revenge in which your gruff avatar, the enigmatic and mysterious Mr. Wolf, hunts down the members of his former gang, chasing them across a weird, wacky version of the Wild West. Other than direct confrontations with your gang during boss fights the story is almost entirely optional, delivered in bite-sized chunks at the campfire between levels. It’s sparse but for an indie game of this size, the production value and direction of cutscenes is absolutely impressive, even from the very first moments of the game.
Technically speaking Bloodroots is sound, if a little unpolished – when played on Nintendo Switch performance proves mostly stable with only a few frame rate drops on some of the larger levels, although texture quality leaves a little to be desired. Final hit animations are also frequently bugged, with the sound disappearing or the camera getting stuck behind objects. We experienced one full crash to the home menu at the end of a particularly frustrating platforming section, but thankfully the game has a very generous autosave so not much progress was lost.
If we had to find some negatives with Bloodroots, it would simply be that even more options would be appreciated – a Katana Zero-style dodge roll with invincibility frames feels particularly absent here and would make a great addition to keeping things moving. Similarly, having the option to throw any weapon you’re holding at any time (instead of some objects always being thrown, and others not) felt like a natural move we couldn’t find the button for. That said, these options could be added in as DLC or (hopefully) in a sequel.
Easy to learn but hard to master, Bloodroots captures you from the moment it begins and, much like its protagonist Mr. Wolf, doesn’t let go. Quirky, strange and delightful, it’s sure to keep you coming back again and again for more of its punishingly difficult delights, even if it’s just to watch one man kill another with a giant fish.
Bloodroots is available now on PC, Nintendo Switch, and PS4.