Mother Russia Bleeds is a thoroughly depressing game. As you punch your way through hobos, soldiers, and mobsters, it’s apparent that the alternative reality Russia depicted here is not without its problems. Abuse of a new, apparently government approved, drug called Nekro enslaves the nation, including the four characters of a Roma colony abducted by the state police.
What follows is a journey of vengeance against the gang distributing Nekro and the government that supports them, trudging through sewers, drug havens, and night clubs. Side effects from the experiments of Nekro have left your character with horrific visions, which further cement the dismal circumstances depicted here.
Mother Russia Bleeds is pretty heavy handed at times with its disturbing imagery and yet there are games that use that bleakness to make a point. Here it seems the point is to show how corruption from the state can affect the populace in extreme ways, which while admirable, seems to beat it into you rather than enable the player to discover of their own volition. It practically makes Streets of Rage seem like a Saturday morning cartoon in comparison.
Stages have multiple areas, separated by a short loading screen, but the game is generous with its checkpoints. My suggestion is that teaming up with AI players is more hassle than it’s worth, as the AI controlled characters run into trouble and never picks you up when downed. It’s better to either go in alone or have human controlled characters, though the lack of online means this is couch coop on PC, which is tricky at the best of times.
We normally joke about Tuffcub’s hatred of modern game with pixels art in it, but Mother Russia Bleeds may be the first time I can genuinely agree with that sentiment. The level of detail in each of the stages is actually a remarkable feat, but the character and enemy design is just off-putting, not least because of technical blemishes such as when sprites clipping into one another.
For a 2D side-scrolling beat-em-up, there’s a surprisingly large repertoire of moves on offer; punching and kicking, as well as dashing, charged, and jumping attacks. You can also grab enemies to throw them or dash and grab to pin to the ground to deliver a beatdown. Should you partake in a little “roid rage”, your moves become so powerful that you’ll likely remove heads or limbs with your attacks.
However, there’s no real difference between each of the four characters. All have the same moves, but different tweaks to their speed and power. Part of what made games like Streets of Rage 2 and Final Fight stand out was how unique the characters felt to play. It’s a shame too, as I can certainly imagine the likes of Boris being quite savage in his attacks.
Much like those aforementioned games, you have access to weapons that you can use to maim your enemies; anything from baseball bats to guns. There’s a surprisingly large arsenal that can be dropped by foes, but all wear out after a few hits/shots fired. Health can only be obtained by injecting yourself with Nekro, of which you can get more from convulsing corpses of downed foes.
With eight stages, a standard playthrough will take a couple of hours at best, though in order to get the good ending you must meet certain criteria and play a ninth stage – hints on how to access this level are given as the story progresses. Each level culminates in a boss battle, and these do most definitely think outside the box. You also have a wave based Arena mode that unlocks new syringes for you to use your abilities.
As an overall package, there’s certainly talent to be seen within Mother Russia Bleeds, but this is a somewhat difficult proposition for me to swallow. Sometimes we see game genres never before matched up with certain settings that work, but here it just doesn’t at all. 2D beat-em-ups tend to have more arcade-like qualities, while the plot here would be better suited to a long-form RPG or action game.
It’s somewhat difficult to recommend Mother Russia Bleeds, as the dystopian setting and drug-filled plot are at odds with the conventions of the side-scrolling beat-em-up genre. While the sprite work is overall quite ugly, the level of detail is astounding in depicting this game’s disturbing imagery. With limited replay value, couch only coop, and not much diversity among the playable roster, these issues outweigh the promise of Le Cartel Studio’s debut game.
Version Tested: PC