Boss battles are a crucial part of many games, but there aren’t many games in which they are the focus. The majority of a game’s playtime is usually spent in the levels working your way up to the big bad, but Bleed 2 doesn’t limit itself to one boss fight per level. Bleed 2 doesn’t even limit itself to one boss fight per room – hell, sometimes Bleed 2 doesn’t even limit itself to one boss fight per boss.
Releasing this week for PS4 and Xbox One, almost a year to the day after its Steam release, you begin the game in a living room where Wryn, “The Greatest Hero of All Time”, finds her video game time interrupted by an explosion outside. Having killed all the other heroes on Earth during the first game so she could be the best, she’s the only one who can set off to face the giant alien ship that’s invading the planet. Grabbing her katana, her twin pistols and her odd ability to triple jump, she sets off to save the world again. Other than the occasional tongue in cheek news report by what appears to be a talking flower, this is basically all the exposition required to set up a fast paced arcade game.
This is a side-scrolling, twin stick action game in which movement is of paramount importance. Your triple jump can be aimed in any direction, so it works more like a dash, and it is integral to your survival as you weave through bullet hell levels of bullets and enemies. Thankfully, your sword is for more than just slashing foes, as it can also deflect blue attacks (the same colour as Wryn’s hair) from minions and bosses alike. You can also slow down time for a moment, shown by a bar that fills up when not in use.
The controls are a little unconventional, perhaps to account for the speed of the gameplay, but the right trigger jumps, left trigger slows time, and both your sword and guns are controlled with the right stick. Push the right stick in a direction and you’ll take a swing with your sword, then immediately start shooting until you let go. It does feel a little strange initially, but you’ll soon have mastered them, stopping your hail of bullets to deflect attacks like you learnt how to do it in an ancient temple in the mountains. Which is good, because you will quickly realise that thinking too much is your enemy.
Rarely does a level give you a respite as enemies flying in from all edges of the screen, some shooting at you, some arcing shots to specific areas, some just flying in straight lines. Pausing to think (or just to stare, open-mouthed) will get you injured and/or killed, most likely by some kind of cat that vomits balls of energy. Thankfully, when you’re playing through story mode you have infinite lives and can restart from the section of the level you were up to, so if you just beat two bosses and died on the third, you don’t have to redo the earlier ones.
It’s a welcome concession, but bearing it in mind, I’d recommend starting the game on hard difficulty at least. On my first play through on normal, I made it all the way to the alien ship without slowing time – I didn’t even realise there was a slow time button! The death system in story mode is forgiving enough to go straight for a harder difficulty, as it’s a little too easy on normal.
The star of the show here are the bosses though, and they are many, often one after another, all of which are delightfully inventive. To mention just a few of my favourites: the chaff spammer, which drops lots of canisters which you have to avoid/shoot; the mantis core that traps you between its blade arms, forcing you to fight back from inside while moving with it; or Valentine, the boss against whom you must collaborate with a mysterious super saiyan-looking guy in a giant rocket truck to take down her shield so you can damage her.
They’re all just so creative that you can’t help but smile while you fight them. The first moment you realise that a boss’ attack is blue and think to yourself “wait, can I deflect that?” and it works is incredibly satisfying, and it only gets more satisfying as you become more adept, deflecting huge robots back into walls and then its missiles back into its stupid robot face. Each one feels like a little puzzle, but it’s a puzzle you shoot and slice up to solve. It’s great fun.
Once you finish the story mode, you unlock up to five more characters to play as, four of which have their own mechanics to master, a loadout system with four new weapons to try (as well as the pistols and katana separate from each other), and a mutator system that lets you play with some settings like infinite health/focus, no gravity, or make things irrationally hard. Other game modes include an Arcade mode where you have only one life; an Endless mode filled with randomly generated levels, and Challenge, where you can choose up to three bosses to fight at once. On top of all that, there’s also a local multiplayer for you to enjoy should you be one of those socialising types.
Ironically, considering all the additional content, it only takes a few hours to beat the seven story levels on your first play through, especially if you choose normal difficulty. This might not be a problem if you just love beating your own high scores, but there are no online leaderboards, so you’ll be competing with yourself and your friends only.
For fans of fast-paced, over the top twin stick action, complete with bullet time and a score system that awards perfection, Bleed 2 is excellent. The only real issue is its length, which is remedied to an extent by additional characters, weapons, and modes. If arcade, Contra/Metal Slug action is your thing and you’ve been missing it, you could do much worse than Bleed 2.
Version tested: PlayStation 4