Platforms: PC, PS4, Nintendo Switch (reviewed)
Developer: Le Cartel
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release: 15th November 2018
Who doesn´t like some good old fashinedhyper-violent brawler, no one, right? Released 2016 for PC, Mother Russia Bleeds promises exactly that: A brutal rampage through the streets of Russia like in the old days and the Switch version provides the perfect playground for some nice coop action on top of that.
There´s some sort of story in Mother Russia Bleeds but well, it´s not really important, is it? In generel, we take over control of one of the various fighters and brawl your way through the drug-infected streets of Russia. Naturally, the plot is losely held together by some NPC dialogue you come across, short cutscenes and different levels you progress through, yet, none of it matters, especially since the game actually overshadows its own story with the over the top presentation. Surprisingly, that works in favor of the “subtle” themes it tackles from time to time, like druge usage or the own journey into despair, which are things you can only portray through images not text.
And oh boy, does Mother Russia Bleeds thematise them. At its core, it´s a pretty old school 2D brawler, where you punch your way through dozens of enemies with your fists, simple and effective. There are only two buttons, kicking and punching, so don´t expect much depth here either. While it´s possible to combine sprinting or jumping with those two actions to create new moves, it´s still a super straightforward system. Unfortunately, it suffers from some little flaws with big consequences: Mainly, it feels a bit too uncontrolled. Every punch or kick somehow never feels aligned with its animation, leading to some hits that look like hits but aren´t, which can be quite frustrating. On the other hand, the variety comes with the enemies, not the way you punch them, dogs will need different kind of moves and behavior as SWAT officers or other enemies, meaning in the end it balances itself out quite well.
This diversity through different actors, rather than systems, continues with the playable characters as well. Every one of them has its own moveset, strengths and weaknesses, so when you´re playing alone you can switch it up quite a bit and challenge yourself with new tactics. Though only in coop can Mother Russia Bleeds unfold its true strengths, because the teamwork between those different butchers is actually really fun and allows for some nice mix-ups and alike. Especially due to the mass of foes and the not always great combat system, more friends mean less things to worry for the everyone, meaning, missing some attacks gets way less significant.
Now combine that with the, honestly, really great bosses and you got a great mix for some party action. Instead of presenting you easy punching bags with a bit more health, Mother Russia Bleeds really goes all out here, throwing creative visual ideas together with interesting gameplay gimmicks to create neat bosses. Featuring a high difficult degree, mixed with diverse attack patterns and a general flow similar to the game´s overall theme of drifting into madness, just works so well in tandem, that every fight is a clear highlight of every chapter and demands everything from you.
Additionally, the only truly new mechanic are the drugs (technically they´re called something else but since they pretty much fulfill the role of drugs, I refer to them in this way too) you can extract from enemies and use to either heal yourself or buff your damage. Since you only have a limited amount, taking the time to free your foes of their drugs. Though, this quickly forms a strategic layer on itself, since Mother Russia Bleeds is quite a challenging game and you will quickly deplete your resources, making it vital to form safe times where you can gather new healing supplies. Especially when enemies are closing in on you, your health is low and you have nothing in your syringe, it´s a core point to decide if you will risk anything ina fight or in extracting.
The overall theme of druge usage, brutality and darkness is also reflected in the visuals. While it features a rather normal pixel artstyle, in terms of details and animations, the colour palette and design choices truly create something unique with Mother Russia Bleeds. From psychedelic lightning, gruesome face animations, dark rock music and tons of blood, it does a surprisingly well job at portraying the despair everyone in these circles face. At times it´s even quite scary and terrifying, due to the many excellent choices made throughout key passages. Combine that with the added flexibility of a Switch version, Coop that makes sense here and the low power usage and you got a terrifyingly good time!
Mother Russia Bleeds may not be a revolutionary take on the 2D Brawler genre but it´s nonetheless something I think many will enjoy, I personally did for sure. Even better, if you have friends, the Switch version is an amazing way to share the “joy”.
[A Review Code was provided by Devolver Digital]