Between the recent Mega Man collections and Samus Returns, the past couple years have been a pretty good time to be a side-scrolling shooter fan. But guess who's here, however belatedly, to spice things up with an extra dose of cuteness on PS4? Wryn, the delightfully plucky star of Bootdisk Revolution's Bleed. And the frantic shooter-platforming she brings to the table is genuinely great, even though there definitely could've been more of it.
Wryn's goal is simple: to be dubbed "the greatest hero in the world" by the Hall of Heroes. The presiding top eight, you see, have grown corrupt, lazy, gluttonous, and generally pretty lame after sitting on their thrones for a hundred years. The opportunity is ripe for Wryn to usurp them... by slaughtering them one by one. While the late game does incorporate a plot twist, this clearly isn't meant to be a compelling story. As with many of its ilk, this side-scrolling shooter deliberately uses an absurdist plot to spotlight what it wants to imbue in the player: a sense of whimsical fun.
And make no mistake, Bleed is absolutely a good, fun time, which is largely rooted in its comfortable and responsive controls. Wryn fires automatically in any direction you tilt the right stick, with the left stick reserved for movement. The game's lack of a perceptible deadzone makes it one of the few titles I've played that features analog movement as instantaneous as that of its D-pad. And that's crucial here, because Wryn can leap in any direction with the right trigger, even triple-jumping and wall-kicking for extra mobility. And if you're still soaking up too much lead, holding the left trigger will toggle a nifty Max-Payne-style slow-mo mechanic in which the screen tightens on the action to help you dodge every pixel. While that sounds too easy, the enemies you're up against more than make up for it with sheer relentlessness.
Yes, don't go into this one looking for a cake walk. Bleed will kill you repeatedly in each of its short levels, but this is made bearable by a very generous checkpoint system. Throwing caution aside is inadvisable, though, given that minimizing your casualties rewards you with more end-level points. These can be spent on a nice handful of weapons - such as a flamethrower and shotgun - and upgrades to your health and slow-mo meters. Though only two firearms can be swapped in the heat of the battle, all of them are accessible via the pause menu. There is something purely blissful about precisely dodging and shooting through a level and spending points on cool new things for the next. The level design is solid as well, with varying challenges posed by spikes, lasers, and auto-scrolling, even if it does fail to take things to their full potential for complexity. Why? We'll get to that.
As tight, responsive, and well-constructed as the gameplay may be, Bleed's greatest strength is just how likeable it is. I'm not talking about the usual aspects of presentation, with colorful yet flat pixel-scapes and upbeat, yet forgettable music, this 2012 game will not make your jaw drop. No, I'm referring to Wryn herself, the purple-haired, milkshake-drinking mascot who may be the most endearing character ever to write out a vaguely creepy "kill" list. Yes, her goal is undeniably selfish, but I found myself rooting for her anyway just because of how awesome she is. This isn't a narrative-heavy game, but her big, gleeful smile and library of amusing and optimistic quips truly resonated with me and served to elevate the whole experience.
It's a good thing that Bleed enjoys solid gameplay and an outstanding protagonist, because at just over an hour on the default difficulty, it's just too damn short. I brought up difficulty earlier, but in truth I barely scratched the surface; this game uses various difficulty modifiers to milk its seven levels as much as possible. Two settings above "Normal" exist for each level, both of which increase the amount of enemies and shuffle boss attack patterns. An Arcade Mode is also present, which challenges you with beating the seven levels without dying. Boss Rush, Arena, unlockable characters (which are actually weaker than Wryn), and local co-op are thrown in as well, ensuring that resourceful players will get a lot more mileage. But as you play these extra modes, the core levels wear thin. It's impressive how much replay value Bleed squeezes from its stages, but there just aren't enough of them for a game that's been inflated two-fold from its price on PC.
Bleed is a game that ends before it should. The silver lining to that statement is that it's an absolute blast while it lasts, with tight, satisfying gameplay and an unforgettable protagonist. And while its levels don't provide enough content, its flexible difficulty and upgrade options will compel even non-completionists to stick around after beating them. You may want to wait for a sale on this one, but do keep your eye out- it's a game you really ought to play.