Mother Russia Bleeds is not a game unsure about its identity; it is completely confident and unapologetic in the violent, retro action it provides. Any cursory glimpse of Le Cartel Studios’ debut reveals muscular people beating each other to a bloody pulp in grotesque environments dripping with grime. That pretty much sums up the entirety of Mother Russia Bleeds: It’s a graphic, straightforward arcade-style brawler that’s also deeply satisfying – especially if you’ve got some pals along for the ride.
Mother Russia Bleeds casts you as a revolutionary captured and drugged by a shadowy organization for mysterious reasons. You break out of prison and start looking to lay the beatdown on the people responsible for your suffering, which means pounding the life out of countless henchmen, scientists, pigs, and other creatures. The only things you do in this game are beat people up and get beaten up.
Fortunately, Mother Russia Bleeds makes this simple action enjoyable enough to fend off the annoyance that often comes alongside such repetition. Your punches and kicks feel powerful, and your characters have enough mobility that zipping around the stages is fun. Occasionally, you also get your hands on destructible weapons like bats and barstools that inflict a good bit of damage until they break. Enemies break under your blows with pixelated blood spewing from their bodies, their crumpled corpses coming to rest at your feet. Disturbing? Absolutely, but these effects help sell the consequences of your actions so that a punch feels like something more than just pressing the same button repeatedly.
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Players also have the ability to heal or turbo-boost themselves with a syringe available to them from the beginning of the game. You have three shots in the syringe for either purpose, though you can refill those shots by draining certain enemy corpses of their precious toxins. On easier difficulties, this mechanic makes the more enemy-crowded sections easier to deal with. On hard mode, the syringe becomes necessary, with you bouncing back and forth between dialing up your speed and healing yourself. You have to establish a sense of rhythm as you bounce around stages, dodging and delivering blows with unexpected grace. The feat is hard to pull off, but immensely satisfying when you can, especially when you clear an entire room having only taken a sliver of damage.
Though it’s enjoyable as a single-player game, Mother Russia Bleeds truly shines as a multiplayer experience. I had more fun trash-talking and joking around with a fellow editor as we threw goons across levels and beat them to a pulp with vodka bottles than playing alone. However, don’t expect to go around pulling off cooperative combos though, since each player exists pretty much as their own unit, taking out bad guys separately. Still, multiplayer is an upgrade to an already fun experience, especially if you have someone to play through the whole thing with you over the span of a night or two.
The only real letdown here are the boss battles. They’re not awful, and there aren’t many of them peppered across the five hours of gameplay, but none of them are particularly memorable either, often feeling like giant versions of the minions you’ve been fighting. They’re also painfully easy to take down if you have a couple of human players working with you.
This is not a game for the faint of heart and some might even find its lack of taste, especially in later levels, appalling. But for those who appreciate nasty aesthetics as well as amusing-if-simplistic action, Mother Russia Bleeds is a fun time.