Bleed is an adorable, indie Contra-style shooter about killing heroes
Ian Campbell originally wanted his homage to side-scroller shooter games like Contra and Metal Slug to be dark, gritty, and violent. He would name it Bleed. All of that dark aesthetic would ultimately be dropped in favor of something more cutesy and bright, resulting in a purple-haired girl who leaves violet/pink streaks behind her as she dashes around the level, dual-wielding pistols.
Bleed may not be as overly poetic, thought-provoking, or philosophical as some indie games, but it’s simple, it’s fast, and it’s fun. It’s also well worth your time and money, costing just $5 a pop on GamersGate.com or the Xbox Live Indie Games Marketplace. The game has also been submitted to Steam Greenlight, where it awaits community votes.
Bleed‘s story involves working your way through a death list of the world’s greatest heroes, Kill Bill-style. The main character, Wryn, wants to be the world’s greatest hero, so naturally, she figures the way to prove herself is to kill off the old ones.
It’s a dark, but not necessarily malicious premise; these characters have become shallow husks of their former selves. One former champion even hoards money meant for charity.
Each of the six bosses has a unique level to complement their nature, and each is vibrant and colorful: the robot hero resides in a lab, the racer girl is fought atop a speeding train, and the worm lovers are found burrowed deep under the Earth.
On PC, you move with the W, A, S, and D keys, press the spacebar to jump and dash mid-air, aim with the mouse, left-click to fire, and hold right-click to slow time. Wryn can move independently of wherever she’s aiming as well, meaning you can run to the right while firing left, dash upward while firing downward, and so on. Wryn starts with dual pistols and a rocket launcher, but you unlock more weapons as you progress through the game.
“The core idea was to make a really fluid, free kind of game. I played a lot of these old side-scrollers, and I really liked them, but I felt like the movement, the aiming was kind of clunky,” Campbell told the Report. “It didn’t feel fluid or badass. I wanted to make a game with that kind of control scheme that empowered you to feel that way.”
Once you beat the game’s Story, you can attempt to beat it again on Arcade Mode. Arcade Mode takes you through the same levels, but now with just one life. If you’re feeling particularly masochistic, you can also boot up Challenge Mode, which lets you battle it out with up to three of the game’s bosses in an arena at the same time. The game always gives you the tools you need to succeed, and it’s up to you to use them skillfully.
Lessons in how to feel like a badass: Lookin’ good
The trailer gives you clues about how to string together moves. Wryn slows time, blasts through falling rocks with her dual pistols to kill a flying bug, leaps, slows time again, fires upward to prevent any rocks from hitting her, dashes past the avalanche, jumps and dashes over two more bugs, aims back as she moves forward, and blasts them both with a rocket.
Trying to beat the game on the hardest difficulty will make you a better player, and you’ll be performing daredevil stunts often once you get a handle on the game’s controls.
The first boss of the game splits into smaller and smaller fragments of himself as you damage him, eventually turning into a flock of pesky floating eyeballs. You have to be fast to dodge or blast your way through these, and when I performed three dashes across the screen, twice darting through the swarm to pull out a win with one hit left, it was Hotline Miami levels of exhilaration.
Learning how to play pays off in other ways; you gain points by dealing damage without taking any yourself, and you can use those points to upgrade your health, time slow ability, or purchase new weapons.
Lessons in how to be a badass: Jumping
While bullet time and precise aiming add to the fun, it’s the ability to perform not a double, not a triple, but a quadruple-jump that adds to the game’s feel. “I really wanted a character, game playstyle and controls that were just… if you thought it, you could do it,” Campbell explained. “The difficulty is making it feel good. In Mario, if you tap the A button, then he jumps just hops little bit, if you hold it he jumps higher. Lending that kind of subtlety to the mechanic is the hard part.”
That “feel” isn’t easy to create. “That was something I worked on the most. There was no levels or anything, it was just me making it feel good.” Making something “feel good” is subjective, however. Campbell said that, being a one-man studio, it was easy to fall into a sense of complacency with the game. The controls might feel good to him, but were they actually any decent? He brought in his mom to help judge.
“I got my mom to run through the first level to make sure that, ideally, anyone can beat the first level,” Campbell said. “She would forget the controls halfway through or would have to look down to make sure she was pressing the right buttons.” He laughed as he told me the story, but the lesson paid off; Bleed strikes that perfect balance of easy to learn, difficult to master.
The game’s story is satirical, but doesn’t parody specific characters or plots. Campbell thinks we’re holding onto old heroes too much, but that’s not a belief he focused on espousing with his game. What about Wryn? Female protagonists are usually a sign of a developer trying to send a message or be bold. Not for Campbell. “I’ve made a couple smaller games before, and they always starred dudes or robots or whatever, and I had a couple friends who were like, ‘You’ve never made a game with a girl!’ And I was just like, ‘Yeah, you’re right!’”
No deeper reason, no lecture. No philosophical ramifications, no hidden agenda. Bleed is just a cute, side-scrolling shoot-em-up and, given how insanely fun it is, that’s all it needs to be. Bleed is available now for PC and Xbox 360.