I would like you to begin this reading experience with a brief game of word association. Before moving on to the next paragraph, tell yourself what you think of when you read the phrases “bleed,” and “Run and Gun.” Go on – you have plenty of time.
If I may wager a guess, I’d say your responses went something along the lines of “pain,” “stress,” or “intensity.” And those reactions would be completely within reason, were we not talking about Toronto indie dev Ian Campbell’s game, Bleed 2.
This is not because the game is lacking in challenge, but because it counterbalances the overwhelming stimuli of a run and gun with constant, exuberant optimism. For every death, protagonist Wryn delivers words of encouragement in riposte. She makes her way through fight after fight, grinning all the way. Wryn has all the confidence of an anime protagonist that has already achieved their goals – already become the King of Pirates/Prince of Tennis/Very Best, Like No One Ever Was. A beaming One-Punch Woman. This joy and self-confidence is a welcome salve to the anxiety of a run and gun, and it is a vital piece of the Bleed 2 experience.
Enough pleasure – let’s talk punishment. Bleed 2 is at its best during its 25+ boss fights. The grunts of each short level simply exist as bullet-fodder prelude to these meticulously designed big bads. Each fight will have your mind racing in a different, clever way, and forces you to push your understanding of each mechanic to a new level. A zero-G fight means your air dash works differently. Slowing time will act as a necessity in one battle, and a stylistic choice in another. In some fights, you will favor your katana; in another – your guns. Often, Bleed 2 will demand you weave these myriad techniques together into a tapestry of precise destruction. Indeed, it will even reward you for expert play with High Scores and S ranks, if that’s the sort of thing you’re horny for.
I myself am not a man of numbers; I’m a much more aesthetic being. Have I mentioned that this game is gorgeous? God save me, it’s gorgeous. Every palette, background, and sprite holds a unique visual identity. Those bosses I just spoke of? They don’t just play different – they all look different too. Not one boss is re-used. They are each a unique character with actual narrative purpose in this beautiful world. This may sound silly – story is hardly the point of Bleed 2 – but assigning roles and responsibilities to each individual boss lends real weight and charm to their existence. It elevates the narrative above baseline irreverence, and makes you smile a little bit when they show up as sprites in the credits.
This is, perhaps, the summation of the Bleed 2 experience – it is as light-hearted as it is challenging. You will smile, and you will laugh – even as you fail, even as you die. Maybe Wryn – or the several unlockable characters – had something funny to say. Maybe you and your friends are having fun blasting baddies in the game’s co-op mode. Or maybe you’re just watching the end credits roll, jamming to the game’s electric guitars while sitting in your apartment.