I love dying. Because I love retrying. When these forces work in tandem, your progress starts to form satisfying loops and patterns. A cycle of quick setbacks and rapid retries. Each death becomes a painful-but-purposeful micro-lesson in how to avoid failure releasing a cycle of dopamine hits. Few games have managed to truly get this feeling right, apart from the likes of Super Meat Boy and Hotline Miami, but the utterly-relentless PC and console action game Bloodroots is about to try.
The problem with Hotline Miami – from which Bloodroots draws inspiration – is that its die / retry loop is usually one of my own making, because I fall into routine. I find the character that works for me, the gun or melee item I want to find and keep the longest, and I just use that over and over.
Bloodroots deviates from Hotline Miami in more than just style and setting – it's an old timey American West revenge story where you play a buff as hell lumberjack - but in the way it's designed to stop you falling into the safety of repetition. Weapons play a huge role in keeping the gameplay loops fresh, but more of that later. Besides Hotline Miami, the Quebec-based Papercult talks me through even more of their inspirations, ranging from The Revenant (I'm promised a bear fight), and Jackie Chan. The hallmark of a great Jackie Chan fight sequence is how he weaves together the objects around a setting into the choreography. It's this improvisation in Bloodroots that really makes the game, and how fluid it is to pick up one of the many potential weapons lying around to keep the fight going.
It'd be easy to imagine something like this ending up with a host of weapons that operate mostly the same - that you'd just pick up new silly things to whack people with or throw at enemies. But in Bloodroots each of the hundreds of weapons in the game is unique, and handles differently. I had a case where I slapped a man with a carrot, picked up a wagon wheel and frisbee-bounced it off the walls, grabbed a barrel, hopped onto it and rolled it over two more enemies before kicking it into a third, then grabbed a ladder and used it to reach a higher area while also using it to spring me into an area-damaging splash attack. And it felt like there were loads of other approaches I could have taken that were just as viable to keep the flow going.
Even the better weapons are only good for a few uses, though, so you'll always need to be looking out for the next weapon to grab between you and the next enemy. After all, just one hit and you're dead. Most of them are close-quarters, so you're encouraged to get stuck in constantly without having a dead moment. As I finished off the last enemies in each area the game would zoom in on that final tussle, revealing the Samurai Jack-style backgrounds to all be part of a 3D world. What appears to be slick 2D animation at a glance is rich in dimension, and it's wonderful to be reminded of it in these key moments.
While I got to play through a forested area, more environments are promised as your lumberjack goes on his quest, from snowy mountains to deserts (yes you can use a cactus as a weapon). The sheer detail that's gone into making every weapon feel so different makes for a game where you're constantly wondering not only what comes next, but what you're going to be able to do next, as you Jackie Chan your way through enemies.
Bloodroots launches this September on PS4, Xbox, Nintendo Switch and PC.