After delivering the poorly received Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard—a dud of an action spoof—last year, Vicious Cycle Software went back to the drawing board and came up with Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond. A surprisingly good Metal Slug clone, the humor in Blood Bath continues to miss the mark, but veterans of the genre will find an appropriately hardcore challenge.
- Fast-paced and generally well-designed
- Co-op vastly improves the experience
- Solid difficulty will keep pros coming back
- The humor tends to fall flat
- Wonky physics lead to some imprecise platforming
- No online co-op
After delivering the poorly received Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard—a dud of an action spoof—last year, Vicious Cycle Software went back to the drawing board and came up with Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond. A surprisingly good Metal Slug clone, the humor in Blood Bath continues to miss the mark, but veterans of the genre will find an appropriately hardcore challenge. However, everything is better with friends and the lack of online co-op makes it hard to enthusiastically recommend Blood Bath, especially given the steep price point.
Blood Bath and Redemption?
In retrospect, Blood Bath is what Eat Lead should have been all along. Blood Bath eschews conventions of the modern shooter and fully embraces the fake retro stylings that form the basis of the franchise’s appeal. While it still doesn’t quite have the humor down, Vicious Cycle Software has crafted a surprisingly solid 2.5D shooter that puts an emphasis on challenge and cooperative combat.
Blood Bath is essentially an homage to the side-scrolling classic Metal Slug, down to the emphasis on grenades and the limited ammo on power-ups. However, a number of unique tweaks and additions have been made to the usual formula, such as the ability to shoot into the background, the inclusion of a lifebar and “Hazard Time,” a mode that makes you invincible for a short period of time.
Any of these tweaks could have resulted in a disastrously dull and unbalanced experience, but Vicious Cycle has done a very good job of incorporating them in such a way that they work to the game’s advantage. Matt’s lifebar eliminates the “one hit death” frustration and “Hazard Time” is a nice reward for the difficult achievement of staying alive for a long period of time. The platforming suffers a bit due to occasionally floaty and imprecise physics (death frequently comes while jumping over spikes and other perils), but otherwise Vicious Cycle has struck the right balance using all of these elements, which is crucial to the success of a game like this.
That’s the Joke
Where the series continues to fall flat, however, is with its humor. The phrase that comes to mind is “self aware,” in that you’ll be frequently bombarded with lines like, “I’m not afraid of you! I’m the main character!” As “The Simpsons”’ Rainier Wolfcastle would say, “That’s the joke.” Also, the same few lines tend to be recycled over and over again, meaning that unfortunately you’ll hear, “I’m a hazard to your health!” a half-dozen times per level.
The humor referencing the Hazard canon also tends to miss the mark. The premise is that Matt Hazard is traveling through his past games in an effort to rescue his 8-bit self (rendered as a “cardboard” sprite in a bit that does actually work), so why do all the references revolve around modern games like Team Fortress 2, BioShock and even Mirror’s Edge? Couldn’t they have made better use of their own source material to include some familiar Hazard backdrops and enemies? As an ironic, smart-mouthed “retro” shooter, it seems that Blood Bath is once again missing the point.
Hazard Time with a Friend
As with most games of this type, Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond is much more fun with a friend. In fact, it seems as if Vicious Cycle has balanced the difficulty with a second player in mind, because without one, you’ll probably be overwhelmed in a hurry by the constant onslaught of foes. It’s a great challenge for hardcore veterans of the genre, but most players will probably want a helping hand. Unfortunately, with such an emphasis on cooperative play, the lack of online co-op really hurts the overall experience.
Given the $15 price point, the absence of online co-op makes it pretty hard to recommend Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond, as fun as the rest of the game is. However, if you’re looking for a game to play on the couch with a friend, the game gets a more solid thumbs-up, particularly if your friend is willing to kick in half the money. Otherwise, the fact that Blood Bath is not much more than a pretty good Metal Slug clone restricts its appeal to hardcore veterans of the genre. The game is definitely a step up for the Matt Hazard series, but not quite the return to glory they keep promising.