Bloodroots is brilliant. This action puzzler from Canadian developer Paper Cult channels the violent energy of Hotline Miami, but sheds Dennaton Games’ synthwave aesthetic for cartoon conflicts that are every inch as intensely addictive. This is a graceful, rhythmic dance of death that encourages improvisation while simultaneously insisting on perfection, prompting you to toggle between different armaments as you one-shot hordes of aggressive gang members.
The plot, which is confoundingly well executed, sees you assume the role of Mr Wolf as he reeks vengeance against his old gang, the Blood Beasts. While this isn’t a particularly talkative title, there’s enough here to contextualise the grotesque gameplay, while simultaneously adding depth to all the adversaries you’ll encounter. You may not sympathise with anyone’s actions, but you will come to appreciate their perspective, which is a big compliment for a title where its gameplay undoubtedly takes centre stage.
And what a compelling loop it has: stages are divided up into dozens of combat bowls, each populated with bloodthirsty punks and munitions. Every weapon you pick up operates slightly differently: axes deliver single deadly strokes, while cutlasses allow you to dash. Each item can be used between one to three times, and the secret to success is finding a blood-soaked route through your foes to the next all-important pick-up.
A multiplier encourages you to move frenetically, offing enemies at insane speed, rather than hanging back and luring them into position. It’s impressive how quickly the title teaches you the rules of its arsenal, and it incorporates many of these into the level design itself, with fishing rods enabling you to leap longer distances and hookshots pulling you towards your prey. The cinematic camera can obscure the action a little too frequently, but generally it gives you a good overview of everything that’s unfolding on screen.
Because it’s so score-heavy, replaying levels becomes an addictive pursuit, as you seek to perfect your run without breaking your combo. Every environment has been meticulously designed to ensure you can get through it in one clean sweep, but mastering the levels requires obscene levels of concentration. You will die a lot because this is a demanding game, but restarts are instantaneous and errors will almost always stem from user error – whether it’s a flawed strategy or failed execution.
As you’d expect, there are leaderboards as well as hidden collectibles, all of which add to the replay value. It’s the slick nature of the gameplay itself that will keep you coming back, though, even if you’ll feel like putting a DualShock 4 through your television screen at times. Vibrant, cartoon-like visuals round out the package, while the heady soundtrack keeps you in the right frame of mind – and your eyes glued to the screen.
Bloodroots takes the frenetic ferocity of Hotline Miami and transforms it into an action puzzler that’s distinct enough to stand on its own. The title incorporates its enormous roster of weaponry effortlessly and is able to easily communicate each armament’s strengths throughout spontaneous skirmishes. It’s masterfully designed and bizarrely well written, meaning not even difficulty spikes and occasionally unfair camerawork can detract from its achievements.