Bleed is a side-scrolling action platformer developed and published by Ian Campbell. This is actually one I'd wanted to take a look at for a long time to be entirely honest, because it got somewhat panned by TotalBiscuit when he played it and I trust his opinions on platformers about as far as I can throw his buddy Jim Sterling (which for the record ain't going to happen), so I was somewhat pleased to get this one gifted to me by someone who wanted my opinion of it. And I'm left in somewhat of a middling position I suppose - the core game is solid, and the bosses are inventive and on the higher difficulty setting, quite difficult, but the level lead-ups are quite short, as is the game it's self. For the price point, however, I don't have a huge issue with the length.
Story is pretty much just a framing device
Bleed puts you in the shoes of a female protagonists named Wryn, in a world where it's previous heroes are said to be just laying about and accomplishing nothing, so she decides essentially to kill them and take their place, because evidently heroes work like Roman emperors. If that summation of the plot sounds a bit short it's because short of some background details you pick up from the levels and their descriptions, you don't get much else. The plot in this case is merely the framing device for the story. Of course, anyone who has actually played the game is probably raising a hand about now to say that's not entirely the case, and they're not entirely wrong, there's a bit of a twist towards the end, but shame on you for thinking that I would get super spoilers of a story that's already threadbare when it's not really necessary.
That bit of teasing aside, however, dear reader, the thing here is more what you expect out of the game. If you're someone whom plays games for compelling narratives, you can pretty much tune out now, because that's not what Bleed is, really (which is why I put this story point of the review foremost). Beyond that, you're left with the question of whether it's detrimental to the game or not, and the answer to that is: kind of.
The game is fairly short
Problematic here is less the story itself, which functions as a very serviceable if shallow framing device for the game itself, and more the length of the game. Levels are of the short and punchy variety, and without story to lengthen it in any appreciable form, the actual game could probably be completed by someone in a couple of hours - it took me about four and I was playing on the more difficult setting. That's not exactly the best length for a game, really, though it's hard to fault too deeply because of the price point, I'd say - a subjective thing though, always.
Ultimately, the levels themselves that lead up to the boss are mostly-unchallenging and short, and it's the former that leads me to the misgivings I do have about length. It feels like we're really just here for the boss fights, which are both middlingly challenging and make for a good spectacle, and the levels leading up to them are filler, and when you have a game this extremely breif and it still feels like you have filler, I dare to say you're probably doing something wrong.
Don't get me wrong, the levels aren't bad, they're just average, really, but it's kind of stuff we're all well-familiar with from other platformer games, and there isn't anything really particularly noteworthy or interesting in the levels except for two - firstly, Bleed's managed the impossible by having a moving train level I found moderately interesting rather than shit, and secondly, the gimmick of the level moving around the player rather than the opposite in a late level was an interesting inversion. Hardly unheard of but it mixed things up a bit just as I would have otherwise been saying the game was starting to feel a bit stale.
Mechanically, the game is a dream
At the end of the day, there's two things an action platformer has to do right: it has to have good combat mechanics that make use of the platforming, and it has to have good enemies to use them on. In this regard, Bleed succeeds on both counts.
Let's not oversell the game though - this isn't a case of break-out or super-clever mechanics. Rather, these are a combination of genre staples that have both been executed excellently, and put together in a combination that forms a cohesive whole very well. Pared to to it's base essentials, Bleed is a twin-stick side-scroller with a dual weapon system, a time-slowing mechanic, and a triple-jump mechanic. That's ... it, really, other than some meta progression involving unlocking new guns, health upgrades, and additional energy for the time-slowing mechanic, with the score you get during the course of completing the levels.
The weapons have a decent variety, though it's all stuff you've seen before. To be frank, I ended up sticking with the beginning dual pistols, but they're not the only ones and I can't say that the other weapons were superfluous, but rather that they mostly apply to different play styles and ways of wanting to fight than they are anything else. They seem very well-balanced against one another, and there's none that is going to be objectively better than the others, except insofar as dictated by which seems to suit your style best.
That triple-jump is the other main mechanic here, as you're able to essentially navigate very quickly using a succession of quick jumps or charges in a combination of directions, and mastering it (and it's use with the time slow-down mechanic to nail difficult uses) is key to surviving the boss fights at a high level. At first I found it easy to overshoot the jumps and you do really have to be on your game to land it, but after experimenting with the controls and acclimatizing to the jump length I found it flows quite well, especially with the time slow mechanic. What comes out of this is a fluid system of quick and impactful feeling movement coupled with some solid twin-stick shooting mechanics that really is the synergy that carries this game above the average or neutral rating.
Art design and music are on point
The bow on top of the Bleed package are the art design and music, which while not masterpieces perhaps are both executed quite well and work great for the game. A quick gander over the screenshots section will likely tell you whether the art style appeals - a little "twee" for my tastes without much dithering that keeps it sharp at the cost of some of the art in my case - but I can't really deny it's well done. In particular attention has been given to making the enemies and PC stand out from the backgrounds and making the floors of levels obvious, common pitfalls in platformers with more complex pixel graphics. I liked the attention to small details, such as little destructive bits in levels, or the animated casings as Wryn fires her twin pistols at enemies.
Music meanwhile is probably the high point of the game other than the mechanics to the game. As long-time readers will know, I'm a sucker for a good game soundtrack, and while this might not be something I place on my iPhone for daily listening it's nonetheless a well-composed and strongly-themed soundtrack that fits the game well. The sound design is solid as well, appropriate to the 8-bit style while still keeping the various weapons and enemies' sound cues distinct and not turning into a mess of sound channels when it gets busy.