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Skipping Bleed 2 is a crime so don't do that!. Bleed 2 is an arcade game for the modern age, and the first lesson it demonstrates from arcade games is this: not everything needs exposition. You are Wryn, a girl with purple hair. You have guns. You have a sword. There’s a big spaceship outside your apartment raining down hellfire, and you’re clearly the person best equipped to deal with it, so off you go. Using a lo-fi aesthetic, it managed to capture the best action parts of The Matrix by way of Contra, becoming an impulsively replayable game centered around mastering the stages in as stylish a fashion as possible. Once this is done, kick the difficulty up a notch and try again. The controls are strictly twin-sticks and triggers, one of the clearest signs that a game is going to have the pace of a berserk cat on a polished tiled floor, and sure enough, as soon as you set off it becomes clear that you wouldn’t want to touch the face buttons even if they did have some functionality.

The previous game left off with Wryn, the heroine, succeeding in defeating the other heroes of the world, and now sitting as the sole protector. What is a hero without a villain, though? That is what the invasion led by baddie Valentine hopes to find out. While wiling away her free time playing videogames, the building shakes. Running outside to see the trouble, the perpetually smiling Wryn discovers a mother ship spilling invaders into her city. With rapid firing twin pistols in hand, the slaughter of evil begins. For those who haven’t played the original, that should be fixed (There is NO REASON for you to NOT have played the first game!).

Using a twin stick controller (more on that later), the left stick moves, and the right shoots endlessly. The right trigger allows for triple jumps, while the left slows down time based on a meter under the health bar. There is no complexity to the basic mechanics. No pick ups, new abilities, nor overly obscure details to uncover in order to succeed at this game. This distillation of design only serves to heighten the core of what makes the Bleedseries so good. You have a steerable air-dodge that can be activated up to three times per jump, and being able to carve graceful arcs through the air as you steer around oncoming attacks is so immensely freeing that it’s well worth the small period of adjustment. It’s this kind of finely-tuned movement that demonstrates the second lesson to be learned from arcade games: feel is critical, and feel is in the fine details. Bleed 2 is a game that feels like it’s been quietly, gently polished for years, like a classic roadster in an English countryside shed. Every inch of the visual design has been made immediately readable, yet every animation has a punch to it. Wryn’s responsiveness and momentum are delicately balanced, ensuring that no matter how fast you go, you’re never out of control. Every level flows seamlessly from encounter to boss to encounter, never wasting your time but still leaving moments here and there to breathe. It feels so fundamentally right, and that’s a luxury you don’t get often.

The additions to the sequel maintain that simplicity while still offering plenty of new ways to engage with the action. Arguably the biggest comes in the form of Wryn’s katana that can reflect bullets with a flick of the right stick. Before unlocking additional weapons, only the purple attacks can be knocked back, meaning the yellow will still take a chunk off of the health meter. When possible, it’s best to take advantage of this ability. With bosses in particular, the reflected shots seem to do much more damage than the projectiles that Wryn is packing. We also now have co-op in our hands. Something this good should not be played alone. There may be some who will decry the game’s length. The first completion on normal will take less than an hour, factoring in restarts at the rather generous checkpoints (before which, Wryn might advise that “You pressed the wrong button). If that’s all the purchaser plays, they are doing themselves a disservice. This is a game built to be mastered. The idea is to perfect the game to the point that the player can clear the game in one life in arcade mode on each of the various difficulties. Some could also balk at Bleed 2‘s graphical direction. The game is heavily influenced by retro titles, which is nothing new in the age of indie games. Screenshots don’t really do the game justice, though. In motion, it’s easy to see the craftsmanship that went into the animation as Wryn twists though the air in slow motion to bring her pistols to bear on a violently barfing cat invader.

You can clearly see that a lot of effort was put into making Bleed 2 as polished and bug free as it is and that deserves recognition. If you’re really into speedrunning hardcore games, you’ll probably get your money’s worth here. Bleed features a great soundtrack by Jukio Kallio, the mind behind other great soundtracks such as Nuclear Throne and Luftrausers. If you’re looking for a short definition of what it really is, Bleed is a game best described as a bullet hell platformer shoot ’em up. Bleed 2 is a lovely little slice of modernized run and gun side-scrolling pandemonium that evokes the likes of Contra without paying needless lip service to its heritage. Good stuff. Great Stuff!

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