Bloodroots Review

I play a lot of video games, but when i’m not gaming I do have a day job: I teach public speaking at the collegiate level. One of the types of speeches that I teach is impromptu. Certainly terrifying to those with speech anxiety, impromptu speeches are given with little preparation and rely on a speaker’s instinct and gut reactions. The speech won’t be perfect, but given the circumstances, they are an efficient way of communicating a message. 

The traits of an impromptu speech were stuck in my mind while recently playing through the game Bloodroots. In it you help Mr. Wolf exact his revenge by tearing through stages, picking up anything you can use as a weapon and improvising along the way. The game was designed by Canadian developers Paper Cult, and was released on February 28th for the Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, and the Epic Games Store.  

The world is indeed your weapon in Bloodroots (Credit: Paper Cult Games)

There are obvious comparisons to make between Bloodroots and Hotline Miami. The fast-paced action is very similar, having you carve your way through sections of a level filled with enemies and quickly swapping out weapons as you kill. You can use swords and axes sure, but you can also use ladders, fence posts, and even carrots! Your character dies in one hit, and a quick reload is all that stands in your way before you try again. Perfect the area by defeating all of the enemies and you get to move on.  

Where Bloodroots shines is in the level design, giving players plenty of freedom in how they approach each section of every stage. There are no random weapon drops or enemy spawns, so getting a lay of the land is crucial as you figure out the best way to tackle every challenge. Multiple routes, buildings and cliffs to provide elevation, and an abundance of weapons give the game levels a unique feel which keeps evolving as you play. I normally groan a bit when I see ice used in video games, but I liked the added challenge as I tried to weave my way through the soon-to-be corpses.

The art is stylish and a bit gory (Credit: Paper Cult Games)

While you are running your way through the varied levels, be sure to slow down from time to time to appreciate the clean art style. This definitely isn’t 80’s neon and pixel, but a smooth looking game fit for 2020. The story is fairly straightforward, and pinning your actions on “revenge” helps explain Mr. Wolf’s willingness to slaughter so many people, while not really providing a lot of ground to challenge his motivations beyond calling the main characters “Beasts”. 

Once teaching you the controls, Bloodroots takes off the training wheels pretty quickly. The first few enemies you face are basically punching bags dressed up as humans, but they build up from there. Some enemies take two hits to defeat, which can be tough if you have a weapon that you can only use once or one that’s about to break. Some enemies cannot be killed with a melee weapon, others are immune to ranged damage. Some are gunners, shooting at you from a distance, some use area of effect attacks, or simply spin at you. Tackle each one individually, or cleave through several at a time. But don’t stop moving if there are bad guys near, or else you will die.

Use whatever you find to kill your enemies. (Credit: Paper Cult Games)

For the most part, I felt like Bloodroots’ difficulty curve was pretty accurate to continually challenge me as I progressed through the game. Unfortunately, there were certainly a few frustrating parts that I described to my dog as “bullshitty sections.” I know, not the kindest of terms, but only a small section of the game felt a bit cheap, including a platforming section that I wasn’t prepared for in Act 2. 

At times, there are so many items on the ground that it’s pretty tough to pick up the one you want. Specifically, some ranged weapons require you to reload with ammo like a bow and arrow or nerf gun. For some reason Mr. Wolf prioritized other weapons instead of refilling the ammo and even after dropping an item a ways away, he would snap jump to a weapon I didn’t want. However, pulling off a string of bow and arrow kills, it’s extremely satisfying. Being able to pull the arrows out of the air and seamlessly fire into the next enemy feels great. 

On top of the action, Bloodroots’ Beasts all wear different animal hats, which reminds me a lot of Hotline Miami’s animal masks. You can also unlock new hats as you progress through the game, which give you a slight power boost like a dash punch or starting an area with a gun. However, the hat powers are only available when replaying a previous level, so the game sets itself apart a bit here. 

I didn’t get a lot of “S” rankings, but I’ll take Top 5 in the world for one stage.

Bloodroots’ offers a lot of replayability since you earn points for every stage based on a set of factors including the variety of weapons you used, how mobile you were, and how well you maintained your combo of kills. I don’t think I’ll go back to replay too many of the stages, but it sets up completionists with a tangible target: hitting an S ranking on every stage. There are also collectible hidden wolves to pet and additional animal hats to earn, giving you something more to chase once the story is finished. 

I had a blast with Bloodroots, and if what I have described sounds interesting, it’s absolutely worth the $20. You don’t have to be a good impromptu speaker to excel at Bloodroots, but trusting your instincts will help you improvise your way through a challenging and fun game.  

Note: I was provided a review code of Bloodroots for PC.

It’s Never Too Late: Snake Eater Perfects the Metal Gear Solid Recipe

As I make continued progress in playing through the Metal Gear Solid series, I must admit that the third entry was the game I was looking forward to the most. Like MGS2, I bought Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater as a freshman in college for the Playstation 2. Unlike MGS2, my 18-year self was unable to finish the game after getting frustrated with the difficulty. Seeing this series playthrough as a way to right my wrong, I went into Snake Eater with a lot of anticipation. 

I actually finished Sons of Liberty back in January, it just took a little while to articulate my thoughts on the game. To be perfectly honest, I also finished Snake Eater in January, but the “It’s Never Too Late” series isn’t so much about when you play a game, it’s about the enjoyment you get from the experience. Let me tell you: Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater was a fantastic experience. 

Traveling Back in Time

Snake Eater bottles up the essence of the Metal Gear Solid series and hops in a DeLorean back to 1964. Solid Snake doesn’t exist back then, but the legendary soldier he was cloned from, Big Boss, does. But in 1964 Big Boss doesn’t have that title yet, he’s just called Naked Snake and is on the hunt for his defected mentor The Boss. That’s right, Big Boss and The Boss are different, but the game actually does a great job explaining the title and how it gets passed on. 

The story is much more straightforward than Sons of Liberty. America’s top agent/soldier The Boss has defected to Russia and is aiding a renegade group wanting to overthrow Nikita Khrushchev using a nuclear-capable tank named Shagohod. Getting to The Boss isn’t easy, as Snake needs to fight his way through the elite soldiers of the Cobra Unit while behind enemy lines. The parallels between Shagohod and Metal Gear are easy to spot, but setting the game during the Cold War adds a new level of desperation to Snake’s mission.

Back in the 1960’s, the Soliton radar didn’t exist, meaning Snake has to make do with a basic Motion Detector and Anti-Personnel Sensor. To add to the technological gaps, these devices use a battery, meaning they can’t be equipped 100% of the time without draining their charge. At first, I missed the radar showing me enemy positions and their field of view. But once I realized how reliant I had been on it for sneaking around, I let go and used the most basic form of tech out there: my eyes. It made sneaking around so much more tense, and fulfilling when I was able to pull it off.

Blending in and Eating Snakes

So what’s the best way to sneak around without your trusty radar? Well your first step is to blend in, and Snake Eater has you covered. This installment added wearable camouflage and face paint that could be changed by pausing the game, allowing you to become one with your environment. Whether you are trudging through a swamp, climbing up a mountain, crawling through the jungle, and sneaking through a building, there’s a camo set for your situation. Put on the correct clothes for your environment and your camoflauge % goes up, which makes it harder for enemy guards to spot you. 

I don’t think I personally saw a difference between 75% and 95% camo index in terms of gameplay, but I also played the game on Normal difficulty. However, the camo makes a lot of sense thematically, and certainly ratchets up the intensity when a guard is mere steps away but can’t see you. Sure, it doesn’t make a lot of sense that Snake would be carrying so many sets of clothes, but you’ll have to suspend your disbelief in the same way that Snake can carry somewhere around two dozen weapons at the same time. 

Along with camouflage, Snake Eater adds a new mechanic and gauge to keep track of: stamina. Naked Snake is dropped into the jungle with minimal supplies, meaning he not only has to acquire weapons on site, but sustenance as well. This is where the game earns its name: Snake Eater has you eating snakes and other animals, plants, and food left behind by enemy soldiers to restore your stamina gauge. You’ll want to keep the stamina gauge up because it helps restore your life gauge over time, and a growling stomach could even alert that pesky guard you want to sneak past. This felt like a much better health system than the previous two games where you just needed to pull out a ration mid-battle to recover your life. 

Killing snakes and harvesting mushrooms from the jungle floor is easy enough, but Naked Snake doesn’t like the taste of everything you feed him. Give him enough food that he finds nasty and he’ll throw up or even get food poisoning, which leads to another new mechanic in Metal Gear Solid 3, managing illnesses and injuries. Just like camouflage and food, you can access the ability to cure Snake through the pause menu. I really enjoyed patching up bullet wounds and burns from fights, but the game did give me a few too many medical supplies, so I never felt the sting of an untreated wound. 

Ending the Cobra Unit

After some disappointing boss battles in Sons of Liberty, Kojima crafted some excellent duels in Snake Eater. Taking on all of the members of the Cobra Unit was a lot of fun, and there was a ton of variety to the encounters as well. While easier than their Metal Gear Solid counterparts, I feel like this entry’s bosses echoed the creativity found in the first game. 

Going back to the stamina bar being introduced in this game, the oldest member of the Cobra Unit actually fights Snake in a battle of stamina rather than health. The End is a legendary sniper, but uses tranquilizer darts to whittle down Snake and plays a game of hide-and-sneak by camouflaging himself throughout three different sections of the map. This fight was intense in a much different way, taking away the high energy fight and replacing it with the fear of not quite knowing where you are being hunted from. This fight was hands down my favorite moment of the Metal Gear Solid series so far. 

The End also brought up a different way of tackling boss fights to me: neutralizing them in a non-lethal manner instead of killing them. Once I realized he was only trying to knock out my stamina, I swapped over to only hitting him with my own tranquilizer gun. Unfortunately, I missed out on grabbing the reward for the non-lethal takedown, but I love the fact that you can choose that option. It’s something that stuck with me for Metal Gear Solid 4

There were times when I thought Normal difficulty was a bit too easy. I took down Revolver Ocelot, The Pain, The End, and The Fear on the first attempt. I had to replay The Sorrow once because I didn’t realize I needed to use my self-revive pill, and The Boss took two attempts as well. However, The Fury was aptly named, as the pyromaniac caused a lot of frustration as I fought him. Similar to Metal Gear Solid, I enjoyed experimenting with my limited technology and weapons to see what worked best to tackle each foe. 

Kojima Gets Obsessed 

I didn’t like how obsessed the game was with CQC (Close Quarters Combat), which basically meant you can use your knife while you have certain weapons equipped. To me, they mention it at too many different points of the game, and it showed me that Kojima gets fixated at times on small aspects that he finds really cool. You can see this early on when EVA gives Snake his first two guns in the Snake Eater mission and he instantly (and feverishly) whittles the handle down on his gun so he can use it in CQC. It just seemed like such a weird reaction after gushing over the custom nature of the gun he’s handed. 

Although Big Boss and Snake had developed CQC together, it’s a good thing you aren’t forced to take her down using it. With his numerous failed attempts to disarm or fight Big Boss in cinematics, it would have felt weird to suddenly best her in close quarters combat. It didn’t stop him from trying, and the obsession stuck out throughout. This fixation over a concept is something I noticed in MGS4 as well, so I’ll cover more on it next time. 

Speaking of EVA, her outfit was of course, ridiculous. Others have written about Hideo Kojima’s disappointing history regarding female characters, and EVA really turns the corner in a problematic way. Beyond her, I’m not sure what caused the cesarean section scar The Boss has to reach all the way to her collar bone, and while I understand the need to show the snake-like shape of the scar, it seemed so odd for her to reveal so much of her chest right before she fights Snake to death. 

This cutscene prior to fighting The Boss felt a little out of place. Her monologue just stuck out when you remembered that a military strike was on its way to obliterating the both of you. However, Snake Eater’s cutscenes were very toned and trimmed down compared to Sons of Liberty, and I very much appreciated it.  

Final Thoughts

For some reason the younger version of Revolver Ocelot just never clicked for me. He mostly felt like a tool throughout, and I’m glad Snake was able to outwit him so easily. At least seeing his backstory helped establish some of his motivations for earlier entries, which happen to be set in the future. 

I also felt like the game started to morph into more of an action movie with the last hour or two once the escape sequence began on EVA’s motorcycle. This genre shift is even more present in Metal Gear Solid 4, and while I welcomed the change near the end of this game, I didn’t love the shift during Guns of the Patriots

Despite a few missteps, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is my favorite game of the series so far. Even though I didn’t get around to finishing the game until it passed its 15 year anniversary, I truly believe that it’s never too late to fall in love with the experience.