Matt Hazard, in theory, is meant to be more of a comedic joke than an actual game. The problem with Vicious Cycle's first attempt with the series was that those sentiments rang true in terms of the value of the product. The game was atrocious from a gameplay standpoint and it was more of a technical joke than a comedic one. Vicious Cycle went back to the drawing board and decided to keep things simple this time though and came out with a winner in my book. This time around they managed to not only deliver vocal laughs to the player, but an enjoyable gaming experience as well.
The premise of Blood Bath and Beyond is simple and rooted in the classic gaming world that the game is set in: get from point A to point B and shoot anything that moves in between, especially the really big thing at point B (the end of the level). The game leans heavily on the influence of classic action games from the 1980's like the Contra series and Cabal. It is up to the player to guide the "legendary" gaming hero through 8 different and varying levels, jumping and shooting endless waves of enemies who will come at you from literally every direction. The game plays as simply as it sounds; you can jump, shoot, throw grenades, and get a couple of different guns by collecting various power-ups. That is about as deep as it gets and as deep as it needs to be, they keep it simple and fun. There is no cover system or aggro system to worry about, no leveling up or weapon variations to focus on; you shoot and avoid being shot. End of story.
All along your adventure you will be treated to dialog and commentary that parodies not only other video games in history but the developer's original attempt with a Matt Hazard game as well. This is all done in a tongue and cheek manner and really adds to the light heartedness of the game. It is nice to see that Vicious Cycle is not afraid to laugh at their previous shortcomings in the previous Matt Hazard game as they pick on their selves more than anyone else through the title. A lot of the parodies were reused from the original game, like the Mario Bros. references but they come across better in the 2-dimensional world of Blood, Bath, and Beyond. Sharp eyes will notice parodies and shots at games like Mirror's Edge, Portal, Halo and many others all throughout the game. None of it is ever duplicated and forced onto the player in a repetitive manner, keeping it from getting old and feeling over done. That helps the game feel fresh from start to finish. While some of the sound samples heard throughout the levels get re-used constantly, you will still find yourself smirking at them on the final level.
Also included in the game is a 2 player cooperative mode which allows a friend to join you on the same console (no online play) to partake in the adventure together. It helps to have a friend along for the ride as the action can get overbearing from time to time. The game sometimes sends ridiculous barrages of bullets at the player and makes playing through without dying next to impossible numerous times throughout the game. The overall difficulty of the game is best described as ridiculous. Even on the easiest difficulty setting, you will find yourself using a continue or two on many of the levels. Bringing along a friend helps keep things manageable during these times because they quicker that you can dispatch those bad guys, the better. It also helps that you will have access to unlimited continues; this game is old school, its all about getting through it, no matter how many tries it takes you.
Players will also find their selves taking a break from the monotony of shooting things in order to collect the various collectibles scattered throughout the game. Each level is filled with collectible pachinko coins and satirical box art from Matt Hazard's previous (fictitious) adventures. The box art is viewable in from the options menu in a gallery and the coins are used in a pachinko mini-game that occurs between levels, allowing the player to boost their overall score. Neither feature adds anything major to the game, but they both serve as a nice change of pace to the constant firefights.
Matt Hazard: Blood, Bath, and Beyond is a fun little romp from start to finish. If you like the classic 2-dimensional side scrolling shooters of old, this game will be right up your alley. The title has its shortcomings, such as the difficulty and occasionally lack of indciation on when you can progress past a room, but nothing that really holds it back from being a thoroughly enjoyable ride. Please note though that this isn't one for the kiddies, as even the menu screen(s) drops the f-bomb on gamers. If you want a fun / arcadey romp with no strings attached... this should wet your appetite.
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