A long time ago (okay, a year ago), I had some hands-on experience with Mother Russia Bleeds. It impressed me as a modern iteration of the classic beat ‘em up genre, but that was hardly a full experience considering I only saw a couple levels. Now comes the full release in its head-smashing and drug-using glory, pixelated gore and all.

To cover the basics: Mother Russia Bleeds is a 2D side-scrolling beat ‘em up, playable alone (bot assistance optional) or in co-op mode of up to 4 people. Mother Russia Bleeds also sports the retro look, with full on 8-bit graphics appeal which does absolutely nothing to diminish the graphic brutality of the game’s violence. This is not a game you play with your kids, sensitive friends, when any decent people are in the room, or if you have any qualms about gouging out eyeballs.

Growing up in the 90’s, Mother Russia Bleeds immediately tickles that nostalgia spot – and herein perhaps lies a problem. While it is released in 2016, Mother Russia Bleeds feels exactly like a 90’s classic beat ‘em up – it is a very faithful reproduction, but it’s so accurate that it even reproduces the parts we’d all like to forget.

For example, if you want to hit something, you need to be on the same exact “line” as your target. Much younger me, back in the 90’s, was reasonably aggravated by it. Older, more mature me is still very aggravated by it – especially when moving around is key to surviving the sometimes hectic mess going on-screen. The enemy mechanics have also been carbon-copied pretty much straight up from an old classic. You have your regular guys, your fast jumpy guys, your hulking big slow guys and your incredibly unfair, take-50-punches-to-beat guys that, again, got 90’s me a stern look for saying bad words at the screen.

Mother Russia Bleeds review

What really sets Mother Russia Bleeds apart is the backdrop and even the story. Sure, this isn’t your story-driven RPG experience, but there’s a decent enough story to the game; it’s just a shame that everything is presented old-school, by walls of texts inside small bubbles of a few lines each. It’s just another spot where a bit of modernization would go a long way, maybe even some voice acting.

The environments where the action happens are exceptional. Even in 8-bit, the zones look exactly as they should – from a dank prison cell, to a sewer, to the streets and clubs of Moscow. The detailing on the characters, both player and enemy, is outstanding. Same goes for the game’s sounds, they just fit right in. I found myself enjoying the effects a lot, from the bone-shattering crunch of a powerful elbow blow, to the dull thud of a sledgehammer hitting brick.

Mother Russia Bleeds review

The main hero of the story is actually four heroes – different misfits loosely held together by a common enemy. As befitting, they each have different stats and animation, adding to the replay value some. Of course, “Nekro”, aka “The Mystery Drug”, also plays a major role as both a plot device and a powerup bundled together: you gather Nekro from fallen enemies and you inject yourself with it to either restore health or go into a drug-fueled frenzy which unlocks some brutal finishers for you to enjoy.

My biggest challenge in playing Mother Russia Bleeds, apart from the few unfair encounters and bosses, was trying to guess the game’s target audience. Clearly aimed at 90’s kids with nostalgia, it seems to me that too much effort went into reproducing the old experience and not enough into creating something fresh and new. When it comes down to it, that is what holds the game back from being really awesome – it’s too much of a homage to days gone by to really be more than average.

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