Vicious Cycle Software is aware that 2009's "Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard" wasn't a good game. Overt references to the critical reception and development of the title smothers "Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond" like a wool blanket on a steamy afternoon. And while there is much to be said about just how bad "Eat Lead" was, it should be noted that "Blood Bath and Beyond" is much different and in some respects, a much improved game over its predecessor.
In "Blood Bath and Beyond," Vicious Cycle opted to throw Matt Hazard into the 2D shooter space and with a wink and a nod to their previous winks and nods about the vaunted Matt Hazard's previous games (which never existed). You'll play as Hazard as he battles through fake videogame lore against an antagonist with plans to kill Hazard in the 8-bit era before his high-def existence begins. A touch of "Shadow Complex" mixed with the weapon upgrade system of "R-Type," and the rigid left-to-right action of "Super Mario Bros," this latest -- and probably last -- "Hazard" game is an amalgamation of great side-scrolling games and tongue-in-cheek industry humor.
It's a Witty Game
The first taste of referential humor is presented within seconds as Hazard and a game server operator text-speak to each other. The writers make it plain that "Blood Bath and Beyond" is low budget, and in addition to lacking the pyrotechnics of a blockbuster, Will Arnett's voice can't be afforded.
There's a lot light-heartedness expressed in the design. You'll fight in a level called "Booty Bay," somewhat reprising the role of "Dick Cutlass," and you'll traverse the vibrant rooftops of "Mirror's Edge," complete with bright red pipes and blue ladders. The game even fits in riffs on "Super Mario Bros.," "Team Fortress 2," and "Back to the Future III."
The narrative sets up the fact that Hazard traverses eight different locales. And while the explanation is convoluted, the result is crystal clear: you won't be seeing much of the same. "Blood Bath and Beyond" starts on a modern cruise ship, moves to a tropical paradise, stops for a detour in Japan, and closes on the Earth's only natural satellite, the moon.
Staying true to side-scrolling convention, the only thing you can do in "Blood Bath and Beyond" is kill. This translates to you being nothing more than a turret except for the occasions in which the game throws out a few platforms to hurdle. Killing isn't easy though -- enemies drop from all directions, forcing you to aim and fire all over the place with the RB and X buttons.
It doesn't sound difficult, but the lack of an on-the-fly right-stick attack scheme means there's a lot of button tapping and an equal amount of standing still and being obliterated by grenade shells, throwing stars, and bullets.
Hazard comes equipped with a boring one-shot rifle. Remedying this are the constant weapon upgrade drops. But Hazard can only hold one weapon at a time, so options are limited. I hated the fact that I couldn't keep the weapons I liked, as I was constantly running over drops I didn't want.
"Blood Bath and Beyond" isn't a generous game when it comes to re-spawning. It will drop you anywhere, usually right next to whatever just killed you. Bummer.
As ridiculous as the gargantuan bosses in the game are, there's nothing funny about them when the confrontation begins. They have cheap attacks and cheap behaviors that kill on a dime and endlessly frustrate.
This Game is Hard
You know you're in for it when one of the difficulty modes is in a game is called "F*** This S***," but even the "Wussy" difficulty in "Blood Bath and Beyond" is rough. Hazard can absorb five or six shots before dying, and in the bullet hell that becomes the game's experience, that isn't many.
"Eat Lead" owners might get a kick out of "Blood Bath and Beyond," but they won't get the satisfaction owed to them by Vicious Cycle. There's not much to this particular "Hazard" title. I felt short-changed by Hazard's rigid movement, the combat, and, in particular, the boss battles. And while the game is funny, its lack of "High" points certainly isn't.