Mother Russia Bleeds review impressions

Usually, if a press email includes a phrase like “a guy getting his eyeball actually punched out of his head,” that’s typically enough to pique my interest. In the case of Mother Russia Bleeds from Le Cartel Studio and Devolver Digital, I got that, plus some deliciously gory and downright brutal gameplay trailers and screenshots.

The general premise behind Mother Russia Bleeds feels like something ripped out of a teenaged fan fiction of a hypothetical dream game the marries that pixelated brutality and tone of Hotline Miami with the side-scrolling beat ‘em up gameplay of Streets of Rage. The end result is fairly close to what you’d imagine, even if it ends up feeling a bit shallow and rough around the edges.

In this violent romp, you play as an escaping prisoner in an alternate universe version of the U.S.S.R. As you fight your way across the game, you have to balance your character’s addiction to a special drug that can be used for both healing and boosting your attack speed and power.

The team at Le Cartel Studio mixed equal parts hallucination and grotesque visuals to solidify a sense of confusion and madness. It communicates what can be interpreted as both a visual representation of drug abuse and addiction, as well as an homage to other violent genre classics such as Slaughterhouse.

As a long-time lover of beat ‘em ups and rabid Sega Genesis connoisseur in the 90s, I can confirm that Mother Russia Bleeds looks and feels like an authentic brawler. The retro art style and pumping soundtrack feel ripped straight from Sega’s 16-bit game console, while there is enough polish and flair to remind you it’s still a modern game. The motion blur and screen-shaking from more powerful attacks are particularly satisfying.

While Mother Russia Bleeds does seem like “all style and no substance” at times, the core gameplay loop remains entertaining.

But — and this is a big one — it’s unfortunate that the game doesn’t layer in a bit more complexity as you progress. Aside from your standard light and heavy attacks, throws, slides, jumps, and fallen items or weapons you can pick up, there isn’t much new to see here.

Charging light attacks for increased power, leaching drugs from fallen enemies to refill your syringe, and being able to use your sidestep as a dodge is useful, but there just isn’t enough variety to keep the gameplay fresh beyond the first half of the game.

Cleaning up the streets and decrepit hallways is intense — decapitating enemies with my bare-handed punch is much more satisfying than it has any right to be — but the shock value of pixelated violence loses its luster after a while.

Even though the gore and blood splatters the screen with about as much restraint as candy spewing from a busted pinata, it feels needless after a certain point. Perhaps it’s the lack of impact to my actions, or the woeful absence of substance to the characters, but mindless violence for the sake of mindless violence is a bit hollow, and not, after all, a steady foundation to build a game on.

Fans of side scrolling brawlers like Streets of Rage, Golden Axe, Battletoads, and other similar titles will find a lot to love here, but there isn’t a whole lot going on beneath the entrail-covered surface. Local multiplayer is a great touch, but no online option severely limits the game’s effectiveness as a party game for PC gamers.

From the opening moments, you can tell that Mother Russia Bleeds is a Devolver Digital-published title. That is to say, it’s edgy and full of personality. You won’t really find anything else like this, for better or for worse.