Review: Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond

MattHazardBBnB.jpg Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard, developed by Vicious Cycle – the same team behind the underappreciated PSP game Dead Head Fred — was another classic example of a great concept spoiled by bland, unimaginative gameplay. As gaming parody, it succeeded at being a funny, easygoing romp, and actors Will Arnet and Neil Patrick Harris owned their roles as the aging action hero badass and the stock evil dude, respectively. However, it was ultimately impossible to ignore the fact that the game was an extremely vanilla third-person shooter, and in parodying so many old videogame clichés it wound up suffering from the same exact design flaws it was attempting to poke fun at.

But Matt Hazard is a fake videogame legend you just can’t keep down. General Neutronov has captured Matt’s former 8-bit self, sending Mr. Hazard on a time-traveling mission through his past games in order to save his present and future selves in Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond. Oh yes, my friends…it’s Hazard Time once again!

Due to budgetary restrictions after Eat Lead’s failure – something the developers frequently make fun of throughout this sequel — Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond has been relegated to digital download distribution over PSN and XBLA in the form of a “9-bit” take on classic side-scrolling action games like Contra and Metal Slug. And the new direction is a good one – much better than the first game at any rate.

Once more, parody is Blood Bath and Beyond’s greatest strength – the title alone is a fitting play on “Bed Bath and Beyond.” Some of the humor is lost due to the lack of voice acting (beyond a few heavily recycled in-game one-liners) – reading jokes and jabs at other games in text isn’t as funny as Will Arnet and the rest of the first game’s cast voicing the dialogue – but the level and enemy design parodies are a hoot.

The levels aren’t particularly inspired in terms of layout, but the obvious artistic mimicry of other games is executed well. The 8-stage story mode consists of levels inspired by the underwater utopia of Rapture from BioShock, the pristine, brightly colored cityscapes of Mirror’s Edge, and a couple others that are weird concoctions of multiple games, like one stage that’s a cross between Team Fortress 2 and Mario, and another that’s an even kookier mix of Pokemon, Okami and Shinobi. Vicious Cycle recreated these identifiable worlds in pretty good detail too, using Vicious Engine 2 to produce eye-catching 3D environmental backdrops.

As visually stimulating as the game’s levels can be, Blood Bath and Beyond is very much a vanilla shooter like its predecessor – on second thought, it’s maybe more of a French vanilla since it does have a little extra zing to it. By-the-book run-and-gun shooting is what you get in this game, and though it may not be all that original it does entertain for the ~2 hours it lasts thanks to its fast action, vast arsenal of weapon power-ups, tough retro difficulty and use of comical gore, such as ragdoll death animations, exaggerated blood splatters, and dismembered body parts flying about (and even into) the screen. It’s also a fun co-op game if you have a buddy around – but it’s equally disappointing that there is no support for online play beyond leaderboard score uploading.

The one thing that really sticks in my craw, though, is the counter-intuitive control scheme Vicious Cycle decided to go with. The game controls are functional as is, I just think it would’ve played so much smoother with a two-stick setup like that of Shadow Complex. While I played I kept wanting to move with the left stick and aim with the right since that has become the most natural way to control games like this. But instead the game uses a fairly awkward scheme whereby you simultaneously move and aim with the left stick, yet must hold down L1 or R1 to go stationary so you can aim freely in all directions. I didn’t have a problem with this on the easiest “Wussy” difficulty setting, but when the action got hot and heavy on the “Fuck This Shit!” difficulty this choice of control schemes proved to be ill conceived.

However, I must say that Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond did grow on me the longer I played it. I’ll never quite feel comfortable with the control scheme, but it’s nothing that I couldn’t get used to and that you shouldn’t be able to adapt to, so if you enjoy games like Contra and Metal Slug it’ll be worth your while to at least have a go with the demo version. Unfortunately, the game is fairly shallow in terms of content and replay value (especially with offline-only co-op), so the higher-end $15 price is a tough sell with other better like-genre games to pick from on PSN and XBLA already. But again, there is a demo and I suggest you check it out.

TryIt.jpg

Pros:
+ Good use of parody
+ Fun level designs
+ Solid side-scrolling shooter gameplay
+ Comically over the top gore

Cons:
– Awkward controls
– No online co-op
– Generic audio
– Not much replay value for $15

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3 via PSN, also on Xbox 360 via XBLA
Publisher: D3Publisher
Developer: Vicious Cycle
Release Date: XBLA – 1/6/2010, PSN – 1/7/2010
Genre: Side-scrolling Shooter
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1-2 (offline only)
Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!