Chad and Jared Moldenhauer - the creators of Cuphead - defined Bleed 2 as a game that’s, “all killer, no-filler.” After running through the pulse-pounding one-hour campaign, this couldn’t be a more apt description. Bleed 2 is a game that knows exactly what it wants to do and cuts out everything that doesn’t line up with that vision. The final product is a tight, focused experience that absolutely nails its arcade aspirations, although it may not appeal to all players.
Bleed 2 picks up right where Bleed left off; Wryn has successfully killed off all the other heroes in the world, but her actions had an unintended consequence. Now, an alien horde threatens the earth, and as its sole hero, Wryn must rise to the occasion and fight back, occasionally aided by a mysterious yellow-haired man. As you’d probably expect, the narrative is just about as thin as it gets, but the writing is nonetheless delightfully humorous and self-aware, mostly delivered in news report bits between levels by a living flower person named Plucky.
Gameplay takes the shape of a twin-stick shooter with platformer elements mixed in. Pushing the right stick in any direction from a neutral position will cause Wryn to swipe with her katana, then pull out her guns and fire an endless stream of bullets as long as you hold the stick. The right trigger makes Wryn jump, and tapping it again in the air will cause her to dash in whatever direction you wish. This can be done up to three times before touching the ground, and you’ll find yourself often using all three dashes, especially when battling later bosses. The left trigger enables you to slow down time temporarily - at the cost of a constantly refilling energy bar - and this proves to be an essential tool in survival. This somewhat unconventional control scheme takes some getting used to, but one quickly realizes that the high-intensity action demands it.
Bleed 2 consists of seven action packed levels, filled with set-piece after set-piece. Whether you’re running away from a giant excavator while digging your own route with a stream of bullets or fighting a giant robot in the sky while running across the rockets it fires, Bleed 2 never fails to surprise and impress with its spectacle. Even so, the parts in between the boss fights tend to be a little bland and homogeneous, as you cut your way through fodder enemies and platform through easy obstacles. These interludes are still a welcome inclusion, however, as they’re short and mostly act as a way of breaking things up a bit before the next big battle.
You can choose between four difficulty levels, but the game is at its best when things are tough as nails. Wryn can use her katana to reflect bullets that match her hair color, and when this is coupled with the air dashing and time manipulation, it makes for a delightfully fluid gameplay flow that favors boldness and instinct. Your performance on each stage is tracked by a style meter in the top corner, and completion of a level results in you being graded based on style, time, and damage taken. Considering that each level takes around ten minutes to beat, replay value is highly encouraged, and it can be greatly satisfying (though difficult) to pull off a perfect run of a stage and increase your rank. Suffice to say, perfectionists will find plenty to love here, as the tight gameplay and fair difficulty lead to a fun and hard to master experience.
Though the core experience consists of a campaign that takes about an hour to beat, there’s much more to it for those that dig in deeper. Along with the fact that you can always have a buddy join in for a co-op session, beating the game on harder difficulties unlocks new weapons and abilities to replace your guns, katana, and air dash, while also unlocking new playable characters with their own unique gameplay styles. On top of this, there’s an arcade mode that tasks you with running through the whole campaign on one life, an endless mode that throws random enemies and bosses at you in rapid-fire succession, and a challenge mode that lets you pick any three bosses to take on simultaneously.
Through all of this, you can activate mutators that let you further tweak the experience to your liking, such as by adding infinite time control powers or showing enemy and projectile hitboxes. Bleed 2 may have a small amount of content from the raw perspective of quantity, but this is a game that’s designed to be played over and over in dozens of different ways.
On the presentation side of things, Bleed 2 does a decent job of matching the blistering pace of its gameplay. Graphics are drawn in a colorful, comic book-like style, and animations are both fluid and lively. It may seem a little basic in some respects, such as the rather generic fodder enemy designs, but there’s enough charm to the overall design that this won’t prove to be overly bothersome. The soundtrack is mostly comprised of a series of hard rock tracks, characterized by high-tempo, powerful riffs, which adequately accompany the action on screen. It all tends to blend together, but the music exists to help set the tone, and it succeeds in this respect.
Bleed 2 is a game that prides itself on giving the player a memorable and distilled experience that gets at the heart of what makes arcade games great. Those looking for a deep well of diverse content will find themselves dissatisfied, but those looking for a game about raw, fun gameplay will find more than enough satisfaction in the nearly endless options for replayability. We’d give Bleed 2 a strong recommendation; it combines charming presentation and tight mechanics to provide an experience that’s as focused as it is enjoyable.