Matt Hazard is back on PSN and XBLA, and this time things are gonna get silly.
After the less than warm welcome received by the last Matt Hazard game, Eat Lead, you could understand the developers being a touch apprehensive about the release of a sequel. Although not really a sequel, as this time Vicious Cycle have taken Matt Hazard back into the realms of the 2D side scrolling shooter, it would seem that the developers have taken to heart the negative thoughts on Matt Hazard: Eat Lead. In fact, they have even explained the situation to the games main character and supporting cast. Matt Hazard knows he is in a side scrolling video game, and he is fully aware of the situation regarding Eat Lead. But, as long as he gets to shoot stuff, he really doesn’t seem to care.
Thus, the whole tone for the game is set from the start. Anyone who has seen the recent promotional trailers will know what to expect. The dialogue throughout the game is funny and filled with classic action one-liners. It is pointed out that the budget for this game is lower than before and that the plot may not make that much sense. Over the top shooter action, combined with suitably larger than life enemies, are the way to go.
Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond pays homage to classic video games in a number of ways. The game plays like a retro side scrolling shooter that has been dragged, kicking and screaming, to the present day. There are many similarities to Contra, in the way the game controls. The left stick takes care of the movement and the shooting direction. This may not be to everyones taste, especially with the likes of Shadow Complex showing us how much fun can be had with two sticks, but it works well. Even when it doesn’t work, as the game has enemies attacking from the front and rear of the screen, it still feels right. The press of the left trigger will allow Matt to shoot into the background of the level, and holding down a buffer will allow for more precise shooting, at the cost of not being able to move.
“Hang on a minute, that doesn’t sound so great.” Maybe not, and the bad news does not end there. Take into account the fact that the screen moves along with Matt, but only in the direction that Matt needs to be going, and you will be unable to return to areas and pick up missed item drops and such. Also not to be overlooked are the sometimes dodgy respawn points, that happily let Matt respawn in a place that will provide certain death. These are maybe not conducive of a decent gaming experience.
Or are they? The thing is, these annoying little occurences, along with the slightly flawed controls, make the game feel more authentic in its retro style aspirations. You soon adjust to the controls, once you can come to terms with the fact that this is not Shadow Complex, and you realise that if you don’t pick it up, you can’t have it. For the respawn points, just make sure you don’t die in a precarious position. Matt Hazard: BBB genuinely gives out those moments of sheer frustration that make you want to deposit your controller in the TV screen. This is a feeling that I have not had in a while. But this makes success a much sweeter feeling, along with the joy of not having a broken TV.
Another way that the game slips a wink in the direction of other games, is in the level design. There are eight levels in total, with a lot of reference to games, such as Team Fortress 2 and even Mario that will be instantly recognised by gamers. The levels feature a huge number of enemies and some pretty impressive boss battles, which are guaranteed to keep the action flowing constantly. This is all created on screen with some sumptuous visuals and character animations that make the game look very good, Although perhaps not quite up to the modern standard. However, one does have to wonder if this is the developers way of suggesting that perhaps they did the best they could with their limited budget.
BBB includes a wonderful co-op mode, although sadly the budget did not stretch to taking this online. However, local co-op is a great amount of fun and could be compared (in my mind, at least) to the type of Friday night fun fest that can be had with games like Worms or Alien Breed Evolution. It is simple, easy to get into and not too serious.
Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond may not be the greatest game ever made. In fact, it is flawed. But the game knows that it is not perfect and will happily tell you so. Maybe the more youthful gamers will not understand the retro appeal, but I have enjoyed being taken back to a time when a games imperfections were seen as a challenge, not something to complain about. Its just a bit of fun, don’t take it so seriously.