He is back again... was he even gone the last time?
Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond marks the re-re-return of past gaming hero Matt Hazard (who else?) to the scene. Previously, he starred in Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard, a not-so-beloved third-person shooter that thrived on making fun of established video game antics, while achieving only the extremely mediocre in the process.
[image1]Blood Bath and Beyond (BBB) instead plays a lot like Shadow Complex. Gameplay is locked on a 2D plane, with a number cases where Matt shoots into the background, what some people call "2.5D". I stated how I disliked this before, and this game only makes me dislike it further. There's a lot of it here, much more than in Shadow Complex.
Anyway, as in classic side-scrolling shooters like Contra, you get a chance to pick up weapon upgrades, like lasers, missiles, and machine guns, but in the end, the default gun is just as good (though it requires a bit more button smashing than the rest).
BBB once again tries to leave its mark on cult and video game references. Right from the start, the self-deprecating humor is made apparent when hero Matt Hazard and his colleague label the past Matt Hazard adventure a "bargain bin" game. The story, while not the most Shakespearean of novels, carries this sense of humor throughout: The main villain captures Matt's 8-bit past self and always manages to escape in just the nick of time at the end of every level.
Each level in Matt Hazard carries a unique motif, poking fun at a certain game genre or cultural style. In one case, you're in a desert fighting cowboys, then out of nowhere, you have to run Super Mario Bros' World 1-1 stage, complete with the secret pipe trick. Then you arrive at a train that powers a DeLorean lookalike, a la Back to the Future III, which serves as the escape vehicle for the villain.
[image2]Situations like these are just the tip of the humor iceberg in BBB. No, they don't make sense and sometimes feel like a crutch instead of actually being creative, but they manage charm you by being downright wacky. On the other hand, one stage that tries to be an homage to Lunar Lander is torture to play through and feels extremely out of place.
D3 also manages to highlight the humor through Havok, the now famous physics engine, by using an extreme ragdoll effect when enemies die. Not only do they fly all over the screen when killed, even in front of the screen like in Turtles in Time. Also, between stages, you are challenged to a game of pachinko using enemy corpses as balls in increasingly crazier tables in order to boost your score.
Controlling Matt Hazard is complicated in spots, due to how the controls are mapped to the controller. Instead of taking a dual stick approach, the developers decided to add another button press when you're shooting in a specific direction, forcing you to stop and aim. In the manic pace of Blood Bath and Beyond, this proves to be more of an annoyance than an advantage.
You'll be doing a lot of precise shooting too, since most of the boss battles have very specific weak spots. Enemies tend to take a lot of bullets to die, even on the easiest difficulty, making boss battles a tad too long. In some sections of the game, you are even required to finish off all enemy objects on the screen before moving on, to the smallest of background turrets or hidden soldiers, slowing the pace of the game considerably.
[image3]The game sports a co-op feature for the story mode in local single-screen mode. It's not extremely long, but it would have been a fun alternative to share levels with a friend online. Even so, local co-op is enjoyable, humorous in its own right, and actually encourages cooperation. The second player has plenty of unique lines to complement Matt's, which the more dedicated player is bound to appreciate replaying the game in order to find all of the hidden collectibles and aim for some of the more devious perfect run Achievements.
Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond certainly isn't the best side-scrolling shooter around, but it tries its best to make up for that fact with self-deprecating humor and plentiful gaming references. Happily for D3, they don't hit the brick wall face first like they did with Eat Lead, and even if they admit in their own game that they probably won't get to make another one, Blood Bath and Beyond is a much better way for a dying pseudo-golden age hero to go out than any flashy, annoying third-person shooter will ever be.