Mother Russia Bleeds Mixes Beat-‘Em-Up Action With Nightmare Visuals

When I say that I love the beat-'em-up genre, I truly mean it. I grew up playing the classics on the Genesis and SNES, and I always feel a bit down knowing that the retro brawlers of the past aren't something you see too often today. Thankfully, the developers at Le Cartel and their publisher Devolver Digital have been hard at work on this throwback to classic action. I've had my eye on this game for some time, but now Mother Russia Bleeds is finally near its release this month.

Set in an alternate 1980s Soviet Union, four vagabonds are imprisoned and forced to endure torture and experiments conducted by a shadowy Soviet Organization. After making their escape, the group finds that the drugs they've been administered has given them regenerative and combat-boosting attributes, and they embark on a mission to avenge themselves upon the sinister outfit. But the organization's ties go much deeper, and they eventually uncover a seedy world underneath the Motherland that has its hooks in all facets of Russian society.

Picking from the four starting characters, you'll brawl through the dirty and crime-infested streets of the Soviet Union, to the dark and disgusting nightclubs that house perverts and other shady figures controlling the city. In addition to their fighting prowess, the brawlers have gotten a taste for the combat drugs they've been administered. Defeated foes can be drained of the same drug from their bodies, which will recharge your syringe to heal yourself or enter a frenzied state which boosts offensive powers.

While the entire game can be completed solo, co-op play is a big focus for the developers, and they've gone all out with MRB. Up to four players locally and online can work together during the campaign, which ratchets up the action even further. In addition to the story mode, Survival Mode and Boss Rush Mode are also available, allowing even more time spent outside the main game.

While Mother Russia Bleeds is a retro title that pays homage to games like Streets of Rage and Final Fight, its style and tone is one entirely of its own. This is a very dark and grotesque game, and there's a surprising amount of gross-outs and shock moments throughout. It's as if the fighters from Streets of Rage found themselves in the morbid and ultra-violent setting of Hotline Miami.

Despite the dark tone, Mother Russia Bleeds never quite takes itself too seriously. For instance, one character's taunt has him toss his own feces at enemy players. It's gross, but oddly amusing—which is the best way I can describe this title. It's a very odd and trippy brawl through a nightmare gallery of society's biggest scumbags and deviants. And you're the one delivering vengeance and a beating to every single one of them.

I first played this title back at E3 2015, and while I felt there was a solid concept then, I was little let down by the pace and sluggishness of the controls. Thankfully, the developers have tightened things considerably, and it's far more smooth and precise than it was before. Beat-'em-ups are my favorite genre of games, and it's also one that needs to handled the right way. Good news is that developers are on the right track. It's definitely encouraging to see that there are those keeping that brawler fire lit. Mother Russia Bleeds is definitely looking to rekindle that same fire and energy from the classics of the retro era.

Look for Mother Russia Bleeds to blooden the streets for PC and PS4 some time in 2016.