“We created Bloodroots like Tarantino makes movies: it’s a patchwork of many influences and inspirations.”
Nintendo fans first heard of Bloodroots in a minute-long spotlight as part of Nintendo’s Nindies Showcase last spring and now it’s hitting the system on February 28. Starring the revenge-fueled Mr. Wolf, the game is focused on maneuvering around levels and using whatever weapons you can scrounge up to destroy your enemies. The simple, straightforward setup immediately clicks. Bloodroots is vicious and violent, but thanks to a bright art style, the brutality is muted by a cartoony look. The origins, however, are full-on doom and gloom.
“We were mainly inspired by The Revenant,” developer Paper Cult Games’ Co-Founder/Creative Director Raphaël Toulouse told us via email. “The early 19th century setting, right before the classic Western, was not widely overly represented in contemporary media.”
That style fit the gameplay Paper Cult designed as well, which according to Toulouse, was made “like Tarantino makes movies,” patching together a plethora of influences. There’s the clear video game-related inspiration of Hotline Miami, of which Bloodroots shared a swift die/retry mechanic. That helps a lot as my time with the game has been spent being sucked into that quick feedback loop.
The non-obvious gameplay inspiration is Super Mario Bros. 3, which made me scratch my head initially, but Touluse explained it well: “Most of the weapons act as Super Mario Bros 3 costumes. They influence both how you attack, but also how you move around. For example, the sword gives you the ability to dash while you slash enemies, or the ladder gives you a higher jump while offering a tornado style attack. So you need to constantly adapt to your new makeshift weapon every couple of seconds.”
Outside of games, Toulouse mentions Jackie Chan, as his movies are peppered with moments of the hero using everything on hand as a weapon. Bloodroots carries that same spirit, whether it’s a sword or a carrot.
Part of the joy of Bloodroots is its open-ended level design. Enter a level and you’ll have access to multiple weapons to start off your run. Level design was key; Toulouse said half of the eight-person team spent time as solely level designers. With ample choice in mind, the team set out to focus on the concept of a few core routes through levels, though the goal is to, naturally, make the paths not seem so distinct. Even still, each level has a main path, some alternate paths, secret paths, and a combo path. The main path is purposefully straightforward, with branching paths being somewhat obscured. The combo path is designed to be the way to complete each level without breaking combo. Early on, those paths are clear, but deeper into the game, they get more obtuse and challenging to puzzle out.
Challenging player’s expectations was a large part of the design philosophy, allowing choice and experimentation to be at the forefront. “In a sense,” Toulouse explained. “The levels are designed a bit like a skateboarding game: you can always naturally loop back around.”
The whole concept builds on what first comes off as a Hotline Miami imitator, but because of the inspirations found in the bright visuals, the Tarantino-esque aesthetics, the Super Mario Bros. 3 influences, and the very level design, Bloodroots promises to be something bolder than tried and true.
The bold design will also aim to be as accessible as possible. A high score element, complete with leaderboards, is there to drive the hardcore. But Toulouse elaborated that the team paid close attention to the likes of hard-yet-flexible platformer Celeste and Mark Brown (of Game Maker’s Toolkit fame) in regards to making Bloodroots as accessible for as many people. The score mechanics and combo system encourage you to go fast, but if you’re having trouble, you can switch on invincibility or blaze through with no regards for score. There is no difficulty setting, though Paper Cult paid special attention to making sure there was a linear gradation and not a steep cliff. Their goals were to add enemy, level, and weapon variety to increase the challenge, not just waves of enemies.
Outside of the scores, a sense of discovery also pervades Bloodroots. More than 150 weapons are packed in, the majority of which have surprising nuance and clever uses. Toulouse described his current favorite, the bear trap: “You throw it from afar and you get pulled to your victim which is then chump in half right before throwing you in the air. It gives you some insane momentum that makes it possible to traverse huge gaps or climb up cliffs real fast.”
With their pending release on Switch, the team tried to sneak in some subtle Nintendo references, of which they’ll leave as a surprise to players. Though Toulouse floated the idea of a “Cucco’s revenge squad” that, well, I hope wasn’t a gag and is actually in the game somehow.
Bloodroots will be out on Switch before you know it - a release date of February 28 was announced today. During a time of year where Nintendo’s releases have been a little slower, it could be a welcome, albeit violent, respite during the winter.