Review – Mother Russia Bleeds

There are very few games that have managed to grab my attention due to their depiction of violence or any other strong imagery. Off the top of my head, I can think of the torture scene in Grand Theft Auto V and the prologue from the Last of Us. No, Agony doesn’t count, as that felt more like a joke made by an edgy teenage Metal-head. Then there’s Mother Russia Bleeds. Coming from Le Cartel Studios, as well as no one else other than Devolver Digital, this is one of the goriest, dreariest, and most unapologetic games I’ve ever seen, and it’s all done in pixel art. Thankfully enough, this is also one heck of a fun beat ’em up!


Let the bodies hit the floor, let the bodies hit the floor…

Mother Russia Bleeds is set in a weird depiction of Soviet Russia in the 80’s. You take control of a group of punks of Romani descent. They are kidnapped by a mysterious group and experimented as human guinea pigs for a weird hallucinogen drug for a while, until you finally snap back to (somewhat) full consciousness and start beating up everything that moves in order to get away from that underground prison. From that, things get even weirder and then proceed to get even weirder. Just when you thought you’ve seen enough, it gets even more bizarre.

Make no mistake, Mother Russia Bleeds is grim. Not only are your playable characters part of one of the most neglected demographics in Europe, but you’re constantly using hard drugs in order to withstand attacks and increase your strength for a few moments, at the cost of your perception of reality. Blood is everywhere, teeth fly around whenever you use a baseball bat on someone’s mouth, you can one-hit KO enemies by shoving a knife up their guts, you can beat up animals, and so on. The fact that this can be seen as ultra-violent even on a sometimes average-at-best pixel art style, speaks wonders about the game.


Punching each other to death is this game’s equivalent to Crossfit.

Keep in mind that this is a beat ’em up and it’s a good one at that. Taking inspiration mainly from Streets of Rage, you don’t have that many combos, but your attacks can pack a wallop. You can perform quick punches, kicks, slide attacks, jump attacks, as well as use melee weapons and hold down the punch button for a brutal, sometimes fatal blow (this is when teeth fly around, by the way). The developers have also included some neat motion blur effects whenever you perform stronger moves, making them look even more impactful and aggressive. You can also use drugs to either cure your injuries or increase your strength for a few seconds. You can refill your drug meter by harvesting twitching dead bodies. This ultraviolent combat system is fun. Punching krokodil addicts from one side of the screen to the other will never get boring.


Someone tell Sergei that baseball bats weren’t all the rage in 1980’s Soviet Union.

My main issue with the combat lies on the hit detection. Unlike a more archaic beat ’em up like Final Fight and its derivatives, Mother Russia Bleeds allows you to move in all directions freely and it forces you to precisely touch enemies in order for the game to consider that a hit. Given its 2D nature and simplistic visuals, that’s easier said than done. Mother Russia Bleeds‘ depth perception can be quite clunky at times, so you’ll take a while before getting used to its mechanics, all while punching the air right in front of a deranged prisoner who wants to chop you into pieces.

One thing I liked about the game is its support for up to four players locally. If you’re more of a solo person, worry not, as you can also play a 4-person mode with three bots. That’s not very helpful though, as the amount of people onscreen will make you lose track of where your character is. There’s just too much stuff happening onscreen, and while I commend the developers for managing to maintain a stable framerate at all times, it’s a visual mess. While the game is a bit harder if you decide to play without anyone else’s help, there are infinite continues, as this is less of an arcade beat ’em up and more of a story-focused brawler. And what a story.


All in the name of LI-BER-TY! Jaaaaaaaaaaailbreak!

Mother Russia Bleeds is absolutely brutal, gory, violent, over-the-top, and unapologetic in every way. It’s also tons of fun, especially if you don’t take its dreary themes too seriously. The Switch already has a nice selection of beat ’em ups in its online store, but there isn’t anything as dreary and gory as this bad boy available there. If the developers could only patch the annoying collision detection, this could easily become the best game of the genre on Nintendo’s console, even though Howard Lincoln would have a heart attack by seeing this being played on a Nintendo system.


Graphics: 7.5

While the retro-styled pixel art isn’t anything to write home about, the game does a good job at maintaining at high framerate, even when there are dozens of characters onscreen. The motion blur visual effects are also impressive.

Gameplay: 7.5

The controls are simple and fast-paced, but the hit detection can often be a bit annoying.

Sound: 7.5

The somber and heavy industrial beats are perfect for the dreary and borderline putrid atmosphere of the game. The sound effects are, for the most part, forgettable.

Fun Factor: 8.5

An ultra-violent, over-the-top and totally unapologetic brawler that’s absolutely tons of fun. The combat is simple but entertaining. The four player co-op is nice, but too many people onscreen may confuse players.

Final Verdict: 8.0

Mother Russia Bleeds is available now on PS4, PC and Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on Switch.
A copy of Mother Russia Bleeds was provided by the publisher.