Mother Russia Bleeds is a great arcade brawler.

Review | Game review: Mother Russia Bleeds – go brawling behind the Iron Curtain

The holy trinity of a great arcade game is: a ridiculous tale with over-the-top characters; a wild array of villains all murdered in wonderful, bloody ways; and a stunning background – Mother Russia Bleeds has all three

Mother Russia Bleeds

Le Cartel

4 stars

There will always be something fascinating about communist Russia – a combination of a doomed political system, greed, evocative imagery, absolute violence and a lack of human empathy.

The developers of the game Mother Russia Bleeds obviously recognise the nostalgia for this era (among those who didn’t have to actually live through it), and injecting this into a gaming genre that all but defined the decade is an inspired decision.

Available for PC, Mac and Linux, Mother Russia Bleeds is a 2D arcade beat-’em-up in the style of Final Fight, Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, Streets of Rage – vintage side-scrolling brawlers where the repetition of blood, guts and countless bosses is both addictive and cathartic. This modern incarnation does an impressive job of replicating the appeal of those earlier classics, and while it misses an obvious opportunity to explore the ramifications of the former USSR’s oppression and bloodshed, there’s no doubting the surface-level appeal of its focused gameplay.

Boil it all down and a good arcade brawler comes down to three important factors. Mother Russia Bleeds delivers on them all: first, there’s the ridiculous tale led by over-the-top characters, a silly story of lab drugs turning four kidnapped youths into raging beefcakes before they take to the streets to exact their revenge against the local mob. Then, the wild assortment of foot-soldier villains – and the various ways they can be mutilated – including junkies, riot cops, attack dogs and biker freaks, all wonderfully murdered via punches, kicks, stabbings, katana-style decapitation and more.

And finally, there are the stunning backgrounds, and it’s here that a great arcade game sets itself apart.

A scene from Mother Russia Bleeds.

Ultimately, there’s little that separates a classic side-scroller save the creativity behind its locations and Mother Russia Bleeds is beautifully crafted in this regard. Filth-ridden streets where the squalor of the system’s poverty is truly revealed. Hovel-like drug dens populated by pockmarked skag heads. Ridiculously opulent penthouses housing fat cats and their worn-out bimbo wives – Mother Russia Bleeds paints a retro-eight bit picture of an economic and social system on its knees, even if it never truly explores the ramifications of this too deeply.

That’s our only real gripe with Mother Russia Bleeds – a game that’s filled with ridiculous amounts of violence juxtaposed against a true questioning of history’s aggression would’ve been inspired. They didn’t go down that route, but we can’t really blame them – it’s hard enough making a great arcade beat-’em-up and this one comes across like a period-placed punch in the gut.