Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond Review
You know how the Wayans brothers make movies that poke fun at other popular films? Well, developer Vicious Cycle and D3 Publisher have put together a game that does the same for games. In a side-scrolling format similar to last year's Shadow Complex (and Contra, Metroid, and countless others before it), you'll play as has-been 80s action hero Matt Hazard to save his 8-bit self.
Over the course of the game you'll find some familiar shooting action as enemies come in and fire large, slow projectiles at you - it's up to you to dodge them in any way possible while taking out every enemy you can find with an arsenal of weapons picked up from powerups. Now, you've seen this before, most likely, but Matt Hazard's claim to fame is in the way it makes fun of today's major games. With parodies of BioShock, Team Fortress 2, Mirror's Edge, Super Mario Bros and more, it seems the idea was to have Matt Hazard take on video game stereotypes.
But somewhere, it kind of seems like the developers lost their nerve and decided to back off. Therefore, the initial BioShock-themed level only pokes fun at it by mocking the art and architecture. There are no fat Little Sisters who are only interested in chocolate, no Big Daddies that talk in Looney Tunes voices, no golf club-swinging bosses spitting out kindly catchphrases. No, in that level, the enemies are sailors and other generic bad guys, and the final boss is a submarine. The second level is pirate-themed and doesn't make fun of anything in particular, and other levels usualy only loosely refer to the games they're trying to poke at with background graphics. Other levels combine the parodies in strange ways, and while the bosses are fun to fight, they rarely have anything to do with the whole Matt Hazard gimmick in the first place.
This is how it goes in most levels, where you'll recognize the look of the game they're trying to ape but will struggle to try and find any other solid reference. You want to laugh and you want to find it funny, but it's just not there. There is just enough challenge that the game feels tough even on the easiest setting where you have infinite continues, and then the other two difficulties limit the continues increasingly. Plus, some of the challenge comes in that you can't shoot in any direction while moving. The right stick goes unused while you're forced to both move and aim on the left stick.
Controls are only a small issue for me, though, and my real problem is that Matt Hazard just never really gets any funnier than "mildly amusing". And while the side-scrolling action is decent, it'll still wear on you quickly due to a lack of variety over the two hours or so it takes to beat it. There's a two-player local cooperative mode, but you'll quickly find that most mediocre games don't get any better when two people are playing at once. For that reason, I have a hard time lamenting the lack of online co-op, because I just don't see how it would have made playing the game any more fun. If you're going to jump in to a side-scroller with your buddies, you're better off in Castle Crashers or Trine or something.
So, what about the future of the Matt Hazard "franchise"? The first game in the series went largely unnoticed and forgotten, and for good reason: it was just short of horrible. This one fares better, but the developers are too far away from realizing the potential that this idea has. A game that makes fun of other games shouldn't be afraid to pull punches, to poke holes in the bad ideas of otherwise popular franchises, and to have a little more confidence in itself to fight off the lawyers and maybe the ire of gamers who love these titles. XBLA and PSN are probably the right place for Matt Hazard to be, but with this entry clocking in at $15, it's hard to recommend it for all of its missed opportunities and ho-hum action. Maybe next time, Matt!