Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond

Blood Bath and Beyond is a spoof of 2-D shooters that boasts sharp two player action. It just doesn't make you laugh.

Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond

Publisher: D3Publisher
Players: 1-2
Price: $14.99
Platform: Xbox 360 (reviewed), Playstation 3
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Developer: Vicious Cycle
Release Date: 2010-01-06

For the post-mortem retrospective on Blood Bath And Beyond, Eric Peterson refers to the Matt Hazard series as a spoof (”Post Mortem: Vicious Cycle's Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond, Gamasutra, 1 February 2010). Hazard is a self-aware video game character staging his triumphant return to games who has been in so many spin-offs and sequels that his back catalog reads like a history of gaming. It’s a great idea, one that captured a lot of people’s imagination. But the original game and its sequel don’t exactly live up to expectations. While neither game is particularly funny, what’s interesting about them is the exact process that keeps holding the game’s premise back.

Probably the biggest hurdle facing a game that wants to be a comedy is that it’s not exactly what video games are known for. Something like Psychonauts is funny because of the content, the wacky characters and dialog are layered on top of a platforming game. The game design generally is just meant to get you to pay attention to cutscenes or your surroundings so that you notice the weird humor. The notion of a game design itself making you laugh exists, but I don’t think that I’ve ever seen anyone succeed at it unless the game involved multiple players. Wario Ware is pretty funny to play with multiple people for the same reason, and Buzz! can be. It gets a conversation going, and you can have a good laugh with your friends. There are also a lot of examples of satire in games like Paolo’s McDonald’s Game or No More Heroes that gets you to engage in conduct that you normally never would. If someone is going to claim that they’re making a spoof of video games, it seems reasonable to expect the person to do a bit of both. A video game spoof should be funny content in whatever form mixed with a design that pokes fun at gameplay tropes through hopefully both multiplayer and single player elements.

Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond doesn’t do any of these things. The game is a solid 2.5-D side-scroller that draws heavy influences from the Contra series. The premise is that Matt is traveling through various games as he hunts down an old nemesis who wants to kill his 8-bit self. Levels draw on everything from Bioshock to Okami, working as a kind of background gag while you plow through the level. Each level will have a different type of soldier to face, but in terms of actual practice, they all die in one shot and fire the same blue/red bullets at you. The same goes for the robot enemies. Each level will also have one unique enemy, like an undersea diving suit monster or some tweaked out kid throwing Pokeballs at you. Like the background art, these are again just content gags. You shoot them like you do anyone else. Final bosses are all classic “Memorize the Pattern” fights.

This is where the game starts to not work well as a spoof. If you’re playing a 2.5-D game properly, you’re going to be tuning out the background to focus on the shiny bullets and bad guys mucking about that can kill you very, very fast. The design only draws your attention to the content during lulls. With so many different games being used for background gags, it’s amazing that they never bothered to include anything else about them. If you’re going to have someone throwing Pokeballs at me in a level, you might as well let me use them too. A few strange plasmid options in the Bioshock level or some insane platforming in the Mirror’s Edge level would all have been welcome. The audio jokes fumble this even more because Matt will make the same sarcastic comments over and over. A game like Rogue Warrior, despite being terrible, is hilarious because Mickey Rourke has something insane to say every level. At the very least they could have coordinated Hazard’s commentary to actually reflect back on what’s going on in the game.

Which brings up the biggest problem of both games in the Matt Hazard series: the main protagonist knows that he’s in a video game. All of the conversations involve him complaining about some genre trope that he has to put up with or pointing out the inconsistencies of the game’s plot. He knows that when he dies you just hit continue. He knows that none of the things around him are real. That’s not a funny premise for the same reason that Lord of the Rings would be pretty annoying if Frodo just complained that the Eagles could come get them the whole trip. If the main character thinks that what everyone around him is doing is stupid, it’s pretty likely the audience will agree, which isn’t going to make someone laugh, just convince them to turn off the game. Conversely, a character like Deadpool works in the comics (not the movies) because he’s completely insane and no one listens to him. He’s not the center of attention. He’s just this great addition to the characters around him. As a general rule of thumb, unless you are a really talented writer you shouldn’t have the main character in a story not care about anything. They’re the person who drives the plot through their motivations and losses. Without that, you’ve just got a series of jokes while a person plows through a level, which would be fine except Blood Bath and Beyond insists on having a coherent narrative.

None of this is to say that by itself Blood Bath and Beyond is a bad game. If you like Super Contra, this is a good investment featuring sharp two player action and it is damn hard at the highest difficulty setting. The problem is that the game’s creators wanted to create a spoof. and on their second try, they are still making the same mistakes. Matt Hazard is a great idea for a game that has a lot of potential, but it can’t ever quite getting everything together. It’s worth talking about that just because it would be great if someone could finally pull it off.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Kehr was one of the best long-form essay writers people read for clear and sometimes brutally honest indictments of film.

It's perhaps too trite and rash to conclude that the age of good, cogent film criticism is over. They still exist out there, always at print publications such as The New Yorker and at major newspapers like The New York Times. An argument can be made that the late, legendary film critic Roger Ebert became a better writer when he departed from cinema and covered literature, book collecting, or even the simplest pleasures of life. If we look at the film criticism of James Agee from the '40s, or even the short but relevant stint of novelist and short story writer Graham Greene as a film critic, we come to understand that the greatest writing about film went beyond the spectrum of what they saw on the screen.
Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.