Laika: Aged Through Blood drops players into the boots and bike tires of its titular heroine, a gunslinging coyote mother on a quest for revenge in a brutal post-apocalyptic landscape. This gritty 2D sidescroller brands itself a “motorvania,” blending fast-paced motorcycle physics with Metroidvania-style exploration across its crumbling world. Developed by the Madrid-based Brainwash Gang, Laika aims to provide a unique twist on combat and traversal inside the exhausted vein of the apocalypse genre.
You take control of the revolver-wielding Laika astride her rugged chopper, growling through the wastelands in search of the mysterious imperialist Birds who massacred her village. With each area connecting in clever ways, you’re encouraged to thoroughly comb the decaying world for upgrades and side quests to aid Laika’s mission. But make no mistake, this journey is unrelentingly harsh, with trips and tumbles off your bike often just as lethal as enemy gunfire. Death comes swift in the wastelands, and Laika will need players’ utmost skill to master her unique moveset to survives the evils that await in this unforgiving realm.
Blending ultra-violence with tactical bike stunts and platforming, Laika: Aged Through Blood strives to deliver a fresh motorvania experience. We’ll be kickstarting this review to evaluate if Brainwash Gang manages to fire on all cylinders for what could be one of the more distinctive post-apocalyptic adventures. From its bloody combat to its smattering of bugs, we’ll weigh whether this grim biker journey is worth taking when all is said and done. So sit back and relax as we take Laika’s chopper for a ride through the highlights and low points of this ambitious indie title.
Mastery of Metal and Mayhem
At its core, Laika’s gameplay centers around mastering the unique physics and rapid reflexes necessary to wield her rugged motorcycle chopper as a vehicle of vengeance across the wastelands. This bone-and-metal bike handles akin to the punishing trials of a Trials game, requiring careful balance and positioning to land jumps clean and steer clear of deadly tumbles. Each ramp, incline and half-pipe presents a demanding balancing act as you constantly adjust Laika’s poise to stick the landing. One wheelie too long or poorly angled takeoff will send her crashing down, often just as lethal as enemy gunfire.
This demanding bike handling merges seamlessly with Laika’s rapid-fire combat, creating a mechanical ballet where wheelies and stunts flow right into bloody violence. Laika’s arsenal may be limited to just a six-shooter, but with each lethal bullet she’ll need to pull off stylish frontflips and backflips to parry attacks and reload ammo. Drifting into oncoming fire can activate a reflective shield, and orienting the bike’s bottom just right deflects a hail of bullets. When Laika lines up that perfect killing shot, time slows to a crawl, giving brief but vital moments to gun down threats before returning to breakneck speed.
Mastery over Laika’s stunt-driven moveset becomes critical to tackle the game’s relentless pace and difficulty. Both Laika and her foes drop dead after just one hit, with ambushes quickly flooding the screen with bullets. Surviving for more than a few seconds demands rapid cycling between targeting, stunts to reload/parry, and keeping the bike’s underside positioned to block attacks. These lifesaving reflexes require unrelenting focus and repetition to perfect. But stringing together a perfectly timed series of flips, drifts, and lethal shots to obliterate a gauntlet of foes proves intensely rewarding.
However, that satisfaction only emerges after confronting Laika’s steep initial learning curve. Early bike handling definitely skews closer to the demanding precision of Trials than forgiving physics. Laika provides scant few training wheels here – expect clumsy landings that pitch her bike into instant death over and over until her moveset becomes second nature. Lightly tapping accelerate and brake to adjust in the air while independently leaning for stunts and shield positioning is an unforgiving skillset that won’t fully click until those hard-learned instincts kick in after a lengthy string of death. For those who stick it out, though, besting Laika’s bloody, bike-based gauntlets by chaining stunts and gunplay offers a rewarding gameplay experience ultimately unmatched in both style and substance.
Between the physics-driven motorcycle combat, quick-draw showdowns, and constant interplay between bike positioning and attacking, Laika: Aged Through Blood strives to offer uniquely intense and demanding run-and-gun action. While its difficulty curve may prove painfully steep, players ready to put in the repetitions to master Laika’s moveset will discover one of the most mechanically satisfying and unabashedly stylish motor-shooters out there. It successfully pulls off a gameplay fusion between violent stunts and gunplay that very few titles even attempt.
Traversing the Wastelands
True to its “motorvania” moniker, Laika grants players an expansive, interconnected wasteland to traverse in search of vengeance and redemption. While the post-apocalyptic setting may seem bleak, Brainwash Gang packs both verticality and variety into the world’s decaying landscapes. As Laika rides between precariously balanced pipelines, cresting mountains, and long-abandoned architectural ruins, each new biome offers its own unique visual and mechanical twists to keep exploration engaging.
The world lays out in classic Metroidvania fashion – while areas branch and interconnect from the start, progression gates like collapsed tunnels or raised drawbridges restrict access to certain regions until Laika obtains new abilities. These upgrades then allow her to circle back and reach previously inaccessible sections, encouraging thorough searches to uncover all the hidden corners of the wastelands.
Spread across the world, Brainwash Gang tucks away excellent platforming challenges inside denser “dungeon” areas to change up the pacing between open road cruising. Taking the bike inside imposing temples or a massive fallen tanker ship provides more condensed obstacle courses compared to the wider zones. Navigation puzzle-like challenges emerge with objectives like venturing up a perilous tower rife with traps or utilizing unstable gravity columns to traverse gaps. It’s in these dungeons where Laika demonstrates the most creative applications of its core mechanics.
While combat and platforming take center stage, a host of side activities populate the wastelands for those keen to explore off the critical path. Side quests range from the mundane like recovering someone’s lost property to more involved missions with branching outcomes. These optional adventures help humanize Laika’s relationship with her community, while also providing opportunities to flesh out the world’s characters and lore. And while objectives may be as simple as fetch quests, they grant valuable upgrades, currency, and even new weapons like a devastating shotgun that can propel daring new stunts.
For completionists eager to comb every inch, the wastelands offer ample reward through thoughtful design that elevates both standard Metroidvania fare and optional content. New abilities unlock new paths to previously visited zones loaded with lucrative extra loot and story bits. And progressing main quests organically opens shortcuts connecting zones, making travel conveniently quick when revisiting old haunts. Both strong environmental narrative and gameplay density deliver tangible rewards to satisfy that tried-and-true Metroidvania itch to uncover every secret tucked away off the beaten path.
While on the surface yet another post-apocalyptic wasteland, Laika’s world impresses with both its visual diversity between biomes and density of content. Drifters wandering the decaying lands will encounter scenic vistas, platforming challenges testing their bike stunting skills, and NPC stories that add welcome vibrancy. Brainwash Gang’s meticulous construction produces an explorable realm with depth and strong worldbuilding where it’s always worthwhile to stray from the road in search of adventure.
A Reluctant Heroine in a Doomed Land
On the surface, Laika: Aged Through Blood leans heavily into the tired cliches of post-apocalyptic fiction – a grizzled survivor out for revenge in a bleak wasteland brimming with monsters. But rather than revel in nihilism, Laika’s story strives to inject heart into its grim setting, with well-developed characters and thoughtful worldbuilding lifting the narrative.
Our heroine Laika’s tale begins with tragedy, as an imperialist army of militant birds enact genocide on her village. With her family slain, Laika finds herself suddenly burdened with protecting her remaining loved ones from this encroaching menace. Cursed with immortality, this role of guardian warrior is forever imposed on her whether she likes it or not.
While on the surface a video game power fantasy, Laika resents the violence her curse forces upon her. She kills not for gratuitous thrills but reluctantly to shield those she cares for – chiefly her young daughter Puppy. Their heartwarming scenes together portray a softer side between all the bloodshed, emphasizing Laika’s underlying desire for hope and happiness in this hopeless land.
Outside her family, Laika forms bonds with her downtrodden community, undertaking tasks that range from mundane errands to moments of levity like reuniting a band. Through these side stories emerges a nuanced take on living under the threat of apocalypse – one where sparks of joy flourish alongside dread and sacrifice.
Impressively, Laika’s villains avoid being simplistic evil-doers. The Birds’ society chronicles the systemic failures and toxic ideologies that breed such militaristic imperialism. While clearly the antagonists, Brainwash Gang develops them with subtlety, conveying how even perpetrators of violence may themselves be victims of propaganda and oppression.
By populating its grim setting with empathetic characters like Laika, the game finds humanity in a story that first appears cynical. Our heroine’s actions appear motivated by traditional video game power fantasies on first glance, but deeper truths lie beneath the bloodshed. Laika: Aged Through Blood succeeds in telling a thoughtful narrative that transcends its own tropes, with an emotional richness that bolsters its action.
A Painted Soundtrack for the Apocalypse
Complementing Laika’s gritty narrative and demanding gameplay, Brainwash Gang delivers both a stunning visual aesthetic and hauntingly apt soundtrack. While on the surface a gross-out gorefest, closer inspection reveals an artistic beauty amidst the blood and rust.
Each new biome dazzles with hand-painted backdrops full of vibrant color and intricate details not expected in such a depressing setting. As Laika cruises along crimson-tinted desert mesas and verdant oasis undergrowth, the environments burst with visual storytelling. Decaying machinery and makeshift shacks remind of humanity’s remnants scraping by. Plentiful UI elements like checkpoint flags jammed into the earth and graffitied signposts embed gameplay functions subtly into the world.
Vivid character designs also bridge Laika’s tonal gap between bleakness and heart. Our heroine herself visually evokes both gritty biker attitude with her scars and prosthetic eye but also domestic tenderness when wearing an apron while baking with her daughter. Even ghoulish monsters feel realized, like the Mole Made of Sadness, with touches giving peculiar charm to grotesque horrors.
Musically, the soundtrack amplifies the melancholic hopelessness across the wastelands. Sparse folksy guitar and haunting vocal tracks sound like they were written by those struggling to survive in this dying world. Lyrics convey existential despair and cautionary tales, while upbeat rhythms remain tinged with gloom. As a fictional in-game band, the music adds meaningful context through its lyrics lamenting events both past and to come.
Stunning art direction and apt musical accompaniment bolster Laika’s dreary yet introspective tone. For all its gratuitous gore, an artistic craftsmanship shines through both audibly and visually that elevates the material to something more thoughtful than a shallow schlock-fest. The outstanding aesthetics parallel the story’s efforts to add humanity into the darkness.
Imperfections in the Wasteland
While mostly firing on all cylinders, Laika: Aged Through Blood does suffer some sputters and stall outs holding it back from true greatness. A punishing difficulty curve, finicky mechanics, and technical issues mar the experience at times. While Laika ultimately still crosses the finish line as a memorable journey, several flaws will understandably sour the ride for some players.
The most pervasive issue comes from inconsistent spikes in difficulty that may feel more frustrating than satisfyingly challenging. Bosses easily trip up players by combining lengthy routines with sparse openings to deal damage. Meanwhile, certain platforming sections insert demanding precision alongside ambushes of enemies, leading to quick death and tedious repetition.
The punishing nature of Laika’s challenges too often crosses over into feeling unfair rather than rewarding to overcome. Limited ammo capacity on weapons also contributes to the game hindering itself, forcing players to constantly drop out of the action for rote weapon reloads.
Making matters worse, Laika does suffer from some irritating technical shortcomings. A smattering of bugs like clipping through the environment or quests not updating properly suggests more polish could have smoothed the experience. Most concerning, game-breaking save file issues threaten players’ progress and have forced frustratingly long restarts.
Problematic mechanics also factor in, like inconsistent physics, especially when the camera pans out during bike stunts. Trying to stick tough landings becomes an exercise in guesswork when players can’t accurately discern their positioning relative to the ground. The borderline broken hookshot also desperately needed expanding into more meaningful functionality beyond niche applications.
To Laika’s credit, it at least attempts to soften its notorious difficulty through generous checkpoint placement and progression mechanics that reduce currency loss upon frequent deaths. But for some players, the incremental improvements may not offset the frustration of its steeper challenges.
While Laika arguably keeps its more aggravating elements in check, it’s understandable if certain players find its spikes in difficulty and technical shortcomings ruin the intended experience. Its flaws stem less from lack of quality and more from design that prioritizes challenge above all else. Players drawn to Laika’s world and story may have to push past avoidable frustrations to uncover the gems beneath.
An Ambitious Motorvania Rough Around The Edges
At its core, Laika: Aged Through Blood accomplishes its central goal of delivering a fresh and mechanically satisfying 2D motorvania experience. The combination of demanding motorcycle platforming and stunt-fueled gunplay coalesce into a gratifying, high-octane gameplay loop. While hardly the first post-apocalyptic wasteland adventure, Laika’s detailed worldcraft, empathetic characters, and overall artistic vision elevate the setting beyond tired cliches.
However, some players may need extra tolerance for frustration to look past inconsistent difficulty spikes, technical issues, and repetitive segments padding the runtime. But for those willing to master Laika’s moveset and push past its rougher edges, a visually striking and thematically richer journey exists to discover.
The team at Brainwash Gang deserves ample praise for fully committing to the audacious concept of a motorcycle-centric Metroidvania shooter. When the unique stunt and combat system clicks after Practice, few games provide more viscerally satisfying run-and-gun action. And thoughtful writing fleshes out the humanity underlying such a grim setting and gore-filled game.
While certainly flawed, Laika: Aged Through Blood succeeds on its ambition and creativity, delivering an experience truly greater than the sum of its parts. A torrent of bullets and blood awaits those eager to join Laika on her relentless quest for revenge across the wastelands. Players seeking a gritty, high-speed motorvania offering both style and substance will find Laika’s road well worth traveling, bumps and all. Just be wary that this deadly ride caters foremost to seasoned motorvania veterans ready to take on a noteworthy challenge.
Laika: Aged Through Blood
For all its missteps, Laika: Aged Through Blood remains a compellingly unique hybrid between high-speed bike stunts and brooding post-apocalyptic action. Those willing to look past difficulty spikes and polish issues will discover a mechanically and artistically ambitious indie gem.
- Satisfying motorcycle physics and stunt-based combat
- Large, interconnected Metroidvania world with varied environments
- Beautiful hand-painted visuals and detailed character designs
- Emotionally richer story than expected, with empathetic characters
- Hauntingly apt musical soundtrack that fits the tone
- Clever challenges and platforming in "dungeon" areas
- Plenty of side content and upgrades to encourage exploration
- Steep difficulty curve and some punishing, perhaps unfair spikes
- Technical issues like bugs, crashes, and camera problems
- Harsh death penalties that may frustrate more than challenge
- Hookshot and other mechanics feel underdeveloped
- Story conclusion is abrupt and lacking in closure
- Backtracking through levels can become tedious