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Laika: Aged Through Blood Review | A Tragic Motorvania



Laika: Aged Through Blood Review by Ole Gamer Joe

PC/XBOX/PS/SWITCH

10/19/23

Brainwash Gang/Headup Publishing


We've had an endless slew of Metroidvania games released over the years, but never before have I come across a Motorvania. That's exactly what we are reviewing today, so rev up those engines! This is Laika: Aged Through Blood. Does it have me popping a wheelie or did it leave me with road rash?


I Laika this game, I Laika it a lot. I'm probably not the first person that will say that in a review for this title, but at least I tried to be clever. In Laika: Aged Through Blood you'll control a bike riding badass coyote through a nearly deserted wasteland that hosts a handful of animal friends fighting for survival but has mostly been overrun by nasty birds. Our story begins with these vile feathered nuisances leaving our dear comrade Poochie for dead, and being the good friend you are, you'll need to try and rescue him before he bleeds out. It's one of many problems you'll face in Laika; people just love to dump their issues on you in this game, but I suppose you are a loving mother after all and what are moms for?


Screenshot of the environment in Laika: Aged Through Blood
Laika: Aged Through Blood portrays a bleak landscape with a creative gameplay twist

Trauma dumping aside, I grew to love many of the characters throughout this adventure. Their pain and struggle shines through in the game's script, which is mostly well written and not overly wordy. While there are plenty of gut-wrenching moments in Laika, the real star of the narrative is in the dusty desolate world itself. Laika harkens back to franchises like Mad Max, or in the videogame world Rage. Wait, did I really just mention Rage? I thought we had all forgotten that series. What a strange connection I just made. Anyways, with it's ruined desert setting Laika manages to stand out, and the scope of the game is impressive for an indie release. This is a violent tale with plenty of blood and strong language, so don't go into this one expecting an episode of Family Matters.


How you navigate and control this Motorvania adventure is what will likely leave audiences split. While there are on foot segments when you are exploring towns and other little rest areas, most of the game is going to take place on your bike. This was a bold decision by the developer, and while it isn't always perfect, I admire the innovation. Your goal in the game is to explore this massive world, collect quest lines from non-playable characters, and take down epic bosses to progress the main story. The basic controls involve holding down the Left Trigger to ride forward and using the right trigger to aim shots in hopes of hitting enemies. This will undoubtedly feel awkward and even a bit uncomfortable at first. With the game being 2D you might initially think this is going to play like a total shitshow, and yet it kind of works...Kind of.


A screenshot from Laika Aged Through Blood featuring the coyote protagonist and their bike
Laika is a "motorvania," which means most of your traversal will be done on your bike

Switching directions is done by utilizing another dedicated button, which unfortunately isn't always as responsive as I would have liked. I ran into many deaths that felt cheap or other moments of panic as it is required to hold the button for a moment rather than simply tap it. Adding further confusion, you'll start out with a pistol worth two shots before needing to be reloaded, but eventually earn other weapons that can be upgraded. Still, it's a long haul before you can afford or create any of the worthwhile weapons, so be prepared to get by with your pistol for a good few hours. While the weapons you can eventually build and level are cool, switching mid fight never felt as good as it should. It all makes for a pretty sloppy control scheme and yet when it works and you adjust to it, there are some very satisfying victories to be had.


Soaring through the air and nailing a timed shot brings great satisfaction and a cinematic slowdown effect if and when you manage to pull off such a feat. Your character is another thing to be mindful of as it is easy to lose sight of her twirling through the sky. And because landing on your head equates to a death just as a bullet will, I really needed to retrain my brain to focus on aiming, hitting my shots, and then reverting my attention back to the lead character so that I landed successfully. Things only get more complicated when you have several enemies to deal with at once. Thankfully you do have another trick up your sleeve, the ability to reflect bullets. Doing this at the right moment will send enemy fire back towards them, ruffling their feathers and sometimes covering you in a spattering of blood. Need to reload either bullets or reflections? It's as simple as flipping in the air in one of two different directions. I can honestly say I have never played any game with a combat engine quite like Laika's. Be warned: these mechanics will require patience and you can anticipate dying over and over again at various segments throughout the game. Thankfully, a checkpoint is rarely far away, though you will drop some of your loot with each death that you'll need to go and retrieve similar to something you may have encountered in a souls game. Fear not, I know I said Souls there, but things never quite reach that level of extreme difficulty.


Screenshot from Laika Aged Through Blood
Laika: Aged Through Blood features a gut-wrenching story

This is another strange comparison, but Laika also reminded me of my Hotline Miami days. The way enemies tend to be sprawled across areas of the map feels predefined, with victory seemingly having a specific drawn-out pattern that would be ideal to try and learn. Yet, I was able to luck into solutions and still manage to be victorious. This is one thing I quite enjoyed, the ability to sometimes goof my way past foes. While most of the birds you'll battle will simply fire at you relentlessly, I did come across the occasional bird brain that did absolutely nothing and I was able to coast by them as they watched hopelessly. I'm going to chalk that one up as a glitch, but it did happen multiple times. I should also mention that your bike can act as a shield, so depending how you tilt it, you might be able to block shots effectively. If it all sounds unusual and insane that's because it is. Despite the craziness of it all, I can't sit here and say I hated the combat in Laika. It pissed me off at times yes, but it was equally as satisfying. Still, I do think the game over does it a bit at times with a massive influx of enemy encounters. There were moments where I simply wanted to enjoy a stress-free cruise or explore without worry of being instantly gunned down. Those moments come here or there, but not as frequently as I would have liked. You will need to learn to love the combat of Laika if you are to find love from the game at all.


The map is quite easy to understand and read. While you can explore of your own free will to an extent, some areas will be gated off until you complete certain tasks. A decent teleport system helps make traversal a bit easier, and the game also has a very simplistic cooking element which can be activated at stations near checkpoints. Cooking up strange concoctions using various items you find along your travels will offer certain boosts. You'll also encounter plenty of merchants and other odd creatures that want to sell you things. All told, the Metroidvania DNA is very much here through the map and overall structure of the game, but with a unique twist.


The visuals in Laika impressed me, with the desert being quite convincing of the atrocities that have taken place. Scrap and other junk litter what would otherwise be barren landscapes. Characters often look down on their luck, covered in dirt with expressive animations to show how defeated they are truly feeling. Boss encounters are particularly spectacular to watch unfold, and even enjoyable to participate in assuming you were able to grasp the controls. The world of Laika is beautifully sad, and the art team has illustrated this brilliantly. This bleak tone is only further heightened by a riveting soundtrack that features plucky acoustic guitars, and even angelic vocal pieces that are absolutely stunning. When coupled with the roar of your motorcycle, Laika becomes a visual and audio tour de force. As for performance, things were mostly smooth sailing initially, but after a patch hit during the review process I did encounter a few very sudden hitches in certain areas of the game. Hopefully this can be fixed in short order and won't even come up when the game releases to the public. Steam Deck performance felt pretty solid at 60fps with some drops here or there, but the game looked quite washed out in comparison to playing on the PC. So while playing handheld is an option, it wouldn't be my recommended way of enjoying Laika.


A dark screenshot from Laika: Aged Through Blood
This is a title that will take some time to master, but can be quite rewarding

Laika: Aged Through Blood is a tricky game to summarize in a review. On one hand I admire its ambition, it's gorgeously depressing world and storytelling, and captivating soundtrack. On the other hand, I would be lying to you if I said it isn't without its frustrations. The combat brings moments of sheer aggravation that I fear might lose impatient gamers. Yet, this same combat engine also brings with it moments of sincere satisfaction and joy. The control scheme is quite frankly unlike anything I have played and that's both a good thing and a bad thing. In the end, Laika deserves some degree of praise for what it gets right, thus, I am awarding Laika: Aged Through Blood a bronze genie lamp of approval. This is a good game with many wonderful ideas that struggles to execute its unique gameplay mechanics at times. Patient players will be rewarded, while others may never see past the hour mark. Either way, you have to respect Laika for trying something different, and I feel like a sequel could really nail down this fascinating concept.


Pros:

+ Very unique and innovative concept

+ A gorgeous and vast desert to explore

+ Sad but compelling storyline

+ Stunning soundtrack and sound design


Cons:

- Controls and combat will leave many frustrated

- Some of the AI has bird brain

- A few performance issues


A bronze genie lamp with a heart in the middle for good quality games.
Bronze Genie Lamp: Good




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