Laika: Aged Through Blood gives you a taste of grit and exhaust in its demo

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Our mother shoulda just named you Laika

Excitebike crossed with Castlevania: Symphony of the Night isn’t a mash-up I really considered, but that’s how Laika: Aged Through Blood is pitched. A “motorvania” as they put it. It’s gated, side-scrolling exploration, but you’re also playing a dark version of Uniracers. Goodness.

As part of Steam Next Fest, a demo lets us get all our paws on it to find out exactly how Laika pulls off this unholy union. At over an hour long, it’s a surprisingly big bite of the game, and it reveals quite a bit.

Laika: Aged Through Blood Boss Battle
Screenshot by Destructoid

The depressing Mad Max

You play as the eponymous dirtbike-propelled dog, Laika. From the very first moments of the game, it’s made evident that we’re in for a dark ride. Poochie has been killed. He was killed by the birds and crucified “with his own guts.” Oh, lovely.

The whole anthropomorphic animal angle gives Laika: Aged Through Blood a feeling like Redwall mixed with Mad Max (the first one). Everything is really wasteland-y, and while I don’t recall anyone mentioning an apocalypse, it certainly looks like the world ended at some point.

The story is revealed painfully slowly. You’re dropped a lot of information without knowing who these characters are or what you’re fighting against. It certainly gets there, but that’s a lot of weight to get dumped on your shoulders when you’re first learning how to dirtbike.

Laika: Aged Through Blood exploration
Screenshot by Destructoid

Uniracers but with two wheels

The Excitebike comparison is rather apt, but I think a closer one would be Joe Danger or even the aforementioned Uniracers. You have to constantly roll your bike in midair to try to land in the best way possible. However, Excitebike didn’t let you flip your bike completely, which is key in Laika. Partway through, you’re provided with a pistol, and in order to reload it, you have to, strangely, do a backflip. You can also block incoming bullets by putting your bike between yourself and your furry hide.

It’s a lot to keep track of, even when it’s just a sidescroller. Thankfully, when you go into aiming mode, the game drops into slow motion. This gives you the ability to pick your target with greater ease, as you’ll often be doing this while trying to protect yourself. Even still, my thumbs would get confused on the controls. There’s a high skill ceiling here, and you’ll need to put in a bit more work than you would if you had your feet planted firmly on the ground.

The greatest issue I had with Laika wasn’t actually the difficulty of the controls, but how demanding they are. You do get off your bike for sections, but you’re saddled up the vast majority of the time. This made the time I spent with the demo feel all the longer, because I had to be constantly engaged, and that can be stressful. I felt the need to take a break before the hour was even up, but didn’t allow myself to because I didn’t expect the demo to go on for so long. It concerns that, when it’s time to play the full version, I might have difficulty getting through the runtime, as it would necessitate me taking more stops than usual.

Bar Quest
Screenshot by Destructoid

Blood red wall

This isn’t to say that Laika: Aged Through Blood is any sort of failure. The level design actually impressed me, though I do wonder if it will be able to deliver enough variety to carry whatever runtime it’s aiming for. It has some rather lavish animated cutscenes and great characters to spruce things up, so I don’t doubt that it’ll find some way to be worthwhile.

The soundtrack is done by Beícoli, who is sort of the Brainwash Gang’s in-house composer. She makes some fantastically melancholic music that is completely up my alley. I skipped over Brainwash Gang’s The Longest Road on Earth and Friends vs. Friends, but now I’m listening to the former’s soundtrack, and it is some great atmospheric stuff. Is Laika’s soundtrack going to be pressed on vinyl? Because I am already there.

Despite my discomfort, I’m definitely on board with Laika: Aged Through Blood. I love the vision that the Brainwash Gang has for it, and the production as a whole looks absolutely spot on. Even with its meaty demo, I have a lot of questions I still need answered and a whole lot that I’m looking forward to. There’s no announced release window for Laika, but given how polished the demo experience is, it feels like we won’t be waiting until the end of the world.

About The Author
Zoey Handley
Staff Writer - Zoey is a gaming gadabout. She got her start blogging with the community in 2018 and hit the front page soon after. Normally found exploring indie experiments and retro libraries, she does her best to remain chronically uncool.
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