Crimson Tears is an unusual game in which Spike has combined relatively mindless beat-'em-up action with role-playing elements that, although far from complex, are actually quite involving. The game does a great job of masquerading as a simplistic exercise in button mashing in the beginning, but as you progress through its increasingly large, randomly generated levels and you are pitted against a number of varied bosses, it reveals itself to be a quite challenging and occasionally unforgiving fighter. The difficulty curve is pretty steep, the gameplay can get incredibly repetitive, and the futuristic storyline amounts to little more than an instantly forgettable episodic cartoon that plays in between levels. However, the character building and development make enough meaningful changes over the course of the game that some players just might get hooked.
The rooms in Crimson Tears are quite featureless for the most part.
The main reason that Crimson Tears is more difficult to stop playing than it really should be is its RPG-style character advancement and weapon systems. Since all three of the game's playable characters are bioengineered humanoid weapons (known as mutanoids), they don't come with any baggage as far as convoluted backstories are concerned--Amber, Kadie, and Tokio are essentially Terminator-style killing machines, only without the Schwarzenegger catchphrases and sunglasses. At the start of the game, they're really not that proficient--their attack and defense attributes are weak, their combos are short, and the arsenal of weapons at their disposal is kind of disappointing. The more you play the game, though, the stronger they become. Every time you kill an enemy you get experience points that count toward your character leveling up, and certain items that you find let you upgrade your special moves and combos.
Despite that they specialize in the use of different weapons, the three playable characters in the game are actually very similar, especially since a lot of the weapons can be used equally effectively by any of them. When fighting, you'll spend most of your time banging out combos using the game's two melee attack buttons, but in addition to those, you have a ranged attack, a block, a powerful special attack, and an "absolute field" move that serves as a kind of short-range smart bomb, which causes significant damage to any enemies close to you. You can use special attacks and absolute field moves at any time, but since doing so causes your character's temperature to rise quite dramatically (more about that later), you'll only want to use them only when it's absolutely necessary.
Enemies come in all kinds of different shapes and sizes.
Gaining access to new and more powerful weapons is actually one of the most entertaining aspects of the game, since obtaining them invariably requires you to upgrade an existing weapon using various components that you've looted from enemies. Occasionally you'll get lucky and loot a decent weapon from a fallen enemy, but for the most part you'll be visiting the weapon vendor in between levels to have him repair the weapons you've been using and to see if you have the necessary items for an upgrade. Strangely, your weapons gain experience in much the same way you do, and when you level up, the weapons' attacks become stronger and they need repairing a little less often. Many of the weapons in the game boast one of seven attributes that can make them more or less powerful against certain enemies, and these include thunder, heat, power, photon, cool, speed, and shade. Early on in the game you really don't need to worry too much about your weapons' attributes, but as you progress you'll encounter enemies and bosses that can be extremely challenging if you're using the wrong kind of weapon. In addition to attributes, some of the weapons you have access to can cause your enemies to suffer from the same abnormal status effects that are often used on you, such as paralysis, poisoning, and burning. Most of these pass after a time, but since the adverse effects can be quite significant, it's usually best to go into your inventory and see if you have a cure.
In addition to a health bar, all three of the playable characters have an MT gauge that measures their current temperature. Every time you perform an attack, your character's heat will increase, until eventually, he or she will overheat. At this point, the screen turns bright orange and your speed and attack strength are doubled; the flip side, though, is that your defense becomes much weaker and you lose health until you cool down. Coolant and cooling gel items offer a way for you to return to normal whenever you like, provided you're able to find some or have them stored in your inventory. The space in your inventory is pretty limited, so once it starts to fill up you find yourself constantly having to choose whether to keep abnormal status cures and health-restoring energy drinks, or whether you should make room for the weapon components that do you no good on the current level but that might serve you better in the long term. The one item you never want to be without is a "returner," which lets you exit the current level at any time and take all of your items back to the garage that serves as your base.
If your character runs out of energy midlevel, you have the option to send a second character in on a rescue mission that has to reach this energy-deficient character within a time limit of a couple of minutes or so. You don't really have time to engage in combat when on a rescue mission, so it's really just a case of following the directions that you're given and doing your best to avoid enemies and hazards such as falling ceilings. If you're killed during a boss battle, the rescue system works a little differently, giving you an opportunity to send a second character in for a rematch. If you take up the offer of a rematch, you'll find that the boss is still damaged from the first fight, but that your second character isn't able to use any items during the fight. Characters that aren't rescued will eventually become available to you again, but they will have lost every single item that they were carrying.