“Castlevania’s Darker and Bloodier Love Letter”
A while back I played a demo for a new game coming out called Blasphemous, published by Team 17. It looked like a dark, intense, and satisfying twist on the Metroidvania genre with some Souls-like elements as well. I waited for the full game to be released and after playing it, I can say without a doubt that if you’re a fan of Castlevania or Metroid with a splash of Dark Souls, then this is a game you definitely shouldn’t skip out on.
The player takes on the role of The Penitent One. Waking up in a heap of corpses, it’s up to the player to learn what horrors have befallen the land of Cvstodia, and put a stop to the curse known as The Miracle along with those who revel in it. The player will travel across a varied and gorgeous landscape in order to accomplish this, as well as receive help from other characters who wish to see their own journey’s end. The religious theme and undertones in this game elevate the experience that much further, as it pairs well with the bloody and brutal gameplay that follows.
Aside from the theme of Blasphemous, the other standout feature in my eyes would be the presentation. The art and music in this game are absolutely breathtaking. The pixel art is some of the best I’ve ever seen come from an indie game. From enemy designs to the vast landscapes in the background, everything looks stunning. The details that have been achieved by the artists behind this game have really gone above and beyond in creating a truly dark and beautiful world to explore. The musical score always feels appropriate, and easily sets the mood and tone of the areas which the player is exploring.
Expanding on the world’s presentation would be the world design. Much like other games that belong to this genre the player will find themselves unlocking shortcuts to other areas, and unlocking new abilities to travel and reach new heights. These new abilities will have the player backtracking to past areas to find secrets and even more abilities. The world always felt appropriate with the way paths were linked with the exception of one shortcut. This shortcut seemingly has an elevator just appear out of the sky near the beginning of the game. It felt very jarring, but this is the only very minor complaint from a game that has every other aspect of this system done well.
The combat in Blasphemous feels smooth and satisfying. Combos can be unleashed on The Penitent One’s enemies to take them down, as well as a variety of spells. There is also a parry system in place, where if the timing is executed well, the player can unleash a flurry of attacks while the enemy is stunned. The parry system in this game is well implemented and I found it easy to utilize and execute. On top of this, sometimes the player will find themselves in front of a flashing red enemy after dealing a significant amount of damage. This state opens the player to perform an execution on the enemy. The execution animations are bloody, brutal, gruesome, and a thrill to see. Discovering new executions on enemies is always exciting, as The Penitent One has a range of absolutely punishing ways of disposing those in his way. The combat in this game is another one of its many great features.
Much like the Souls series, the player will be resting at this game’s version of the bonfire known as Prie Dieu. These shrines will perform a few mechanics for the player as they will need to return often. The game is saved while health and flasks are replenished. Upon death, the player will respawn at the last rested shrine and enemies will respawn. When slain, the player retains all earned experience known as Tears of Atonement. However, as a punishment for dying The Penitent One will accumulate guilt, which will reduce maximum fervor. Fervor is the resource used to cast spells. The player will need to return to the site at which they died in order to be cleansed of their guilt and have fervor restored. It’s a new twist on the Souls mechanic that doesn’t leave you feeling as anxious since losing some maximum fervor is not nearly as stressful as having an hour or more worth of experience on the line. Overall, I think this aspect is handled very well.
The boss fights in Blasphemous are also well done, but feel imbalanced. Some feel like a walk in the park and way too easy, while others are really rough and had me stuck for a long while. None of the bosses felt cheap and all of my deaths were due to lack of skill or misplays. One boss however has the only instant kill move in the entire game and it is gruesome to say the least. Falling into it more than once got a bit repetitive, but I managed to overcome it after a few tries.
Overall, what Blasphemous does well, it does very well, and only misses the mark in a few very subtle places. The developers over at The Game Kitchen have made themselves a fantastic product and game to rival some of the biggest titles to come out in recent times. I’ll be keeping an eye on The Game Kitchen in the future. They’ve proven themselves to be master craftsman, and have made one of the finest games of 2019.