Not many games will proudly wear their inspirations on their sleeves, but The Game Kitchen’s Blasphemous, a 2D Metroidvania with brutal combat and overtly Catholic theme, clearly has some Dark Souls in its DNA.
That is not to say it cannot stand on its own, the pixel art is equally gorgeous while exploring and bloody during battles, the music haunting and moody, and the world of Blasphemous is a unique creation that is immersive and disturbing.
As the Penitent One, players begin the story by waking up amongst piles of bodies, all who look eerily similar to you. Thus begin a tale of infinite mystery and doubt, with Blasphemous feeding you snippets of lore that hint at a larger world through collectibles, secrets, and a cast of enigmatic characters. The common thread is clear, the world and its people are all suffering, and there is no redemption in sight.
Be it the different areas you will come to explore or the grotesque enemies that block your way, the visual storytelling conveys pain in a visceral way that is an art form of its own. Even healing your wounds require a bloody smash of a bile vessel into the face, and if that is not enough to tell you how messed up the world of Blasphemous is, nothing will.
And healing is something you might find yourself doing plenty of, considering the variety of monsters that await. Combat is straightforward enough, with the Penitent One capable of a basic three-hit combo, and both an aerial and crouching attack with his sword, the Mea Culpa. You are able to dash with the safety of a few frames as well as attack, charge up for a stronger but slower swing, or descend upon your foes with a powerful plunge attack.
All these abilities can be upgraded to increase their power, add directional finishers, and even grant you a ranged attack to your arsenal in exchange for precious Tears of Atonement harvested from enemies. The Mea Culpa can also be improved by finding special shrines, granting you more power in your quest.
Magical prayers that unleash magical attacks will also give you an edge, provided you can find them and will require fervour, gained from attacking and being attacked, to use. They ranged from summoning columns of lightning, lifesteal, or protective spheres that rotate around you. There are certain areas that are ideal for particular prayers to shine, however, being able to equip only one at a time meant that it was more often than not an overlooked option compared to the sword and quick reflexes.
Being able to recognize enemy patterns, readying your parry or simply moving out of the way is easily the safest and most efficient way to progress in Blasphemous. There is no better feeling than timing your parry before unleashing a punishing counter-attack. Time your press of the attack button at impact and you will execute the Righteous Riposte, stunning the enemy and giving you a chance to execute them in style and earn more Tears to boot. At you learn the intricacies of Blasphemous, combat will inevitably feel like a deadly dance as you traverse the world.
All the tricks and skills will be put into good use whenever you face off against the many bosses, who are each memorable sights and provide varying levels of challenge. These epic fights with enemies regularly larger than you will usually require more attention in learning their quirks, and many, many deaths to perfect your strategy. The first few bosses can be a tad too easy, but those lying in wait as you head to the conclusion will truly test your mettle and patience.
There is one clear path of progression in Blasphemous, gated by the different bosses, but you have the freedom to explore otherwise. There are alternative areas for you to venture into and seek their secrets, and the rewards are frequently helpful and beneficial to your journey. That would require precise platforming, and that is where the game sometimes falters.
While the Penitent One is quite adept at grabbing ledges to save you some pain, certain platforms leave little room for error, and elevated areas can often be frustrating when you miss a jump and plummet all the way down. There is no fall damage, but if you fall into another screen without a special item or worse, into the annoying spike pits, death will be a familiar bedfellow. Thankfully, sections like these are far and few, and the rest of Blasphemous is more manageable and offer a degree of challenge without being too demanding.
Dying is not the end, and unless you have traveled a fair bit without activating the many shrines and shortcuts that reconnect the many areas, it is usually simple enough to retrieve your soul and the Tears of Atonement you left behind. Do be warned, however, that spike pits can sometimes bug out, leaving your precious belongings unreachable among the spikes, and your hard work, wasted.
Of course, Blasphemous would not be a Metroidvania without plenty of secrets to uncover. Hidden oil fonts will increase your fervor capacity, while meeting a mysterious figure with the Six Stinging Pains will increase your health. Unearthing bile vessels will let you heal several more times, and powerful Relics and Rosary Beads will grant you new ways to discover and explore the world, and grant bonuses. There are also plenty of remains to be found, helping the people who remain find some semblance of peace.
Blasphemous also tasks you with several sidequests that will require some investment before they conclude, needless to say, they add even more flavor to the proceedings, and help flesh out the lore of Blasphemous ever so slightly.
Like all good Metroidvanias, you will likely not be done with Blasphemous with just one run. With the sheer amount of secrets, areas to explore, interesting sidequests, and different endings to reach, finding redemption for this dark world is an addictive affair, and not even death will stop you.
Release Date: September 10, 2019
No. of Players: 1 player
Publisher: Team17 Digital Limited
Developer: The Game Kitchen
A review copy was provided by the publisher.
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