Edited by: Tiffany Lillie
Only from the gift of miraculous pain shall you know the depths of boundless mercy. Condemned in death, Cursed in name, and Blessed in death, you will carry the weight of grievous sin and mourn behind the cold, silent visage of your silver mask. There really aren’t many games quite like The Game Kitchen’s Blasphemous. Steeped in the folklore of southern Spain and horrifically beautiful religious tradition, this Kickstarter project has been realized into a truly unique experience. Despite some technical flaws, Blasphemous was well worth the wait for any fan of Metroidvania-style games.
The Weight of Sin
Blasphemous is a Metroidvania-style 2D platformer that remains true to the core of the genre. You take on the role of The Penitent One, a member (perhaps the last) of the Brotherhood of the Silent Sorrow. With your distinct silver mask and barbed sword, you will venture through the land of Custodia, a world gripped in an oppressive ballet of phenomena and nightmares brought into reality through the unknowable deity, The Miracle, whom all worship and praise. From your first bloody steps to your last will you clutch your blade with calloused and wounded hands, as your pilgrimage or penance carries you through monolithic cathedrals and twisting dungeons. What ultimate goal does The Miracle have for you? This is something you’ll only find out by slaughtering your way through these beautiful vignettes of nightmarish reality. In much the same fashion as any Metroidvania title, you’ll be running, dashing, jumping, and cutting your way through enemies, collecting new items and abilities through a seamless world, rich with lore and darkly unique enemies.
Penance for the Guilty
Where Blasphemous truly shines above all else is its aesthetic design. In the land of Custodia, The Game Kitchen was able to weave a perfect blend of the grotesque with the beautiful, a cocktail of ancient art in masterful craft with the nightmarish body horror that just feels so perfect in its wrongness. Blasphemous is a richly designed world, heavily inspired by southern Spanish folklore and ancient Christian tradition, while remaining wholly unique in its fabrication. Nearly every sprite, every effect, every background is painfully beautiful in its design and the attention to detail. It’s truly breathtaking at its moments of pure wrongness: for example, a winter snow scene with mountains in the shape of weeping saints looming, while before you stands a giant of a man, bound within the bark of a dying tree with great arrows piercing his ribs. You’re not going to find many games with so vivid and macabre portraits.
There is also a nice breadth of variety to its levels and their designs, though it is true that some are far more fantastic than others. The Convent of Our Lady of the Charred Visage and the Cathedral of the Mother of Mothers were fantastic areas to explore, but wandering through a dark and dreary library just doesn’t have quite the emotional resonance it might have had if you hadn’t just come out of an absolute behemoth of a church. The same can honestly be said for the bosses. Overall, they are horrific and compelling monstrosities to behold, but some bosses just aren’t quite as interesting when they’re only humans no bigger than yourself. This isn’t to say that they are by any means boring or poorly executed bosses, but a soldier with a lightning mace just lacks that bit of oomph when you’ve done battle with the titanic body of a long-dead Archpriest in gilded robes, carried aloft by the hands of giants.
Act of Contrition
Underneath all the beautiful design, Blasphemous is still a solid mix of 2D combat and Metroidvania adventuring. There will be no small amount of backtracking and combing through every single area if you’re invested in getting 100% in this game. Blasphemous is a far more deliberate game than most titles of the same genre, and this comes with its own share of pros and cons. While other titles can be considered almost “bullet hell” in their style, with fast-paced dodging and quick-reaction attacks, Blasphemous takes the far more deliberate approach. Combat, particularly early on, is intended to be more methodical, using guard to block or parry enemy attacks, to minimize loss of health and to increase the damage you deal. This works fairly well across the board, but it can become somewhat monotonous after a few hours. You can certainly lean into the spamming side of combat, waving your blade around like a madman, but this will rarely work until you reach later parts of the game.
Unfortunately, there are times where mechanical issues can very easily murder you without a second thought. The Penitent One has a very precise countdown from being knocked prone before you will be able to stand back up to resume playing. A small selection of enemies and boss moves have been timed to the exact same measure, meaning that there will be times when you may stand up only to be knocked back down again, only for the process to repeat ad nauseum until you are dead with absolutely no measure of being able to retaliate or even move a single step. Additionally, there will be several enemies that have hyper armor, forcing you to count the time between their attacks because no amount of wailing on them will stun them. This does help provide some added weight to the methodical mentality of the game, but it can sometimes feel like a poor choice when certain enemies — not to name a certain group of indignant librarians — will laugh in your face and bean you in the forehead with a book, costing you more health than a lengthy anthology should ever deprive you of.
Platforms and pitfalls
Overall though, the game’s difficulty remains fairly balanced when it comes to enemies. No one particularly area will be nightmarish because of them and many offer a healthy challenge. The issue of unnecessary difficulty comes in the form of the increasing use of spike pits, which become nearly half of the floor by the final area. This is a major concern. Much like the combat, Blasphemous keeps its platforming simple and measured. This isn’t Hollow Knight. You don’t obtain any mid-air dashes, double jumps, or even a high jump. You are essentially stuck with the same measure of mobility from start to finish, and you will likely be wishing you had a double-jump by the end. The jumping can be incredibly capricious at times and many jumps you think should have cleared over a spike pit will end with your impaled corpse bleeding down the iron stakes. The spike pits are all instant death, meaning you will have to restart all over again at the last shrine, which can be frustrating.
Additionally, The Penitent One has a weird relationship with ledges, where he will grab at the side of a ledge you are falling from and pull you back up, even if you are specifically trying to move down. This is a far smaller concern when compared to the repeated death by impalement, but it does show that some additional time and thought might ought to have been given to the platforming. It’s important to remember that these situations were rare occurrences and did little to diminish my overall enjoyment of the game, but they are still important aspects of mechanical design that should be kept in mind if you’re considering picking this up.
The Verdict: Great
Despite some mechanical setbacks, Blasphemous is a truly unforgettable experience and a unique piece of work that stands out in the Metroidvania genre.