Blasphemous is a pixel platformer developed by The Game Kitchen and published by Team17. It originally began development as a Kickstarter campaign back in 2017 before releasing in 2019 for PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation and Xbox.
This game is set in the fictional world of Cvstodia, which has been cursed by something referred to as ‘the miracle’. The miracle is a strange affliction that either blesses people, or turns them into harrowing monsters.
You take control of a character called the Penitent One who is a knight on a pilgrimage across Cvstdodia. He is the only surviving member of a religious sect called the Brotherhood of the Silent Sorrow, who are vowed to silence. This means that your character does not speak throughout the course of the game and is a clever explanation for the silent protagonist trope. He is equipped with a distinctive pointed helmet encircled with a crown of thorns and wields a sword called Mea Culpa.
At the beginning of the game, the Penitent One is resurrected by the miracle and sets out on his way to seek an artifact called the Cradle of Affliction. You will meet a character named Deogracias who attaches a thorn to Mea Culpa’s handle which leeches off of the Penitent One’s guilt. This thorn will grow if you choose to complete some side activities and ultimately impacts the ending you will receive. He sets up much of the plot, describing three humiliations that must be performed in order to be worthy of reaching the Cradle of Affliction.
Blasphemous adopts a fairly standard pixel art style but the quality and detail of the character, enemy and backgrounds blew us away! Cvstodia is a vast, bleak fantasy world and the Penitent One’s pilgrimage will see you traversing gargantuan gothic cathedrals, snow-ridden ruins and ravaged villages.
In terms of gameplay, Blasphemous opts for brutal hack and slash gameplay combined with some simple platforming segments. You will jump, wall hang and dodge your way between save points called prie-dieus’. As well as melee attacks and evasive maneuvers, you can also deflect enemy blows with well-timed parries.
While the combat feels satisfyingly weighty, it can get a little repetitive as you move in, get a few hits in and then dodge away before repeating until your opponent is beaten. The feature we enjoyed most about the combat were the finisher moves, which allow you to activate unique and brutal animations to dispatch your foes, a la Mortal Kombat.
The previously mentioned boss fights are a real highlight in Blasphemous, particularly when it comes to their visual design. They switch up the combat and force you to approach them with different tactics than the standard enemies. For example, one boss dashes at you with a flaming sword, requiring quick dodging, while another blasts you with magic beams that forces you to take up careful positioning. Some of them are incredibly memorable and depraved, such as Espocito, an oversized infant with blood streaming from bandaged eyes. Yikes!
Throughout the game you will be able to upgrade the Mea Culpa, allowing the Penitent One to perform new attacks and special moves. You can unlock a charge attack, a rapid lunge, an upward slash and more. These steady upgrades do just enough to result in combat not becoming completely stale despite the familiarity you will build for the enemies and their move sets.
In addition to melee attacks, there are also a variety of prayers which can be cast using a magic meter, called fervor. These prayers will enhance you in combat encounters, by allowing AoE moves, high damage attacks or increasing your slashing speed. These prayers felt quite powerful but do take some time to cast, resulting in their use being a risky decision in the middle of a battle.
Across the various areas you will find a range of collectibles that all serve a unique purpose. They can provide buffs to your attack, defense or health levels and are worth acquiring as part of exploration.
There are Souls-like elements here too since resting at an altar will heal the Penitent One whilst also resurrecting all of the defeated enemies in the world. As well as this checkpoint system, you can replenish your health using a bile flask with upgradable charges. If you die, a shard will spawn on your body and unless you retrieve it you will be hindered by reduced fervor, reducing your prayer capabilities.
Blasphemous succeeds in building a creepy world packed to the brim with thematic religious symbolism. The metroidvania style level design allows some freedom to explore the beautifully bleak world of Cvstodia, despite some tedious sections of backtracking. The hack and slash combat is satisfying enough but will start to feel stale once you adapt to the rhythm of the game. However, the upgrades, prayers and special moves will keep things feeling fresh for the most part. Bosses are a horrifying highlight, which serve to switch up the game while also delivering incredible design and boss arena locations.
This experience can be difficult at times, but is fair, as you will begin to learn the platforming layout and enemy move sets. If you are a fan of metroidvania games with action combat, Blasphemous is a complete dark fantasy delight!
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