Making a good first impression is key for almost every aspect of life. The initial judgement passed during the early few minutes of encountering something new can be the most influential period of time, and Blasphemous has a strong understanding of this concept. Developed by The Game Kitchen and published by Team 17, this single-player action-platformer title sees players tackle a wretched, religious world, consumed by a foul curse known as The Miracle.
Playing as the Penitent One, a being unable to experience the release of death, you must travel across the non-linear 2D world, in the hopes of freeing it from its terrible fate, discovering secrets along the way. Featuring heaps of gore, tough encounters, and horrific creatures set in a pixelated world, Blasphemous shares a lot in common with other titles from the Metroidvania genre.
The world of Blasphemous is not for the faint-hearted. Based across the land of Cvstodia, Blasphemous is focused largely around its combat mechanics, which uses simple hack and slash systems with certain abilities on offer. These stretch anywhere from evading to ranged attacks and Prayers, which are powerful skills that can bolster the Penitent One or bring high damage. The issue with the combat, however, is that due to the game being 2D, the variety of available mechanics are actually quite limited, usually making us resort to just whacking enemies, so it can feel quite repetitive at times.
As the story progresses, players will be eligible to unlock new abilities to bring into combat, although it's worth saying that the generic hack/slash system works more than fine for regular enemies, and boss fights involve more evading than anything. This again plays into why the combat can feel a little staler and more repetitive than desired, especially since you'll probably be fighting the same enemies time and time again as you repeatedly die throughout the world.
As a counterpoint, the variety of enemies in Blasphemous is nothing to sneer at. Depending on the region of the map you're in, you'll find specific enemies, each with their own attacks to boot. For example, as you pass through the Convent of Our Lady, you'll encounter nuns, who will not hesitate to bash your brains in, while the Mountains of the Endless Dusk will see spear-wielding minotaurs attempt to do the very same. These are but an example of the many available enemy types in the title.
The boss fights are likewise varied. Each encounter will see the Penitent One tackle an enemy that is completely different from all others, using mechanics you won't have been familiar with before and a health bar to make you feel a little queasy. These beings are huge in comparison to our protagonist and never hesitate to destroy you countless times, so much so that we'd say that the best way to defeat them is to simply lose to them a few times, learning their mechanics as you go in a Soulsborne fashion.
To bring further depth to combat, there are a host of unlockable abilities and upgrades available to enhance the Penitent One. These upgrades allow players to gain new combos or attacks, but they certainly are pricey. Found in the skill tree, these cannot be simply chosen, as they have to be purchased using the in-game currency at one of the many altars throughout the world. Currency is rewarded for defeating enemies and can be used also to buy items, such as quest-specific things or equippable tools, on top of upgrading. Once unlocked, they automatically become useable, offering new combos or attacks for the Penitent One to wield in combat.
Secondary to this, Blasphemous also offers a host of other unlockable upgrades that can be purchased or found during exploration in its non-linear world. These come in the form of the aforementioned Prayers, Rosary Beads, Relics, or Hea Culpa Hearts, and each brings a unique trait in the form of new abilities or increased health, for example. To acquire these, players will have to collect the peculiar glowing grey orbs found throughout the world, which may offer a new useable item or a collectible. With all this being said, any equippable item we used felt as though it had no impact on combat whatsoever, which made us feel a little conflicted in searching for them in the first place.
You can probably see how important exploration is to Blasphemous. The further you journey throughout the world, the more secrets or interactions you will encounter, sometimes requiring you to retrace your steps, which brings us to the next point, in that the world is not particularly simple to navigate. Most times during the campaign - or Pilgrimage as it is called in-game - we found ourselves asking the question of where to go as we relentlessly scanned our map for just a marginal hint as what to do next. Blasphemous does not hold your hand and guide you through the game; instead it expects you to experience the title the same way as the Penitent One does, struggling for answers with only generic hints to guide you in the right direction.
As well as this, the limited fast traveling options and a fairly large map means you will spend a great deal of time traversing locations you have already passed through multiple times in the hopes of discovering something new. Usually this doesn't work out so well, but occasionally you'll encounter something you missed the first time, unraveling the story and mystery a little further.
One of the strongest parts of Blasphemous is definitely the design. The 2D pixelated devout theological environment is designed to reflect the tormented images. Cvstodia looks to share a lot in common with medieval architecture, with mostly stonework and gothic engineering, and the soundtrack likewise reflects this using a lot of bells and what seems to be divine hums. Furthermore, the usage of gore - from streaking blood to tortured beings - makes for a thoroughly impactful style.
In summary, Blasphemous is a gory and creepy action-platformer set in a non-linear 2D pixel world, featuring a variety of enemies, equippable items, and traversable environments. The title, which starts off strong thanks to its hack and slash combat, is let down by repetitive mechanics that do not particularly reward using the available combos though. The design and art style is where Blasphemous shines brightest though, offering a pixelated world, although this might not be enough to separate it from the more extraordinary Metroidvanias out there.
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