Pay for plagues
When a game opens with a woman beating her stomach with an idol in what seems like a horrible creation of stigmata, only to have the icon turn into a sword on which the woman impales herself, you know you’re in for a wild ride. When the next scene is a knight in a Spanish capirote helmet laying on a pile of dead bodies picking up the sword mentioned above, you wonder what the hell you’ve gotten yourself into. That’s how indie developer darlings The Game Kitchen’s Blasphemous begins. As the name suggests, this game is bursting with religious and supernatural stylings.
You play as a doomed knight referred to by those you meet as the “Penitent One.” Shortly into the game, you enter the town of Albero and quickly learn that the land is going through a plague that religion may very well be the cause of. And seeing as it’s not solving the affliction, you’re going to have to.
The beautifully broken backgrounds, ghoulishly soulful sprites, and passionately pixelated cutscenes of Blasphemous all show off what The Game Kitchen does so well: nostalgia. And aside from being beautiful, Blasphemous is punishingly hard.
Try, try, and try again
As you’d expect from a passionate Metroidvania like this, Blasphemous has a wide variety of enemy types that inhabit its decaying world. Every one of them is ready to employ their unique skills to kill you — be it a heavy bash with a wagon wheel, a shielded block into a stab, or a thrown projectile to the pointy head. Combat quickly becomes remembering each enemy’s schtick so that you dispatch them with the right skill or routine.
Overall, the battle controls handle quite well. Inputs and animations are tightly tuned so that you feel as if you are right up to speed in combat. One element of the battle system that provides extra challenge is the animation time that you experience when using a blood vial or skill. There is a split-second animation, during which you are not invincible, so you’ll find yourself needing to think about when it’s best to trigger these.
Like many games in this genre, you need to die multiple times to become strong enough or smart enough to best enemies. But there’s also a taxation system present. Your “Fervour” bar, which charges with the number of enemies you defeat — and allows you to use special moves — can begin to be shortened by thorns if you die constantly. You’ll hardly feel the effects of this tax unless you’re staring down a boss, but it can be costly.
Collect to be redeemed
Much like how success in a Dark Souls game is predicated on how well you collect extra items to use and equip, Blasphemous has a number of these to collect — or not — in order to boost your character’s ability to survive.
There are rosary beads, of which, you can have eight equipped at any time. You can also find relics, of which, you can have three equipped at any time.
Collecting a significant amount of these extra items will take some backtracking when you’ve become stronger or gained a new skill to help you fight off certain enemy types or pass objects in your way. It can feel like a grind in order to try to obtain these, but you’re likely to need them for the area where Blasphemous really stands out: its bosses.
You’re the boss
The game has about ten bosses from what I understand. As of this moment, I’ve only encountered the first one from the start of the game, and I can already tell that if the rest of the bosses are similar, then there’s going to be a need to learn all of the skills that you can.
The first boss battle prioritizes using your slide skill at the right time to escape danger. I love boss battles where I’m forced to use a handful of skills in varying instances because I feel like that’s the best way that there is to learn a game. For instance, I died four times fighting the first boss and only succeeded in defeating it because I was able to pinpoint the exact boss animation that meant it was time to slide on out to the other side.
Are you afflicted?
Accessibility in Blasphemous could be better. While there is a menu for accessibility options, it’s limited to turning on and off controller vibration as well as screen shake. There’s full button remapping available through the controls option, which was great for me because I definitely needed to reconfigure some of the action buttons to make my precise input timing feel more comfortable.
Fully voiced cutscenes and interactions mean that those with lower vision will likely feel as if they aren’t missing much, but the options for those who are hard of hearing is lacking. There are options to turn the game audio up and down, but no options to increase the size of text, change the text colour or add caption boxes — only to change the text language. The stylized text can also be hard to read sometimes, and so an option for plain text or more text styles would help improve readability.
In terms of just general accessibility, the options menus are only available if you exit the game back to the main menu. And in a Metroidvania Soulsborne game like this where your respawn point could be a fair way’s back from where you left off, that feels rough. I’d hate to lose progression because I want to turn down the music on a new stage!
The Game Kitchen has passionately brought two of gaming’s most-loved genres together in Blasphemous that is worthy of much praise. The slick gameplay and painstakingly crafted art present what can only be considered a product of love in the highest form. While the story is creepy and subtle, there’s a world and a culture to the game that I’m sure many players will instantly fall for. Blasphemous is indelibly hard because there’s simply no way that you’re going to forget how hard its mechanics are testing you. As is often the case with games like it, this is an adventure that will quickly decide whether you want to go on it or not.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]