REVIEW: Blasphemous - An Ingeniously Weird Metroidvania

October 31, 2019
REVIEW: Blasphemous - An Ingeniously Weird Metroidvania

One more 2D side-scrolling title from the so-called Metroidvania subgenre is certainly no surprise, considering there are several of them coming out each month. The problem with games like this is that one should make something similar to what’s been done in the past while also creating something original and new, interesting and catchy, something that will keep players sitting in front of their console or computer for hours and hours until they finish the game.

Blasphemous may be one of those games. I say may be, because I get so many weird feelings while playing it, which is something incredible. The game is simply ingeniously weird with almost perfect gameplay mechanics in a beautiful 2D environment.

The biggest problem with 2D platform action game developers is that they are trying, unsuccessfully, to make in 2019 something that’s worked great and existed for about 20 years. This is why most of those games simply fail to amaze players. They are simply not convincing, and most of the time, boring.

An even worse thing was when pixel art, unfortunately, became trendy again, and every 2D game has suddenly become pixelated. Of course, there are always exceptions; there are games that have done a great job and brought us something remarkable even though more than 20 years have passed since the discovery of this “technology”. I mean, you have to understand, this is not a distinct art movement; simply, at that time there was a lack of resources to use in order to show something better so this had to do it (plus CRT filter!).

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It is for this reason that most development teams and artists seem unable to understand that they need to insert something unusual in the titles, unprecedented so far, in order to make the title memorable so that players come back to it over and over again because, above all, it looks so good and amazing even for that pixel art technique.

I write about this technology so much for one good reason; Blasphemous is exactly what the industry needed on that deeper level, a small evolution of pixel art, if I may put it that way. Improving the old way of working and adapting to the new standards may be the best way to describe this game from a technical point of view.

Blasphemous is a 2D side-scrolling action game from the Metroidvania subgenre if I could categorize it like that. There is a huge map that is connected in absolutely every way, and it is up to you to discover where to go, what to do to uncover the second part of the map, or where the "key" is hidden to open the door that leads to the save point, the only one you are aware of at that moment.

You take on the role of Penitent One, your fraternity's sole surviving fighter, and it is up to you to destroy the foul curse, known as The Miracle, that has been cast on your world. Almost everyone has died or got killed by the terrible plague. The survivors struggle to stay alive while twisted and degenerate "mutants" take advantage of that absolute chaos in this highly macabre world inspired by the period in Spain when Europe was being devastated by plague and terror. In those moments, everyone turned to God, something spiritual to help them during that time of misery and suffering, seeking forgiveness for their sins and a way to start their lives from scratch, which of course never happened.

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Pixel art is a real refresher here, because not only does the game look beautiful but also incredible in certain moments, mostly because the development team actually tried to make it look "lively and interesting" as opposed to the static 2D pixelated games that constantly appear on Steam and consoles.

When you play the game, you get the feeling that every pixel is "breathing", no matter how blocky it looks at some moments. Everything exudes life, which is a total contradiction to the gameplay because the story has a very dark, anxious side to it, full of sadness, guilt and deep depression. However, this did not "inspire" the development team to make a static game, as gloomy as the events described in it may be. They actually made it look as dynamic as possible. The animation of enemies, swings of your main character's sword and creepy winces in boss fights - everything looks magical at absolutely every moment. Sometimes, you just want to walk through the levels and admire everything in the game, which on the one hand looks so simple, but on the other hand, so complex, colorful, creepy and spooky.

The design and the way you progress in the game also contribute to your experience. There is no map here, so it is up to you to navigate and find the “right path” to your destination. If one part of the map is difficult for you, you can go back and give your attention to another until you find other skills and magic that you can use, until you are practically stronger and more deadly. Prie-Dieus, the save points in the game, are not so common and that is why the game forces you to be patient and careful at every turn.

The lack of a map may be one of the drawbacks but on the other hand, it is clear that the people from The Game Kitchen wanted to make players feel the "regions" they are in, memorize them visually, to enter the world and try to understand it in some way. This way of orienting is a double-edged sword in every possible sense because there are players who want to absorb absolutely every detail of the game, but there are as many and even more of those who want to relax and enjoy the title as much as possible.

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That "enjoyment" part is a very debatable thing here. The game pulls you in, it forces you to go on and see what's on the next screen; if it is another boss behind the next scroll. On the other hand, the interesting thing is that as the game pulls you to play further, to continue without stopping, it makes you anxious because you know that on that next screen you may get killed.

This "tug-of-war" system is as good as it is bad, because, in some moments, the game makes you feel heavy; you are not sure if you can continue, because of the game's whole, depressing, sinful, sad atmosphere combined with not so easy gameplay mechanics. It subconsciously makes you think about the topic it deals with, that powerlessness and the awfully difficult moments. Now maybe one will identify with the things that the game projects on the player and everything will be interesting to them, while others will definitely find the game simply difficult to play.

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One of the elements that makes you come back to the game, that doesn't give you peace, and doesn't let you stop playing Blasphemous is definitely gameplay mechanics. You definitely need two things for this title: the skill you will gain over time and patience. Many say that this game is like 2D Dark Souls, and yes, there are similarities, but we can't say that 2D is a copy of this megapopular game. There are similar elements, such as Parry and Dodge as well as timely movement towards the opponent, but the mechanics itself rely more on the agility of your fingers and planning your next attack.

This is no ordinary Hack & Slash game because you can feel the weight of the weapons you carry at all times. After a while, it seems like you built up and deserved every hit, especially strong, deadly blows after a successful Parry move. You don't need ultra-precise timing for Parry. You'll always have a bit of time, so much so that you can respond on time, defend yourself, and cut your enemy’s body in two.

I have mentioned on several occasions, the biggest and most impressive battles are definitely Boss Fights, not only visually but also the mechanics and because of everything you need to defeat them. In these fights, you will combine everything you "practiced" on ordinary enemies and you will have to have more patience and pay more attention, as well as find weak spots to defeat the enemy who is often several times larger than you.

Final Impressions

Blasphemous is one of the best games from the Metroidvania subgenre. The combination of great pixel art with a wonderful macabre world and perfect gaming mechanics puts it side by side with one of the best titles in this subgenre in the last few years. Each of these games - Hollow Knight, Dead Cells, Valfaris - has its own story, vision, and way of presenting this subgenre that is popular once again, but I can safely say that Blasphemous perhaps most convincingly conveys that atmosphere to the player, leading them from beginning to end through one depressing, well-developed and wonderful world. I played this game on the Nintendo Switch, and I give it 8.5/10.