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Dark. Bloody. Unforgiving. Guilt. All words that having meaning within Blasphemous. Do you have what it takes as the sole survivor of your order to explore the lands of Cvstodia? Perhaps, but this dark and cryptic action platformer will test your faith.
Genre: Action Platformer
Developed by: The Game Kitchen
Published by: Team 17
Release date: September 10, 2019
Platforms: PC (Reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Price at time of review: $24.99
- Explore a Non-Linear World
- Brutal Combat and Executions
- Customize your Build
- Intense Boss Battles
- Unlock the Secrets of Cvstodia
Story and Setting
This is a dismal land, filled with fear of the divine. Filled with devotion to the Divine, fear of the Divine, and the absolute knowledge of their failures. The people of Cvstodia are held in the mercurial grip of the Miracle. While sometimes wondrous, more often than not the Miracle manifests itself in cruel and gruesome ways to the satisfaction of many.
Rarely do I come across a game that feels so utterly unique in it’s story and setting, and yet here we are. The land of Cvstodia and the story behind your actions as the Penitent One is quite unlike anything I’ve encountered before in a game. The land of Cvstodia is at once a divine and horrifying place, perhaps made all the more horrifying by how…proper…the suffering on display feels. Nothing really comes off as needless indulgence in suffering, rather it feels like it all belongs in a twisted fashion. This is helped greatly by the few NPCs you encounter not really displaying any despair or revulsion at the horrors that surround them.
To go into depth on the story would do both it and any potential players a great disservice. While I typically don’t jump aboard the anti-spoiler train, this is one instance where I do. Part of the appeal of this game is slowly watching the story unfold and trying figure out puzzle-like level design, cryptic conversations, and even more cryptic item descriptions that just make question what the heck is going on here. If one were to call this game a souls-like, then I feel it is should be for this reason. There’s a requirement to study, read and think, to decipher the story beyond a simple and basic level.
Audio and Visual
Oh my word is this game a work of art. A horrifying, bloody filled-with-suffering work of art to be fair, but still a work of art. If you have an appreciation for pixel art then you owe it to yourself to checkout this game. This was not an attempt to pander to pixel-nostalgia, but rather a deliberate artistic choice. The grittyness of the pixels helps to amplify the gritty nature of this world you find yourself exploring.
Every area of the game has such a unique appearance to it that after playing through the game once I could show you a screenshot, and you’d instantly recognize the area. In addition to the beautifully rendered background all the enemies are very all animated and (mostly) unique throughout the game. While I have my quibbles with the mechanics of some of the boss fights, all of the monstrous ones are quite the menace to behold. Even the humanoid ones are very well animated, though I must profess a preference for the more monstrous foes.
As for the audio, it is solid, the sound track is good and adds to the experience. I’m actually listening to the soundtrack as I work on this review, which is something I don’t do for every game. Most certainly not the best soundtrack I’ve ever heard, but it like the visuals it is unique and sounds like it belongs here. The sound effects are solid and well done with not much else to say on that front.
Now I come to the point where I stop proclaiming the game’s virtues and start lamenting its flaws. This is not to say the game is bad, but like the citizens of Cvstodia the gameplay carries the guilt of sins. The greatest of these sins, and the one most likely to induce controller-throwing rage, is the platforming. Oh, the freaking platforming.
Now since this game is billed as an action platformer saying the platforming is bad is a bit of a problem, a rather large one, actually. Thankfully I think it something that can be fixed with patches. Scattered through the world are instant death pits and spike traps. The pits have a solution late in the game, the spikes do not. The main issue is with the spikes is that sometimes the spikes are so close to the floor you can’t do a last-second ledge grab to save yourself. Sometimes there’s other traps that will trigger a massive knockback if they so much as clip you. Sometimes there’s enemies that will trigger massive knockbacks if they so much as clip you. From time to time the jumps are just so freaking precise that if you jump a fraction of a second to late or to early, and you die. The vast majority of my frustration came from dealing with the freaking spikes.
Other than the instant death parts and some quibbles with boss design, the gameplay on display is rock-solid action platformer in the vein of the Castlevania series. Enemy design is quite varied and their attacks well telegraphed so most of the time when I died I knew it was my fault. There were a few occasions where the enemy placement was such that I got juggled for obscene amounts of damage before I could recover, but these unfair deaths didn’t happen too often.
Boss fights is another area where the game shoulders the guilt of poor mechanics in the form of inconsistency. Some bosses are well balanced, taking a few tries to get a feel for their mechanics before you can beat them. Some bosses are on the hard side, feeling like they take a bit too much luck to beat. And then there’s the bosses that I despise because of either extremely poor arena design or seemingly excessive randomness. Nothing insurmountable, but it does feel like a shame that I can’t really look forward to the promised boss-rush mode since it means I’ll have to fight those two again. Bleh.
Replayability is a hard one to address as at the moment there isn’t much reason to play more than once. You can get both endings in one play through if you’re careful and regardless of the path you take on some of the sidequests, you can still get all the items in the game. Assuming your game doesn’t bug out on you, which is a problem at the moment. There is a small speedrun achievement, of course with a gameplay timer you can try and speedrun the whole game, but beyond that there’s not much. A New Game+ mode and harder difficulties are promised, but they do not exist yet.
On my main game file I have 16 hours and 99% completion. Depending on skill and how much your explore you could probably complete the game in 10 hours. At a $25 USD price-point, I think this is well worth the money assuming you are into platformers. The $38 USD Digital Deluxe edition is a bit iffier, while the sound track is good, I’ve never been a fan of digital art books and the comic is rather short so I’m not sure it’s worth the extra money.
This is a dark, challenging game. Death, violence, even self-harm is front and center here, but nothing feels gratuitous, this is simply how the world is. Combine this with beautiful yet grotesque art, some excellent level design (with the exception of the spikes, and no, I will not shut-up about the spikes.) and solid gameplay, you have a good game. So assuage your guilt and seek to understand the land of Cvstodia and The Miracle.
Blasphemous is available to play on Steam, on Xbox One and Playstation 4.
Summary: Blasphemous is a mostly solid action platformer. Beautiful yet grotesque artwork and fun moment-to-moment gameplay is held back by a few instances of badly flawed level design and some questionable boss mechanics. If you can get past the flaws there's a lot to enjoy here for fans of platformers and for lore hounds that enjoy teasing out meaning from a cryptic story
Story and Setting
Audio and Visual