I’ve heard it suggested that the Dark Souls series is a modern take on the Metroidvania genre, and I generally think that’s correct. There are many parallels, from exploration and frequent backtracking, specific save locations, the memorisation of enemy patterns, slow power creep and subtle environmental storytelling. Developers The Game Kitchen have taken this comparison to heart in Blasphemous, bringing many of the Souls series most recognisable tropes into a serious Metroidvania title.
Blasphemous is the kind of game that would have gotten my parents very worked up when I was a kid. It’s shockingly violent, and takes a ghoulish pleasure in creating a society built on all the very worst tenets of numerous religions. When the internet laughs about edgelords, this is the sory of thing they mean. It’s the kind of game that feels like it should have Meshuggah playing on a loop in the background, that attracts unhappy young men who will nod along as they play, feeling as they’re really getting it. Your mileage may vary. Ask your goth friend if the grimdark life is right for you.
Like the Souls series before it, Blasphemous is a war of inches. Each enemy must be dispatched in a specific way and you have to remember them all as you push forward, bit by bit, into new areas. Each new area contains new enemies and has a high-health, huge damage boss waiting for you at the end. Timing and effectiver item management are your friends. If Souls is your thing, you’ll be right at home.
As the game progresses, you’ll be able to upgrade your character with certain skills, attacks and stat buffs to increase overall survivability. The world of Blasphemous wants you dead and won’t stop until you are so being able to outlast the assault is of paramount importance. Indeed, the combat of Blasphemous is one of its most appealing aspects. It’s fast and visceral, the blows you land always feeling like they make an impact. Great gouts of blood help to sell the savagery of every strike.
Its art direction borrows heavily from pixel art classics but proves a dab hand at communicating graphic violence with the kind of character movements pixel art affords. More than once I winced at the screen as my character’s finisher, moves of unalloyed barbarism, played out. It’s designed to ellicit this reaction — Blasphemous doesn’t want you comfortable, it wants to feel a bit queasy about the whole thing and it certainly got its wish.
I’m going round and round here, and that’s been the case since the moment I started playing Blasphemous. Is it well made and execute on its ideas in a way that translates to mechanical satisfaction? Yes, absolutely. Is it fun? I think that’s entirely subjective. If Soulsbornes, metal and gore are your thing then I think you’ll have an amazing time with Blasphemous. For everyone else, it might just be countdown timer to being put off playing it for good.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: Strong art direction; Satisfying combat
Lowlights: Oppressive grimdark tone and ultraviolence may be a bit much for some
Developer: The Game Kitchen
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows PC, Mac OS, Linux
Review conducted on Nintendo Switch with a retail code provided by the publisher.