Of all the 2D action-platformers inspired by Dark Souls, I think Blasphemous might just be my favourite.
One thing’s for sure: it’s just as mysterious. Wearing a giant conical helmet, you, as The Penitent One, will be left wondering what the hell’s going on from the outset. As a result, Blasphemous instils a wonderful feeling of discovery, and perhaps also a little confusion. You won’t be quite sure what The Miracle is or why you’ve got to stop it, but you’ll be itching to push on and find out more.
In terms of gameplay, Blasphemous feels like it has more in common with Castlevania than Dark Souls, though. Although let’s face it, Dark Souls is essentially Castlevania but in 3D. You move from one screen to the next, exploring an interconnected world, completing tasks and searching for the items that will allow you to progress further. Along the way, there are a variety of upgrades for you to find to make The Penitent One more hardy, a hidden merchant that will sell you some helpful goodies, and a handful of side quests to complete. It’s your typical Metroidvania adventure.
Blasphemous is essentially a game of two halves, each one filled with an exciting number of environments to explore. Combat plays a large role, but there are some puzzles, too, and plenty of challenging platforming sections. From beginning to end, Blasphemous holds your attention because it’s simply a joy to play. The controls are responsive, the action is well-paced, and lashings of gore are just the icing on the cake. Whether you finish enemies with a standard attack, a brutal counter or a punishing execution, you’ll be thrilled at their grizzly demise.
While improving The Penitent One largely relies on you discovering items, altars and fountains, increasing your repertoire of attacks requires Tears of Atonement. Primarily obtained by defeating enemies, you’ll be glad to hear that you don’t lose them when you die. But death is where Blasphemous leans most heavily on Dark Souls. Be overcome in combat and you’ll be returned to the last Prie Dieu you rested at. And even worse, your maximum mana, or Fervour in this case, is reduced until you either return to your place of death and recover it, or visit a shrine that rids you of your guilt.
The good news is that Blasphemous doesn’t put up too many walls that prevent you from progressing through it; despite being billed as a punishing action-platformer, I was pleasantly surprised to find that in most cases Blasphemous is genuinely fair. Once or twice I’ve headed into a new area only to get my arse repeatedly kicked by a boss, but by going away and exploring elsewhere I’ve always found the upgrades required to return and emerge victorious without much trouble.
Backtracking is perhaps where the most frustration lies in Blasphemous, though. There are times when you might want to revisit an area to explore rooms that you couldn’t previously reach, pay a visit to the merchant, or complete a side quest. The only problem is, unless you’ve got a very good memory you might not know where there hell to go. Blasphemous‘ map screen isn’t very useful at all, failing to indicate certain useful locations. And you can’t even place custom markers. Get used to going on a wild goose chase thanks to a vague memory you have of seeing something, somewhere.
I have another bone to pick with the game, too. And it’s boss related. On numerous occasions I found myself getting floored with one attack only to be hit again as my character rose from the ground. One boss in particular was bad for this; if I got caught with one pillar of flame, I got caught with up to four of them, wreaking havoc on my health bar or killing me outright. I can’t imagine it’s intended. There is one way to overcome the issue: don’t get hit. After learning a boss’ attack patterns, it’s not too much of a hard task.
Even with these issues though, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the time I’ve spent with Blasphemous and I’m itching to go back for more. After 15 hours of play there are still side quests I need to complete, and they’re likely to provide me with the relics that I believe are required to access the final few areas that are unexplored on my map. After that, I might even play through the game again thanks to it having two endings. There are some hard choices to make in Blasphemous, and their repercussions certainly aren’t rubbed in your face.
I think what’s really enamoured me is Blasphemous‘ horrifying pixel art and haunting soundtrack. Religious imagery lies around every corner, and gives life to some of the most grotesque bosses I’ve ever laid eyes on. It’s a game that doesn’t pull any punches, making it awfully grim at times. But the resulting oppressive atmosphere enhances the experience. Combined with a soundtrack that is simply sublime, Blasphemous is one of those games that will stick with you long after you’ve finished playing it.
Blasphemous is hands down one of my favourite games of 2019. I wasn’t expecting it to be, but it’s one of those unexpected surprises; a gift that you didn’t think that you wanted but quickly becomes to be loved. Sitting between Castlevania and Dark Souls, its combat is fast-paced and requires timing and skill, the difficulty pitched just perfectly. But it’s the sense of discovery and hardship that your character goes through that really makes it what it is, as well as the atmospheric world they inhabit. Blasphemous may not be entirely original structurally or mechanically, but The Game Kitchen has cooked up something that feels very unique.