Nothing to be cross about
Some games have violence. Some games have gore. And some games have you filling your gigantic, pointy helmet with the blood of a slain enemy before ramming it back onto your head. Blasphemous – as the name might suggest – can be found firmly in column “blood helmet”.
Brought to life by Spanish devs The Game Kitchen, the team clearly want to show the world that their home city of Seville isn’t just about gothic architecture and delicious oranges. Chasing the heels of a recent glut in pixelated hack ‘n’ slashers, Blasphemous is a familiar mix of combat and exploration. What makes it stand out though is NOBODY EXPECTS THE SPANISH INQUISITION. Right, now I’ve got that one out of the way…
From the moment you open the game, it’s clear there is a completely singular vision of style. Blasphemous takes place in the world of Cvstodia, a bleak yet oddly beautiful place which clearly takes a number of cues from the architecture and history of Spain. It’s a grim purgatory filled with captivating locations and tragic characters. A colossal bell, buried upside down so its ringing would make the earth tremble. A fallen warrior, imprisoned in a suit of metal armour, pierced with arrows and hung from a dying tree. The Kissers of Wounds, a holy order dedicated to easing the suffering of the wretched. Heady stuff.
The game’s art style is perfect. It’s both simple yet complex, beautiful yet disgusting. A perfect visual representation of the duality existing in Cvstodia: both pleasure and pain. The world is full of interesting details, and the non-player characters and enemies are grotesque and fascinating. Flagellants whip their broken backs with barbed scourges, Sagittal Martyrs' cleaved bodies wobble while they fling razor-sharp boomerangs at you from afar, and the Crucified bends double under the weight of a sculpted stone angel. I love a game that just really goes for it.
A special shout out for the cutscenes too. The old-school art style is perfectly in keeping with the rest of the game, enhancing the slow unweaving of the story as you fight your way towards redemption. The music is spacious and brilliant, and I’m also pleasantly surprised by the voice acting. It’s easy to do badly, but there’s a great variety and consistency of quality adding great depth beyond the usual subtitles.
Speaking of which. Or… not. You play the Penitent One. An unrelenting, voiceless protagonist who shall henceforth be known as Sir Pointy Head. Definitely do not ask if his head goes all the way to the top of his helmet. There’s a heavy adventuring bent in Blasphemous, and you spend a lot of time interacting with tortured souls to gain rewards and buffs while also hunting for sacred shrines to unlock new special attacks. While a nice diversion, the main focus is on combat. Fighting is based around Sir Pointy Head’s bae: Mea Culpa, a thorned sword born from guilt utilised to chop, hack and gut enemies in no particular order. Combat is as tight as you’d expect from another Souls-like title, and while you start off with a few basic attacks plus the ability to dodge and parry, you feel immediately deadly. While largely simple, it’s solid – although I did find the microsecond timing of dodging and parrying somewhat frustrating. It doesn’t feel as obvious as something like Dead Cells, where you legitimately ask “who needs weapons when you have a shield?” It does lack a bit of variety in the long run, as you can make your way through pretty much the whole game just using the basic attacks. Still, it’s good fun and the gory execution kills are rare but spectacular.
There are bosses too. No, not some twat in a contrast collar shirt carrying an umbrella and asking you how the printer works, for the hundredth time. We’re talking giant leprous heads half-covered in molten gold floating around while firing laser beams at you. Boss fights are an assault on the senses and reflexes, and require careful timing to beat. I found some of the undodgeable bullet hell style fights a bit obnoxious, but at the same time there wasn’t a single boss fight I didn’t end without an exhilarating shout of “THAT’S RIGHT, BITCH.” Apologies to my neighbours.
That makes it sound like I didn’t die that often. Incorrect. I did try and remind myself that only through pain can we find true redemption, but there’s only so many times I can bounce my controller off a table. When you die to enemies, it’s not too bad. You can chalk it up as a mixture of being over-eager or impatient. But when you die because you missed grabbing a platform by a couple of pixels, there is nothing to learn. Jumping and platforming is one of the few weak points in the game. The level design isn’t always greatly intuitive, and you can find yourself committing to a jump only to die in a spike pit once again. This can be extra frustrating when you’ve not explored a great deal of the map, and don’t have access to many of the respawn shrines. Having to make your way through half a level, especially when all the enemies are reanimated when you die, can be more frustrating than challenging. That said, there are clever shortcuts to unlock in some areas which can help you bypass certain sections.
Overall, Blasphemous is a very singular game. It has style in absolute dollops, and largely there is enough substance in the story and play mechanics to keep it engaging throughout. Certain elements can get a bit tedious, but I think the devs’ decision to keep core gameplay quite focused was the right one. Tell you what though, smashing a health potion into your face while signing an upside down crucifix never gets old. Deus vult!
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