Woe be unto you if you’re trying to bring a platformer to market these days. In one of the most crowded, oversaturated genres on Steam, your only hope is to offer something truly unique, breathtaking in quality, or perhaps both. I wouldn’t call Blasphemous groundbreaking in what it is or does, but it takes familiar seeds and grows a garden of rare quality and grim delights. Many games aspire to be the sort of dark, punishing platformer that this is, and almost all of them fall far short of the action and spectacle you’ll get here.
The land of Cvstodia has fallen into the clutches of the Grievous Miracle, an inescapable religious dogma that twists its followers and consigns them to horrific deaths. You have escaped such a death, the last of the Silent Sorrow, and you return to Cvstodia as The Penitent One, its only hope of breaking free from this divine curse. But battling the Miracle requires more than simply destroying its monstrous zealots and freeing its victims. You must follow the rites of this ancient land, recovering relics, aiding fellow pilgrims, and fulfilling prophecies to open the way forward to your fate. At the end of this long, bloody road lies the truth behind this doom, and a struggle to determine the future of an embattled society.
With a name and premise like that, you’re probably expecting plenty of religious themes and symbolism. Whatever you’ve envisioned, Blasphemous takes that and cranks it to eleven, while also blasting Black Sabbath on a second, larger sound system. Everything in the game, almost without exception, is steeped in some kind of Christian iconography. Enemies wield censers, golden scepters, and entire statues of angels, clad in priestly robes or bleeding from crowns of thorns. The environments are adorned with gothic arches, holy symbols, and impossibly grand frescoes and carvings of sacred events. You equip rosary beads and sanctified relics, and collect the bones of saints. You’re essentially fighting the twisted manifestation of the Catholic Church itself, twisted far enough to make its imagery unquestionably monstrous.
And you don’t simply fight these forces, you annihilate them. Blasphemous is really just that, a bloody, brutal march of destruction through the ruins of faith itself. Enemies explode with blood and viscera when you cut them down normally, and face even worse fates if you manage to score an execution on them. The combat leading to these vicious eliminations is simple enough, with basic sword combos and familiar aerial, slide, and charge moves that require some token consideration for reach and timing. The Penitent One can block and parry as well, with parries being exactly the kind of meaty repulsions and crushing follow-ups you’re hoping they are. You’ll get ranged attacks as well, along with a whole host of passive effects from your equipment to change your gameplay in ways large and small. Still, the core sword combat remains the same throughout, and the grotesque monsters and bosses you face will provide a perfectly reasonable challenge for your skills.
Aside from the high quality and volume of equippables, there’s not much more to say about the combat in Blasphemous. If anything it’s easier than expected, with most enemies having distinct patterns and bosses generally not needing more than a death or two to figure out. The controls are perhaps a bit stiffer than other games of its ilk, but once you get comfortable you’ll hardly notice. This puts the focus more on exploration, which is a definite strong suit of the game. Cvstodia is brought to life with fantastically grim pixel art and detailed backdrops, depicting plains of sunken churches, towering cathedrals, seething sewers, and sights too grand to mention. There are tons of secrets and side challenges to unearth, and other than the purpose of some being poorly communicated, offer a rich variety of rewards for your tenacity.
I think the only thing that would really hold someone back from appreciating Blasphemous is the sheer gore on display. They really pull no punches when mulching foes, and the intensely religious airs could make that even more uncomfortable. For my part I loved it, the spectacle and payoffs and all. Some folks have been unhappy with the instant-death pits and spikes dotting the levels, but I found them reasonable challenges along with the rest. Topped off with some solid writing and a wonderfully moody soundtrack, this is definitely one of the best dark metroidvanias to reach for the genre crown. It’s not quite spectacular enough to summit, but I’d certainly count Blasphemous among my favorites.