Blasphemous Review – Macabre Self Flagellation – Indie Insights

Greetings dear friends and a warm welcome to another one of my indie insights review and commentary series.   Today we’re taking more than a little peak into Blasphemous one of my top 10 games out this month which comes out September 10 via Steam and onto all of the usual consoles.

There’s no way around this section coming up as while it’s obvious, not to address the clear inspirations at play here for Blasphemous would be to bat such observations away into the long grass.

Taking its queues as many games have over the years from Dark Souls and Metroidvania mechanics, Blasphemous carries us though a quite magnificent but unwelcoming pixel art world full of un acknowledged Christian religious iconography and while it’s visuals are undeniably superb, it didn’t fully grab me mostly due to faltering mechanics and long sections of drab, dull and repetitive gameplay.

Coming back to that Souls reference from earlier, in place of the save point bonfires we have a type of prayer desk, likewise once trigged enemies are respawned.  You also have a health meter which can be refilled and while there aren’t spells to cast, you are able to carry prayers and boost certain abilities with items you attach to a rosary.

There are however welcome differences where Blasphemous moves away from being an out and out Souls Like clone. I didn’t get the feeling I was constantly referring back to my health meter and there’s no elements where you need to grind your way though it to gain XP.

At this point it feels more accurate to go into this one if you choose to do so while it wears it’s inspirations front and centre, it takes these elements and spins them into something that’s really best described as being an hack and slash action side scroller with boss battles and many platforming elements.

Let’s quickly backtrack to the story which sees you play as the Penitent One, a mute sword bearing warrior tasked with achieving the penance that carries him to the Mother of Mothers.

Of that I’m quite certain although a good few hours after the end credits have rolled, I’m still trying to work out what else was going on. The story is out and out obscure to the point where I’m convinced the writing is so over the top with its wordiness it borders on being darn right vane, almost pompous even and I wouldn’t blame other players to skip past much of the world building narrative given how obtuse it’s delivered with all too subtle nuances.

Moving onto the combat well things started off quite promisingly as you’re thrown into a boss battle within the first few moments of the game.  However, any joy or excitement with this wanes rather quickly. I didn’t find any of the combat sections particularly difficult that is once I got used to the pattern of recognising the well telegraphed enemy motions and reacting accordingly.  After a while particularly in dealing with the individual enemies things felt stale and the sparkle from how it all looks and feels ebbs away.

What else feels odd is how easy it is to lose health while applying one of the health potions or reciting one of the prayers.  The act of doing so leaves you vulnerable which in the longer term had me all but hold back in using the prayer functions and on occasions having a lower heath post attempt to boost it than when I commenced refilling the meter.

There are fine moments to be had, particularly when successfully pulling off a parry and when offered the chance to produce an execution style finish although this open seems to come at random as I couldn’t figure a way to reliably trigger this function. One tip though, If you want to get ahead here I would recommend unlocking the sliding lunging strike upgrade as soon as you’re able as this really does act as a combat game changer.

What I can’t fault however are the boss battles some of which are lushly hideous by design. The stand out boss for me was the infant speckled with blood wearing a crown of thorns with its eyes presumably gouged out. This infant in turn is held by its sides by a creature also wrapped in thorns which is as disturbing as anything I’ve seen in a game all year, me being a parent of young children after all.

These boss fights aren’t particularly difficult although there are one or two close to the end where things get more tricky although with careful analysis you are able to memorise the patterns and formulate the tactics needed to see them away.

What I can find fault with however is the system of player upgrades by way of the Rosary Beads, Relics and prayers a how little these upgrades improve your abilities. I didn’t really notice or feel I was getting any bigger, badder or tougher in the whole 15 or so hours I spent on the game.

One other area of frustration comes from the cheap instakill sections and occurrences where enemies spawn while concealed by the foreground. One such room had me spitting features with its whirling blades hell bent on knocking you into these spikes and while earlier I mentioned I didn’t find this to be an overly difficult game, this section really is pun intended the tip of the spike in non-boss battle gameplay.

I really wanted to be able to come away from Blasphemous singing it’s praises from the rooftops.  However, beyond it beautiful pixel art style and wonderfully realised cut scenes together with its oppressive atmosphere it hasn’t made a lasting impression.  Aside from the aforementioned issues there are too many instances of prolonged back tracking from the save points that are severely lacking which means we see a constant cycle of action and battle based enjoyment interspaced with periods of dull travel based downtime.

I’ve been honest in my previous coverage in as much as Metriodvania games are my favourite of any genre so I take the sum experience I’ve gained over the years and with that while it has merit, Blasphemous falls short and while the grotesque imagery will prolong within my memory, overall it won’t leave a lasting impression.

Blasphemous was reviewed here with a Playstation 4 launch day code that was supplied for review purposes by the publisher.

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