A sinfully good-looking game that could use a little penance.
In Blasphemous, you are the Penitent One, a survivor seeking to complete a series of rituals called the Three Humiliations so that they may reach the Cradle of Affliction. As a 2D Metroidvania-style game, Blasphemous sees you exploring a sprawling map leading through different areas to find collectibles and navigate your way through the world. Between the twisted aesthetic with religious iconography and its brutal, unforgiving combat, Blasphemous takes clear cues from the Soulsborne genre of games as well, though it doesn’t put any of those influences to good use against the traditional exploration and platforming challenges of Metroidvanias.
The most immediately striking thing about Blasphemous is its gorgeous art style. The game’s world is made entirely of smoothly-animated sprites that move more fluidly than pixel art is typically capable of. Each action that the Penitent One can take features so many frames of animation that you’d almost think there was some smoke and mirrors going on making full 3D models look like sprites, but the art is the genuine article. The world of Blasphemous is bleak and hopeless, and the richly detailed environments help to enhance the ugly desolation of the world of Cvstodia.
Combat in Blasphemous is functional but nothing spectacular. The Penitent One’s weapon—a cursed sword named Mea Culpa—is your primary mode of engaging opponents. Although Mea Culpa can be upgraded with new abilities and moves, enemy encounters are rarely complex enough to utilize any more than your basic sword combos and a powerful parry attack. The simplicity of combat can be frustrating when combined with how much damage enemies are capable of doing. Since the Penitent One can only suffer a few hits before needing to consume a healing vial (a precious and limited commodity), the most boring tactics like keeping your distance and hitting with quick single strikes tends to be the wisest option. Boss fights can be more interesting, but they also come with an even higher difficulty level that the simpler common enemies fail to prepare you for.
Exploring the world of Cvstodia is mostly interesting, with varied aesthetics and puzzles, but there are far too many instant death pits to make the experience really feel worthwhile. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a single Metroidvania that features platforming challenges that instantly kill you at full health for making a single mistake, and it makes exploring and backtracking through Cvstodia an arduous chore that I struggled to bring myself back to. One area in particular combined instant-death platforming with shifting winds that could aid or hinder your jumps, and it was some of the least fun I’ve ever had playing a Metroidvania.
With its incredible artstyle and striking world design, Blasphemous could have been a fine adventure with a dark and twisted tone. The aesthetic is incredible, and the map design of Cvstodia is solid and engaging. Unfortunately the game is too bogged down with a high difficulty level that is more tedious than challenging, dragging the entire experience down into something I can hardly bring myself to play. Blasphemous is a beautiful game that I wish I could enjoy more, but the extremely high difficulty of combat and platforming simply does not mesh well with the amount of exploration and backtracking needed from a world as expansive as this one.