Game review: Blasphemous is an even darker Dark Souls –

The latest attempt to create a 2D version of Dark Souls results in one of the most atmospheric and disturbing games of the year.
It really is hard to fathom the logic in video game age ratings sometimes. When Lego games are given a 7 for ‘depictions of violence’ but the ultra gory Hotline Miami is only a 16 you’ve got to wonder what the point of it all is. It must be something to do with pixel graphics as Blasphemous is filled with some outrageous depictions of violence, even if they’re not exactly photorealistic, and yet also only gets a 16. But more than just the gore there’s a sickly sense of depravity and wrongness in the game… which is its most impressive achievement.
One of the opening scenes of Blasphemous involves you defeating a boss character then filling your giant pointy metal mask with blood from its wounds and immediately putting it back on. Incredibly though, this is only the second most weird and disturbing thing to happen in the game’s opening five minutes.
Things do calm down slightly after that but the backdrop of Blasphemous is of a cursed world populated by grotesque monsters and where the few remaining humans are obsessed with suffering and penitence. The game avoids any direct Christian references but it’s unsurprising to find that developer The Game Kitchen are Spanish, because it’s obvious the whole thing is inspired by the horrors of the Inquisition.

What’s also obvious is that the game is heavily influenced by Dark Souls, despite being purely 2D. The obscure storytelling is very similar, only offering hints as to what’s going on and hiding most of the details behind obscure lore and poetic descriptions. As in FromSoftware’s games, all you really need to know is that you are The Penitent One and it’s down to you reverse ‘The Miracle’ that has cursed the land.
Blasphemous’ core gameplay works similarly to many other action platformers and Metroidvanias. At least at first, it’s not as hellishly difficult as the Dark Souls comparisons suggest and there is a very satisfying dodge move which is key to survival, as you slip behind an enemy just as they attack. More moves and abilities are unlocked as you progress, including an equally satisfying parry, with each enemy having their own unique tells that clue you in on when and how to attack.
This is doubly true of the numerous boss battles which, in the grand tradition of FromSoftware, all seem absolutely impossible right up until the point where you beat them. Despite the 2D visuals there’s an impressive variety to them all, as they range from giant blindfolded babies to grotesque giants that stand in the background and fire Contra style laser beams.
As in Dark Souls, there are bonfire-like save points which will restore minor enemies to life as well as refill your health potions. You aren’t collecting souls as you explore but upon death your special bar, used for a variety of magic attacks, will be cut short until you find the point at which you died and relieve yourself of the guilt.
There have been a number of attempts to create a 2D Dark Souls over the years, with Salt And Sanctuary still probably the most successful. In some ways Blasphemous follows From’s template more rigidly but importantly it’s not an action role-playing game. There are no stats or level-grinding, which may please some but essentially means it’s a Metroidvania in SoulsBorne clothing.
There is a range of collectibles and extra moves to collect but, sadly, Blasphemous’ combat doesn’t evolve all that much through the course of the game. It compensates a little with some decent platforming, but there are few real puzzles – which would’ve been the other obvious direction to expand into. It’s a shame, because the level design is very good, filled with secrets and mysteries that you’d swear at first were just obscure details and then turn out to be vital for progression.
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Blasphemous’ style of pixel art isn’t trying to replicate any specific format, although the various cut scenes did remind us of high-end Amiga games such as Another World and Flashback. The animation quality is excellent throughout and despite the low resolution there’s an impressive attention to detail and characterisation. Even if most of that detail is gross and disturbing.
As a mix between Dark Souls and a more traditional 2D Metroidvania, Blasphemous is compelling stuff but it does feel like it would’ve benefitted more by sticking to being just one or the other – or, even better, forging its own path. What’s here is very enjoyable but in the end it’s the grotesque imagery that’s more memorable than the actual game.
In Short: An accomplished attempt to create a mix of Dark Souls and traditional Metroidvania, but its bizarre visual style ultimately overshadows its other virtues.
Pros: Clever level design, with some particularly inspired bosses. Disturbing setting and visuals are carried off perfectly, with some great 2D animation.
Cons: Although the 2D gameplay hides the fact to a degree there’s very few new ideas here. Combat lacks variety and fails to evolve enough as you progress.
Score: 7/10

Formats: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC
Price: £19.99
Publisher: Team17
Developer: The Game Kitchen
Release Date: 10th September 2019
Age Rating: 16

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