HIGH Unsettling, majestic art direction.
LOW Annoying trial-and-error platforming challenges.
WTF The illogical way to unlock the canonical ending.
Gamecritics.com has already published a spot-on review for the original version of Blasphemous, but the devs’ continuous devotion (no pun intended) to this grim realm warrants a second take. Since the initial review, The Game Kitchen has released three free DLCs that add substantial weight to the whole experience – and most importantly, they alter the canonical ending. Given how essential this new conclusion is to the entire premise of the never-ending cycle of penance trapping the land of Cvstodia, judging the final version of Blasphemous requires a new set of pros and cons.
Gameplay-wise, Blasphemous remains a 2D metroidvania focusing on melee combat and platforming — the original review holds the rest of the basic details on this. Please see that review for more of the nuts and bolts.
After beginning this updated version, main character The Penitent One is given a clear quest, and he proceeds to unearth why things are the way they are in his cursed land by besting a plethora of grotesque creatures and screen-filling bosses. Along the way, he unlocks new combo attacks, completes quests given by NPCs in order to learn magic skills, and relies on invincibility frames courtesy of a dash move and very generous parrying to defeat towering monstrosities.
The setting of Blasphemous implies an allegorical depiction of medieval Spain, featuring a society built upon overzealous acts of self-harm and various forms of voluntary sacrifice that might bring one closer to the grace of The Miracle — the deity looming over the adventure. So, many of the areas we visit involve huge edifices raised for praising The Miracle, populated by enemies with appearances twisted to a worrying degree due to fanatical following of religious teaching. The result is an often awe-inspiring landscape reminiscent of pre-renaissance-era Catholic paintings of sinners carrying out punishment in places other than heaven.
Even if this concept seems like well-worn ground, I sincerely cannot think of a title that comes close to rivaling Blasphemous. The art direction is simply amazing and will leave a lasting impression on the player — guaranteed!
The bosses are (literally) the biggest examples of how potent this artistry can be. Many of them appear before us in forms that make their human origins nigh unrecognizable as a result of the The Miracle “rewarding” their unwavering faith. It is unfortunate, then, that Blasphemous had only a handful of bosses on release. Luckily, all three DLCs address this issue in prudent ways.
The Stir of Dawn DLC added five (!!!) new bosses that we can face during New Game+ mode, meaning they are designed to be challenging. Plus, this DLC introduces a new NPC shedding more light on the nature of The Miracle, and further revelations await after defeating this squadron of tortured souls.
Are they too tough or unfair, though? To me, not in the slightest. Looking back after completion, I can confirm that none of these new bosses had anything like unfair recovery times or endless spamming of ranged attacks. On the contrary – everything the game teaches us in the first playthrough remains applicable and effective the second time around. So, instead of making these extra bosses encounters that I’d rather avoid (see: Elden Ring’s Malenia), Blasphemous succeeds in offering new challenges that are appropriate.
Moving on, the Strife and Ruin DLC added an awesome boss-rush mode where we can face combinations of bosses divided into several difficulty tiers. This is an excellent way to learn their patterns and perhaps train ourselves for a no-hit run across the entire campaign.
Also, this DLC added a special set of timed platforming challenges, filled to the brim with insta-death pitfalls. When it comes to these specifically, I have to side with Mike and say that insta-death is something videogames outgrew decades ago — and the developers seems to agree with us now since they’ve said that Blasphemous 2 won’t implement them. Plus, failing these obstacle courses has no negative consequence on a playthrough, and completing them does gets us a cool new magic skill to try.
The final DLC, titled Wounds of Eventide, is where the most pleasant surprises await us. This content comprises two new bosses, two entirely new areas, it gives new personas to three prominent characters, introduces a new NPC of great importance, changes the final boss fight, and on top of all that – brings a new ‘canonical’ ending that’s far meatier than the others, and it leads directly into the sequel.
Eventide alone is enough of a reason for a second play and a second review, and without spoiling anything, I’ll say that those who chose to entertain its notions will find much to ponder about here.
One thing that does grind my gears, however, is the convoluted steps we have to fulfill to reach the true ending. I tried to do so without any outside help the first time, but that proved futile after a dozen hours. Unlike the other endings, unlocking the new one requires us to perform a specific action which is quite impossible to discern without prior knowledge. Anyone trying to suss it out for themselves will likely feel like they’ve been kicked below the belt by how esoteric it is. Thus, it’s far wiser to simply google that information beforehand since the ending can become unreachable after a certain point of a playthrough.
While I suppose it’s possible to stumble upon that discovery by chance, I really wished the true path of The Penitent One was laid out in a more logical manner. Even so, the entirety of what Blasphemous is today represents a shining example of an airtight combat system set within an utterly captivating 2D world — and what was once an experience that only scratched at the surface of its own implications now offers fully-fledged discourse that isn’t light on conclusions.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
— Konstantin Koteski
Disclosures: This game is developed by The Game Kitchen and published by Team17. It is currently available on PS4, XBO, PC and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via paid download and reviewed on the Switch Lite. Approximately 50 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed several times on different difficulties. There are no multiplayer mods.
Parents: This game has received an “M” rating by ESRB, and contains Blood and Gore, Nudity and Violence. The board’s official summary reads: “This is a platformer game in which players hack and slash their way through the fantastical world of Cvstodia. From a 2D side-scrolling perspective, players traverse platforms while using a sword and special/magical attacks to kill enemies (e.g., ghouls, demons, monsters, corpses) and boss creatures in frenetic combat. Large blood-splatter effects appear frequently during gameplay, and several enemies can be torn into pieces or blown apart. One boss battle depicts a colossal figure tearing apart players’ character; a human-like enemy splits apart vertically upon death. Cutscenes depict further instances of violence: a character getting impaled by a sword; a character’s helmet filling up with blood from a wound. During the course of the game, some creatures are depicted with exposed breasts and buttocks; certain male creatures’ genitalia can be seen briefly in the background.”
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All of the conversations and narrations are clearly recorded and the subtitles’ size makes them easy to follow. Text cannot be resized or altered. Sound is completely unimportant for playing and beating this game due to the total absence of audio-only enemy cues. In my view, this is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: This game does not offer a controller diagram and the controls are not changeable. This is a 2D game where the analog sticks don’t play an important role, so the D-pad moves the character, the face buttons are for attacking, jumping and interacting with the menus, while the bumpers are for dashing, parrying, healing and using magic skills.