The Game Kitchen’s 2D hack and slash platformer Blasphemous stormed onto Kickstarter this May and proceeded to cut its way through just about every stretch goal en route to raising 333,000 USD, which is an impressive feat for an indie game. The game has recently headed into an extended backer period on Backerkit through the end of August, and is up for further funding for those who missed out on a chance to back and secure early access as the game is developed. We went hands on with the backers aesthetic prototype demo ourselves to check out the content used to create the game’s dynamic trailers and put some of our early impressions down. It must be noted as this is just an aesthetic demo, a lot of the core gameplay is not included, so much is subject to change.
Blasphemous Hands On Preview
Developed by: The Game Kitchen
Published by: The Game Kitchen
Release date: 2019
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch (Played on PC)
Story & Setting
The demo does not really set a vivid picture of the story, in fact none at all, but this is just a prototype and no doubt there will be cutscenes and exposition. As is the the official lit on the game sets it in the land of Orthodoxia where religion reigns supreme and churches outnumber people 2 to 1. You come to in a hellish territory during the Age of Corruption as The Penitent One, a rogue nomad hunting evil with only your trusty sword. You are the last survivor of a group known as The Silent Sorrow who were all condemned to be tossed into the Abyss of the Eternal Grief. The story will be presented through clues in the level, similar to Dark Souls. Much of the game and it’s visual design and cultural core is inspired by the Spanish city of Seville and the dark and arresting visuals are all handmade pixel art.
The setting is incredibly moody and very engrossing. The land that you are journeying through is crumbling and decaying and it all feels as oppressive as Demon’s Souls. This is reinforced by the enemy design, although there were only 3 different foes in the demo, each one is crafted carefully to reinforce the brooding setting, right down to a baddy that self flagellates. Can’t get much more orthodox than that. The setting is the strength of the game so far and even in its prototype state, it’s already an engrossing world to be a part of. It grabs you and compels you to explore every nook and cranny, and death doesn’t feel like a discouragement. The foreground and background are littered with the crumbling ruins of a world that binged on dogma, and if the metaphor is blatant, it’s at least effective. Studying the environment will be a fun exercise in deciphering the truth of this world.
The gameplay is very straight up Castlevania style. It unfolds in 2D and you explore the map in your standard left, right, up and down levels. Along the way you will be engaging in a mix of platforming and combat.
The platforming is tight and responsive, which is a must for any 2D sidescroller/vania. There isn’t a lot of give with the movement, and that lets you make some precise jumps and landings. So far there is a clear attention to challenging platforming and the controls definitely do not get in the way of precision. That’s a good thing because some of the jumps and maneuvers really have to be nailed, lest you fall to your instant death into a pit of spikes.
Further upping the challenge of the platforming is the careful placement of enemies on ledges, precipices or hidden above or below your initial sight line, only to appear as soon as you cross or land. This introduces a harrowing bit to the platforming, especially when you’re negotiating your way through a precarious descent, unsure of whether an enemy is lurking to ruin your drop. You are forced to be prepared to attack in midair at a moment’s notice which is a fun way to make sure you’re not mentally checking out during even the simplest of hops.
The combat of the game is the most basic mechanic in its present state. It’s standard hack and slash, with for now, no variety, either in moveset or weapon type. You have your trusty sword and that’s it, and it’s capable of basically comboing it’s very limited moveset infinitely. There’s no stamina bar governing your actions at all, so you’re free to mash the attack button to your heart’s content. I’m not sure if stamina is something that’s going to be introduced in the final game, but if it’s not in the cards, it may be worth looking into. Right now this infinite attacking really lets you spam your attacks, and as long as you get the first hit on an enemy you can just attack mash until they’re down. It definitely runs the risk of cheapening the game, that is if difficulty is something they want to include. Even so, it does reduce how interesting enemy can be, if they all go down in similar fashions. Again, it’s early so it’s hard to make a complete judgement, and perhaps more challenging foes, such as ones that poise through attacks or block, would equalize things a bit. Not included in the demo but said to be coming is Martyr’s Excommunication, where you will chain your encounters and if you do so well enough you will unlock a power boost that will make you almost unstoppable.
With the trusty sword narrative woven into the game’s official marketing, it’s hard to get a sense of the eventual itemization in Blasphemous. There is no loot in the demo at all, be it weapons, armor or consumables. Presumably itemization will be included and I’m most curious as to whether there will be weapon variety, or at the least the ability to change or customize the sword’s movesets. If not, that could become tedious for gameplay, and players may lose interest using a single sword with a limited and unchanging moveset. It need not be as dynamic as Dark Souls or genre mate Dead Cells, but a few more options will go a long way. It does bear noting however, that the swordplay is solid, the reach is sensible and consistent and you feel like you land a hit when you should and when an enemy punishes your miss, it feels fair. It may be button mashy, but doesn’t exactly encourage recklessness.
The boss present in the prototype is the biggest tease ever, as the demo finishes before the fight begins, much to my chagrin. There was potential epic battle written all over this steer/goat-like distorted monstrosity. It had all the makings of something out of creepy religious horror and seemed right from the bowels of hell. This is where I suspect the game will hit it’s combat high point, as the bosses shown in screenshots so far are not only impeccably designed, but seem to be formidable opponents.
Visual & Audio
Visual and audio is another area where the game shines. The game is done in pixel art yes, but with a beautiful level of detail. There’s wonderful shadowing, color, textures, beveling, you name it, all in a retro sheen. The enemies, locations and main character are all distinct and it works very well. It’s transporting.
The audio is equally haunting, with strained winds, tormented breaths and isolation all capture wonderfully. It’s minimalist yes, but adds a spot on horror element. Your footsteps and the slashing of your enemy’s flesh ring loudest in this world and they carry on the howling wind. This is immersive and very Soulsborne like.
Blasphemous has some serious potential to worm into people’s minds with a gripping setting and haunting design presentation. If it can take that initial hook and sink its teeth in further with some more varied combat and itemization, it has a chance to hang out in the upper levels of the resurgent 2D genre alongside recent hits like Salt and Sanctuary and Dead Cells. Right now it definitely cuts the flesh, time will tell if it penetrates to the bones.