I took a run through this game on the Switch in the fall, posted my thoughts, and it’s been a bit like that hum of a song that gets stuck in your head. I took another stroll through recently. My first run was about 45hrs total, this recent one was just around 20hrs. The “boss walls” just weren’t there this time, with more than a few that I took out on the first attempt. And yet…
There have been 3 DLCs for the game, most recently in December. The first (Dawn of Sorrows) was what I like to consider the kitchen sink patch – lots of quality of life changes, new bosses, and NG+. The second (Strife and Ruin) was a tie in with Bloodstained for some challenging timed platforming runs and a boss rush mode. The final one (Wounds of Eventide) adds some new zones, equipment, skills, and a new ending to better set up the sequel. I didn’t have access to this last DLC when I had my first play.
WoE adds a new zone that is like that Mario Kart race where you’re going backwards on a highway. Everything until that point is pretty good, and then the rules change a bit and it’s super hard mode. I died more getting to the boss of this zone than I did at the boss. The DLC also brings two bosses, the one at the end of that hard zone (a giant snake, which is an awesome fight) and then one in a secret chamber in your main hub. I tried that boss at various points, and it required a specific set up of skills, including one that provided invulnerability for most of her 3rd phase. It felt amazing taking her down.
And the story extension is also worth noting. The penultimate boss gets her own story arc, which adds a needed extension to the lore to the game. It was somewhat cryptic as to what the “Miracle” actually was, and the curtains are revealed. Blasphemous is a weird game, in that the story itself is a significant draw, but is a right mess to understand the messaging throughout. It was super satisfying to come out the end.
Now the reason this game has stuck so much is because of another game – Metroid Dread -which I played just before the holidays (~8hrs for 100%). I think one of the interesting bits in a metroidvania is the choice to player engagement. Dread does nothing to change the combat mechanics from start to end. You get a gun, you get missiles, and you get a parry. What you get to change things up is movement skills – dash, run, spin (borderline fly). This makes traversing the game not only faster but safer – and honestly super smooth. There’s no story to the game aside from 3 key points (the start, 75% point, and final boss) which means exploration for exploration’s sake. There’s only 1 ending – which is crazy in the genre today. The challenge comes in two flavors – memorizing boss patterns (every boss can be cleared without taking a hit) and the EMMI robots. EMMI robots feel like an RNG element, and any RNG that 1-shots you is not fun. Once they are cleared, the game becomes so much more fun.
Dread being the grandchild of the genre really accentuates how much the cousins have taken over. Playing through it I couldn’t help but think “Blasphemous did this better” or “Bloodstained was more engaging”, or “insert other metroidvania”. I’m not saying Dread is bad, far from it, but it’s not great. The only risk it takes is to add an insta-kill mechanic. Look at what Ori gave us? Hollow Knight? Guacamelee? This cycles back to a previous post where indie/small developers are taking core concepts and making magic from them. For all the garbage we get in the AAA space, and we gamers love to complain, there is still a massive amount of awesome and fun out there to find.