I need me some metroidvania. There’s some hidden joy in the genre, where progress rewards progress. It’s an interesting genre, that only recently (say 5 years or so) has really come into it’s own. The defining feature today is that the game is 2D. If you think about it, the Link/Zelda series are a type of metroidvania, where character ability defines access to content (BotW excepted). Metroidvania eventually bleeded into the rogue-like genre, where progress is a mix of abilities & player skill (think Dead Cells or Hades).
What’s most impressive about the genre is how prolific it’s become. Metroidvanias don’t need a AAA studio development, they can deliver absolutely stunning content with a “small” team. I’d even argue that the smaller teams allow for greater innovation and risk taking, in order to differentiate from the others in the genre.
I’ve talked about Metroid Dread, where the game has high spots, but the experimentation with EMMI doesn’t really work for me. My kids have given it a shot, and they both hit the quit wall of EMMI, which is a real shame. Hollow Knight, by comparison, is astoundingly more difficult, yet the gradual increase of said difficulty comes across many hours of gameplay (honestly, if you’ve finished this game with the true ending, hats off).
Blasphemous is a strange one. On the one hand, it has all the pure essence of the genre. 2D, tough combat, game changing abilities, hidden secrets, alternative endings. On the other, it has a rather obtuse quest system and punishing health/death mechanic that fits a souls-like game. Understanding the mechanics of the game drastically change the player’s ability to succeed.
My first playthrough was close to 40 hours. If it tracked the number of deaths, it would be obscene. Heck, the first boss (well, I thought it was the first) took me 20 tries before realizing I could slide through it and the i-frames that came with. It took me another 20 hours to figure out how the dodge-attack worked properly. It was an eye opening experience of gameplay discovery, as much as it was content discovery.
A really fascinating part of the game is that actual ability increments are optional. Walking on clouds, stabbing roots, avoiding fall damage or poison… all require you to go out of your way to find them. You could, if you wanted to, complete the game with zero upgrades. You’d even be able to do get the “good” or “true” ending this way. I can’t imagine clearing Isidora this way, but it’s certainly feasible.
I had some time to fill in recent weeks and the Switch is awesome for pick up and play. I gave the game another go (3rd run) and this time it felt like a completely different game. An understanding of the mechanics, what abilities should be prioritized, and general patterns made a huge difference. I had some slowdowns in trying to go a quicker/harder route at the start, and some bad luck with Isidora, otherwise it was an incredibly smooth run. It was right up there with Hades in terms of enjoyment of the controlled chaos.
It helps that Blasphemous has had multiple content updates since launch, some quality of life, others being significant (boss rush, a “true” ending, a set of new bosses, NG+). Looking back after the credits, there’s a larger appreciation on what a small studio can deliver with today’s tools. And it’s giving me an itch for more of the genre…