First off a heads up. Although the game was originally released in 2019, I actually only played it on its latest patch as of september 2022. And if the long list of patch notes serves as an indicator the game seems to have changed a lot from what was released years back.
In my experience metroidvania games are usually not very difficult and feel rather hacky and slashy, they allow players to mow down enemies with relative ease and make backtracking a breeze. Blasphemous' combat is different. There's a noticeable delay after almost every player action. Enemies have to be dealt with in different ways. Sometimes it's best to parry and counter, sometimes it's best to slide through the opponent. Sometimes it's best to jump over them and unleashing a combo into their back. Poking at monsters or bosses often deals little damage, the player has to actively look for openings to punish. It's a brutal game not only in art but in gameplay, one can tell its developer The Game Kitchen took the slogan prepare to die to heart.
So, I died a lot and was reminded of the kind of difficulty I used to face when playing games in the early '90s. On the whole Blasphemous is definitely a metroidvania. All maps are interconnected, the player has to traverse through previously beaten areas to progress or pick up collectibles and secrets they might have missed earlier. However in terms of mechanics, so the general flow and feel of combat, pits and spikes causing instantaneous death, playing this reminded me more of playing Castlevania 3 than any of its actual genre-adjacents, say, Dawn of Sorrow.
The experience of playing Blasphemious is a mix of satisfaction and frustration I find hard to put in words. I've been in situations where I felt like I was dying to a stunlock with no way out more than just once. Many stages make use of obstacles, such as cattles unleashing streams of red-hot lava or heavy iron pots swaying back and forth, that ask the player for patience that is likely to run out when one has to run through the same obstacle course over and over because they keep dying to a tough spot further ahead. It's a fun experience for the most part, but sometimes it's a bit too much when one has to interact with certain combinations of enemies on the same screen, especially when spikes and pits are involved. On its own, if this was just a game where the player progresses from stage to stage without looking back, this would not be much of an issue. However for a metroidvania where backtracking is part of the core gameplay experience this level of difficulty isn't the best fit. The relatively low number of teleporters would be less of an issue if backtracking would be less of a chore.
It comes with little surprise that the developers eventually patched an option to teleport to and from any checkpoint into the game. The feature is available from very early on if the player knows about it, although it's unfortunately locked behind a bit of grinding for resources. Needless to say it shouldn't be since it's so essential to the game (besides, nothing should ever be locked behind a grind).
While I appreciate the extra level of challenge, bonus features such as the Bloodstained-themed challenge rooms and NES minigame should be accessible from the main menu instead of ingame locations that require travelling and backtracking just to reach and play them. Especially the challenge rooms can be pretty frustrating and I'm probably not the only one to have given up on them sometimes. Personally I've even given up on the side quests because I don't feel like travelling to the locations to attempt them.
Overally I was still having a really good time with Blasphemous. The games' boss battles are one of a kind, not only thanks to their unique visual direction, they also bring the best out of the games' mechanics. They're tough but rarely in a way that feels unfair, and if they do there's always a fix hidden in the arsenal of spells and accessoiries the player may equip their character with.
Blasphemous is particularly striking in terms of its visuals. It's one of the best looking low-res games I have played. Beyond the mere quality of art lie themes that aren't to be found in any other game. The sound direction and soundtrack play perfectly with the mood and atmosphere, but didn't impress me on the same level as the visuals did. I adore the menu and ui designs. How flat and materialistic design has taken over the industry is completely beyond me.
Highly recommended to anyone looking for a good challenge or interested in videogames and or art that is just a bit outside of what is considered ordinary. If the difficulty didn't run counter to the design of its genre, or if this just wasn't a metroidvania game, I'd call this a masterpiece.
Oh and also if it was programmed a little better as I've encountered bugs that really shouldn't be a thing in any game. Such as the game no longer responding to my inputs during a boss battle, enemies turning invisible and invincible and killing me. These may be issues with the Switch port, but there's still no excuse. Although I have to say that these technical issues did little to sour my experience - it's not like the bugs happen too frequently.
On a side note, I also appreciate that the game comes with a scanline filter, even if it's not perfect and causes banding on some backgrounds. I wish all low-res games did this.