Monday 22 February 2021

Cathedral Review (Switch)

Another day and another pixel art styled Metroidvania appears from an up and coming indie development team. There are so many of these types of games now that it’s becoming difficult to stand out from the crowd (You also have to wonder why Konami hasn’t sub-contracted out to one of these studios to make a new Castlevania game but we digress). Cathedral is the next in this long line to stake a claim for your attention. The thing is, after this one, developers are going to have to try an awful lot harder because Cathedral is a bit special.

You start the game inside the mysterious old Cathedral of the games title with little understanding of what’s going on or what your mission is. Shortly after this you will escape and head to a nearby town. The town’s folk will help to fill you in on the games law and from there you undertake a vast adventure to defeat a particularly big bad in the best traditions of magic and fantasy.

The game throws you early on in terms of how it plays. Initially, we were pretty convinced what we had unearthed was effectively Shovel Knight the Metroidvania. The art style is similar and our hero knight can even do the Duck Tales bounce with his sword. The longer we played though the more we realised the game was very much its own beast and one that seems more influenced by Rare’s Wizards and Warriors trilogy on the NES (but much smoother in terms of how it plays).

It’s also fair to say that it took a few hours to get into. To begin with we found it difficult to judge the edges of platforms and the general inertia of the knight which had us falling to our death over and over. There are also some pretty heavy colour blind issues surrounding health bars and some on screen objects. But after finding a few items and giving the game some time everything simply clicked into place and all our initial problems just faded away.

When we said the game was vast we meant it. It clocks in somewhere between twenty and thirty hours to beat depending on just how much exploration you are doing to get all the extra items. It’s a good thing then that the many locations feel unique and different both in terms of design and look and each begs to be explored in full.

Traversing between locations can be a bit of a pain if you take a wrong turn but there are a number of teleport points around to make things quicker. That said, there were a fair few times we got a decent way through an area only to be blocked from progression because we didn’t have a particular item and then needed to trek all the way back. There are frequent save points in place as well which is handy as the game can be tough and repeating certain sequences of rooms over and over when you just want to get back somewhere can be frustrating.

Minor issues aside, there is something magical about Cathedral. It’s the first game in a very long time where the world seemed to contain a genuine sense of wonder and mystery to it. It calls back perfectly to the adventure games of the 8-bit generation where hidden objects and rooms where packed into every corner. The locations are so beautifully created and diverse as well that it means you are always driven to keep going and uncover one more mystery.

Enemies, bosses and environmental hazards are also wonderfully varied throughout. There are some repeating creatures but generally there is always something new to take on and even enemies that are graphically similar often act in different ways depending on your location. Puzzles are also varied and range from stopping poisonous waterfalls to moving platforms in order to keep progressing. Before long you'll also aquire a spirit helper called 'Soul' who can be used to move the odd block around for you. 

Bosses come in all shapes and sizes from small but relentless gargoyles to huge floating eyes and each falls into the challenging but beatable category. We rarely found our progress blocked for too long as though we may have died a lot there was always the feeling that we would get the beastie in our next encounter. 

Another minor quibble here is that sometimes bosses are a few rooms away from save points which adds some unnecessary trudging around. A slightly odd design choice related to this is that your knight doesn’t spawn with full health (unless you buy upgrades), but there are often healing statues near the save points. This means if you are dying often you fall into a monotonous cycle of respawning, going to heal then trudging back to the monster to try again.

Overall, Cathedral is a magical realised adventure game. We have highlighted some small issues in design but the vast majority of your time spent with the game will bring about a feeling of mystery, joy and the urge to push ever onward that many players may not have felt for a very long time. It encapsulates what made 8-bit adventure games so good while also ironing out many of the issues that they were often hindered with. We love a good romp through titles like Wizards and Warriors and Battle of Olympus but Cathedral does it better. There may be hundreds of Metroidvania games out there but hardly any of them can hope to be as accomplished as this. It’s a classic and the new indie standard in the genre.

Overall 9/10

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