Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Cathedral (NSW) Review

Following one rather excellent indie game that I reviewed last night comes another indie game to review this evening. While one was a roguelite with inspiration from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, tonight we're looking at an indie title that is a Metroidvania with inspiration from other retro classics. It's Cathedral for the Nintendo Switch, and here is the SPC review.

 Have yourself a very good knight

Indies and Metroidvanias go together quite well, quite often--almost as much as indies and roguelites. With so many choices for Metroidvanias, especially on the Nintendo Switch, it can be hard to distinguish one's game from the rest of the sub-genre heap. Developer Decemberborn Interactive originally published its take on the Metroidvania, Cathedral, back in 2019 on Steam. Now, a year and several months later, the game finds itself making the jump to the Nintendo Switch, feeling right at home on Nintendo's hybrid system.

Cathedral sees you playing as a silent knight protagonist, finding themselves in a cathedral to start things off. Upon wandering the halls, solving some simple puzzles, and battling a boss or two, they stumble upon a specter named Soul who leads them to a door. This door is locked by five orbs, with Soul carrying one of them himself. Thus, the aim of Cathedral is to explore the surrounding lands of the game to uncover the whereabouts and location of each orb in order to open the door and defeat the ancient evil awaiting inside... or so the prophecy foretells. 

Our knight will explore all sorts of places where they're decidedly unwelcome.

Let's get one thing out of the way immediately: Cathedral is a really challenging game. Enemies can take off massive amounts of damage even when your knight is outfitted with the best possible gear currently available, and bosses are even more difficult to beat. The first two bosses put me into a false sense of security, thinking that the rest of the game would be rather manageable--dare I say "simple enough to beat". By the time you enter the first major dungeon and face the guardian who holds the second orb, your butt will most likely be handed to you on a silver platter. Bosses hit hard, and even knowing that many have predictable patterns, their attacks can be mighty challenging to avoid. Many times I'd beat a boss with one heart of mine remaining and not a single consumable potion left in my inventory. However, this only made victory all the sweeter and rewarding.

Ah, yes. The boss that hammered home the realization that this game wasn't going to be any cakewalk.

Cathedral's world is large and expansive. It's a true blue Metroidvania where you learn new abilities and new areas open up for exploration. The game doesn't hold your hand, either. There are nudges and various objectives to follow, but for the most part, it's up to the player to explore the world and discover what to do next. Fortunately, despite the world being rather big, countless statues serve as checkpoints and places to return to for when (notice I didn't say if) players die. Death is punished by losing a percentage of your currently carried total of gold, which can be quite the consequence when you're trying to save up for one of the various shopkeeper's upgrades, whether they be better armor or rings that lower the percentage of gold lost upon death. Alternately, there are multiple warp gates to discover, allowing for fast travel between them, though not all of these are in the most convenient of locations.

In Cathedral's 15-20 hour adventure, players will explore the cathedral itself, a haunted forest, an area flowing with purple poison, enter into a ghoulish graveyard, explore both the land and sea of a tropical jungle, and traverse the mighty tundra on their quest to locate each of the four remaining orbs. The orbs themselves are inside Zelda-like dungeons, complete with rooms to traverse, puzzles to solve, and bosses to battle. 

Soul can be summoned temporarily to nab out-of-the-way items
and hit switches in narrow passages such as these.

Between these dungeons are myriad opportunities to journey the map, and that is a joy all to itself. Areas are ripe for exploring and finding secrets in breakable or fake walls such as ammo and armor upgrades, as well as heart containers to increase our hero's health (up to ten hearts max) and potion bottles that refill automatically upon death. It was a total pleasure to earn a new tool or ability, such as a skeleton wand that spawns bone platforms that I could ride across chasms, a magnet used to pull steel blocks for puzzle-solving purposes, a double jump, a dash, or a glide maneuver, because that meant that new parts of the map was accessible to me. If I couldn't reach a specific spot with my current equipment, I utilized the ultra-helpful marker feature to place a custom exclamation point on the map to make a note to come back later when I was better suited for the challenge. 

The map is an indispensable help to have in Cathedral. 

Outside of following along with the story objectives, there are ample amounts of side quests to partake in. The biggest quest revolves around finding 100 books and returning them to a bookworm in Cathedral's central town in exchange for gold and special rewards for specific milestones. Other side quests are more involved, offering completely optional areas to explore for great rewards and even greater thrills. There is plenty to do in Cathedral for those who want it. This player definitely yearned to do as much as he feasibly could with his time with the game.

Cathedral plays great, offering tight controls for the necessary precision-based platform that the game possesses in spades, as well as the combination of superb combat. Playing similarly to DuckTales or Shovel Knight in a way, our knight can pogo vault off enemies by thrusting their blade downward with proper timing. Our hero's shield can deflect certain projectiles, a required action for certain segments of the game and boss battles, and their repertoire of acquired tools and equipment make their mobility incredibly varied and enjoyable to use. It's difficult going back to the beginning of the game with the knight's basic jump and limited mobility, because by the end of the game, you can double jump, dash, and glide all at once. 

Between the excellent control and the brilliantly designed levels and areas of the game, there's a lot to love about Cathedral. That's true of the presentation as well, offering an all-too-common 8-bit style that is way popular with the indie scene. Cathedral would look right at home on the NES. However, some technical liberties are taken, as the game does use an occasional effect that wouldn't be possible on Nintendo's first home gaming console. Additionally, yhe chiptune music is magnificently catchy, full of memorable melodies that had me happily humming along--well, that is when I wasn't cursing at myself (see: wrongly blaming the game) for making a platforming or combat-related error. 

The graveyard is no place for the unprepared.
Fortunately, our heroic knight has all they need to re-dead the undead!

Cathedral maintains its high level of difficulty shortly from the beginning of the game to the very end. It's not Ghost 'n Goblins-level hard, but it's difficult all the same. That said, if you can withstand the challenge, you'll be rewarded with a stellar Metroidvania that may not reinvent the wheel or contribute a lot of new ideas, but is an incredibly polished, well executed game. With plenty of content in the form of story and side quests, marvelous level design, and wonderful sprite and background work, Cathedral is thankfully a blessing of a game rather than a curse.

[SPC Says: B+]

A code was received by SPC from the publisher for the purpose of writing this review.

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