What I'm Playing - No. 90
Welcome back to another weekly wrap-up of the games I’ve been playing over the past week!
Be warned, minor spoilers may be contained within. Generally, I do try to keep things spoiler-free but this isn’t always possible/practical! If you want to totally avoid all potential spoilers so you can play these games yourself in a blind run, you shouldn’t continue reading! Click a title to skip to that section. Games contained within this post:
This week I played through Blasphemous, a metroidvania that is similar to Hollow Knight in some ways, but definitely has its own identity and a very different tone.
Blasphemous is very grim. The game draws heavily from religion and gothic art for aesthetic, with dialogue that sounds very biblical, and enemies and characters that look very much like damned, suffering souls. It takes place in a land called Cvstodia, and I have no idea how that’s pronounced. Cvstodia is affected by something known as The Miracle, and it blesses and curses the residents of Cvstodia in incomprehensible ways. Few people remain in Cvstodia. Many have been transformed into various beasts by The Miracle, and these beasts are your primary foes when you explore the land as a warrior known as the Penitant One. Very early in the game, Blasphemous gives you a good idea of what kinds of sights await you, as after the first boss battle there’s a cutscene where the Penitant One removes his helmet, fills it with blood spilling from his slain foe, and places it back on his head. Blood drips down from the helmet, and you get an idea of the sort of experience Blasphemous will be.
After that gruesome sight, the game quickly opens up into a non-linear, exploration-driven adventure. The game is structured into chunks, where you’ll have to complete several areas in order to progress to the next set of areas. It’s designed in such a way that you’re able to explore any of the available areas in any order. You’re not funneled into exploring certain areas first by needing to acquire abilities like double jump or wall jumping like in many metroidvanias. Instead, you start out with quite a few abilities right away, like dashing, and climbing walls by stabbing your sword into them. There are some abilities you get later on that allow you to explore new areas, but a lot of these areas are optional, and you can choose to ignore them if you don’t want to backtrack to acquire their optional collectibles. That said, there still is quite a bit of backtracking - this is a metroidvania after all - but the map is designed exceptionally well, looping back on itself and allowing you to unlock shortcuts after your first visit to an area. This made exploring really fun, as it allowed for many possible routes to get where you needed to go, making the journey that much more interesting. I really like how the map screen is presented as a traditional grid-based map too.
There are some very difficult boss fights in this game. In general, the game got easier as I progressed. Though I died a lot early to some of the enemies and platforming challenges, as I found more health and weapon upgrades I could breeze through areas without much trouble, and without dying. The boss fights were another story. All of these were pretty tough, and I died at least once in nearly all of them. Some of them had me cursing out loud as I died again and again after numerous attempts. The enemies you fight are usually hideously deformed creatures, and the bosses are no exception to this. Many of them are horribly twisted, and varying levels of disturbing.
Not all of the visuals are twisted and disturbing though. There are some really beautiful pixel art backgrounds interspersed throughout the experience. Don’t get me wrong, all of the pixel art is wonderfully done, even the grotesque stuff, but I found it easier to appreciate the gorgeous vistas than the bloodied and mutilated enemies.
I touched on it earlier, but there are a ton of objects to collect. Spells, rosary beads, sword attachments, quest items, relics, and the bones of various deceased people…all of these and more are spread through the map, so there’s definitely no shortage of reasons to explore every nook and cranny. This and all of what I’ve said before make Blasphemous a very compelling game, and a stunning metroidvania. It has multiple endings, and first I got the “Bad Ending.” I couldn’t help but keep playing after that, because it was just so much fun. I used a guide to figure out the steps needed, but I quickly got everything I needed for the true ending, and got that ending on my save file too. Blasphemous definitely has my recommendation if it sounds at all interesting to you!
Super Mario 64 (Switch)
Super Mario 3D All-Stars released this week, and I picked up a copy. The collection consists of Super Mario 64, Sunshine, and Galaxy, and my plan is to play through them chronologically. So, I started with Super Mario 64!
I’d played bits and pieces of Super Mario 64 before, in its original N64 North American release. This was rentals though. For some reason, I never owned Super Mario 64 on N64, but I did convince my parents to let me rent it from a movie rental store several times. Since saves were stored on the cartridge itself, and there was no guarantee you’d get the same cartridge with each rental, each time I rented the game I basically either had to start over or jump into someone else’s existing save on the cartridge. Because of this, I never finished Super Mario 64 as a kid, but several of the worlds were quite familiar to me - especially the first one, Bob-Omb Battlefield.
I’ve played 3D Mario games before, so the first few worlds were easy as pie. From the middle of the game and onwards though, the worlds definitely gave me more trouble. Some of the Power Stars are tough to get! I think part of the issue is that Mario’s movement in this game feels significantly different than I remember in Sunshine and later 3D Marios. Once Mario gets moving, it takes longer to come to a stop than I expected, but I did learn to adjust for this a bit as I played through. I also struggled with the camera quite a bit in some instances. Considering that this is one of the earliest 3D games with a camera like this, it’s understandable that there’s room for improvement, but it definitely made me appreciate later 3D video game camera systems.
Currently, I haven’t gotten more than the minimum 70 Stars required to enter the final Bowser fight and beat the game. Once I had those 70, I went straight to Bowser, kicked his tail, and rescued Princess Peach. I’ll probably go back to my save and try to get a few more Power Stars eventually, kind of like how I sometimes play a bit of Super Mario Odyssey and try to get a few more Power Moons here and there. The 3D Mario platformers are really nice to revisit like that. As far as my thoughts on this Super Mario 3D All-Stars version of Super Mario 64 specifically, I don’t really have any complaints. It’d be nice if the game rendered fullscreen, instead of in a little window in the center of the screen, or even better, if it had options to configure these things. One thing I liked about this version is that some 2D sprites were high-res, like the UI elements for Star and coin counters. That’s about it I think. Super Mario 64 still holds up quite well, and was fun to play through!