Games

Congratulations to 2020's 2019 Game of the Year, 'Blasphemous'

A disturbingly gorgeous mashup of Castlevania, Metroid, and naturally, 'Dark Souls.'
August 21, 2020, 1:00pm
A screen shot from the video game Blasphemous.
Screen shot courtesy of The Game Kitchen

Every time I tweet about Blasphemous, I get the same response from a few people: What game is that? We are overwhelmed with choice these days, forcing us to invent arbitrary but ultimately necessary reasons to ignore whole swaths of games because, otherwise, you'll play nothing at all. It also means you're guaranteed to overlook games you might've loved. 

As such, do you ever get around to playing a game and instead of appreciating the discovery, you're just angry no one sat you down to play it sooner? That's me this past week with Blasphemous, a mashup of Castlevania, Dark Souls, and Metroid with gorgeously disturbing art soaked in some wholly unique Spanish Christian imagery and engaging combat that flirts with just the right amount of depth beyond smacking the attack button. 

Just look at this game. Look at it!

I am having such a good time with it. It's assumed possession of my twilight gaming sessions, a moment of peace when the whole family has gone to sleep, from Fall Guys, and several times pushed me past my midnight curfew. "Maybe I can get past one more screen," I tell myself, before inevitably dying on a pit of spikes and declaring "well, just one more try."

The last time I felt this way was playing 2019's Valfaris, aka the badass baby of Iron Maiden and Contra. Valfaris ruled, and the best way to describe Blasphemous is that it also rules. I truly love games that manage to wake my weary body, acting like a midnight shot of caffeine. 

At times, it is so much easier to just flip on an episode of a TV show instead of mustering active energy for a game, and though it can take me a few moments to settle in, once I've parried a few enemies into bloody submission, I'll breathe in its pixelated world and smile:

The whole reason I started playing Blasphemous is because of the great trailer for its new DLC, specifically because of the imagery depicted below, which I could not remove from my brain:

A screen shot from the video game Blasphemous.

This thing upgrades your potions. Really! Screen shot courtesy of The Game Kitchen

What the hell? I am not lying: that thing upgrades your potions.

I'm an unabashed Dark Souls fanboy, and that fandom runs through the DNA of this site. But even I, the fanboy, can tire of Souls at times. I unfairly dismissed Blasphemous in 2019 without giving it a shot because I somehow heard a Souls comparison and went "Really? Again?" It didn't help that at first glance, Blasphemous looked like fan art that's regularly on reddit. Other games invoking or riffing on Souls has become a regular occurrence, but it's now just as likely to get me to tune out, because so few games actually do much with it.

The thing is, Blasphemous feels way less Dark Souls than Castlevania or Metroid. The vast majority of my five or so hours with Blasphemous has been largely spent navigating tricky platforming sequences and trying to figure out how to fill out new corners of the map once I've gained a new ability. (My latest: platforms made of blood appear out of nowhere!)

But, uh, let's also not sell the Souls part of the game short. It's a hard game where you die a lot because save points are few and far between, it has a bonfire equivalent that refills health and brings enemies back to life, and every item has an item description that's filled with lore. 

A truly funny part about the last point: in the Souls games, much of the world building happens by carefully reading item descriptions. Blasphemous does this, too, but with a strange twist. Each item has its own description, but then you can press a straight up "lore" button that drops a much longer story that's associated with the item. Yes, a lore button.

Every game needs its own thing, right? 

For the moment, my thing, at least, is Blasphemous.

Follow Patrick on Twitter. His email is patrick.klepek@vice.com, and available privately on Signal (224-707-1561).