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Cathedral (PC & Nintendo Switch)

Developer(s) – Decemberborn Interactive

Publisher(s) – Decemberborn Interactive & Elden Pixels

Designers – Eric Lavesson & Mattias Andersen

PEGI – 3

 

Developed by Decemberborn Interactive based in Helsingborg and being the first publishing venture of Alwa creator Elden Pixels, Cathedral is a Metroidvania game featuring an extensive open world and offering players a level of challenge on the same scale as 8-bit classics such as Mega Man and Castlevania and taking inspiration from classic titles such as Ghouls ‘N’ Ghosts and Ghosts ‘N’ Goblins, along with modern games made of the same ilk; most notably Shovel Knight. From beginning to end, I was engrossed in this game; there’s a great deal that it has to offer players who are looking for a game that is not designed to hold their hands throughout and looking for a solid nostalgic experience reminiscent of the NES days. 

 

Graphics – 8/10

Incorporating the aforementioned 8-bit visual style synonymous with the third generation of gaming, the best thing in terms of visuals is undoubtedly the environmental design. There is a large number of different locations to visit and backtrack across throughout the game ranging from underwater temples, dark forests, icy castles, and of course, the titular cathedral, which is to me, in many ways, is the star of the show; the game begins in the cathedral and without spoiling the story’s specifics, it’s also where things come full circle. In addition, the game’s soundtrack is phenomenal; for me, up there with the works of Manami Matsumae, Jake Kaufman, Robert Kreese, and others. In particular, the theme song for the cathedral itself is catchy, but with a subtle melancholy to accompany it. 

 

Gameplay – 9/10

Aesthetically, the game plays out like a typical Metroidvania title; it relies on players uncovering each new area by gaining specific abilities and backtracking across the world map to uncover every secret and hidden item there is to find. It’s also very heavy on combat; the aspect in which this game does not play out like a typical Metroidvania title. It offers players a heightened level of challenge compared to most other games; players need to adapt to each area, as many different types of enemies have different attack patterns that must be learned in order to survive. Weapons and armor upgrades are also for grabs as the game progresses, with enemies getting stronger with every new area. There are also a number of grueling boss fights to contend with throughout; each with their own very unique strategies required to beat them.

 

Controls – 10/10

I was relieved to learn that there are no issues with the control system in this game as I was playing it, as with a game like this, there can’t be any issues with the controls, otherwise, it becomes an unfair challenge. In my opinion, it was a problem throughout the NES days with games such as the original Mega Man and Castlevania games, but in Cathedral, the control scheme poses no issues; it’s a challenging game, but not to the point of it being inaccessible. 

 

Lifespan – 8/10

To complete the game to 100%, it would take around 25 hours, which is slightly longer than the standard Metroidvania game. In addition to the main story, there are also a number of side quests that can be obtained from the hub village, which involve collecting items scattered throughout the game’s world and finding additional weapons and armor upgrades. Whilst it’s certainly a concept that could be expanded upon if ever a sequel is made, it nevertheless offers gamers a satisfyingly long experience with plenty of reason to backtrack across the game’s vast open world. 

 

Storyline – 7/10

The game’s story involves an unnamed knight, who must first find his way out of the titular cathedral. On his way, he joins up with a companion named Soul. Having escaped the cathedral, they intend to collect four orbs hidden throughout the land guarded by various monsters, with which they resolve to enter the cathedral’s inner sanctum to defeat the demonic Ardur the World Eater. Whilst the basic premise of the story is relatively typical for a fantasy game (sometimes to the point of self-parody, as Soul occasionally offers comedic advice), it’s the subtle details that add to the game’s atmosphere, which makes the story stand out. Most notably for me was during the boss fight in the sunken temple. As the player descends into the boss’s lair, 8-bit harmonies can be heard, which is the singing of the siren-like queens of the depths. It’s beautiful and eerie at the same time, which made that for me, the best boss fight in the game. There are plenty of other moments like it. Sometimes it may be a foreboding silence, other times, it may be something more detailed, but it all adds to the game’s atmosphere in an excellent way. 

 

Originality – 7/10

As I mentioned, this game does not entirely play out like a typical game of the genre. Ever since the beginning of the eighth generation of gaming, one of the genres I’ve delved in above many others is Metroidvania. There have been ups and downs for me whilst I’ve been going through as many as what I have done (thankfully, there have mostly been ups), but this game is definitely one of the more standout experiences I’ve come across within the genre. It’s a wonderfully exciting, atmospheric, and challenging experience that is deserving of at least one playthrough. 

 

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Overall, Cathedral took me by surprise with just how good a game it is. On the surface, it seemed quite a typical 8-bit game like most others that have been developed since indie development became as popular as it has done over the last few years, but as I delved deeper into this game, there was a lot more to appreciate than I could’ve first imagined. It’s an excellent gaming experience, and I would highly recommend it to seasoned gamers looking for a legitimate challenge. 

Score

49/60

8/10 (Very Good)

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Q&A With Decemberborn Interactive

Following on from my interview with Mikael Forslind at Elden Pixels, I subsequently discovered that the company had started to venture into publishing games in addition to developing them. After looking at their Twitter feed, I saw the first game they were publishing for release on the Switch; another vast and wonderful Metroidvania game entitled Cathedral. Originally released late last year on Steam by Helsinborg-based indie developer Decemberborn Interactive, the game was met with an extremely positive response from gamers and critics alike, and has since been streamed on YouTube and Twitch by a number of popular personalities on the site. The game relies heavily on exploration and backtracking across the game’s massive 2D open world, as well as incorporating challenging gameplay and a series of innovative boss fights.

 

Eager to find out more, I reached out to one of the game’s two main programmers, Eric Lavesson to see what he had to say about the release of the game and the challenges that he and the development team had confronted throughout the game’s creation and about the upcoming port of the game to the Nintendo Switch. Here’s what Eric of Decemberborn Interactive had to say about the development cycle and release of Cathedral:

 

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What were the influences behind your game? 

We had a ton of different influences, both old and new: The main character and the graveyard were inspired by Ghost n’ Goblins and Ghouls n’ Ghosts. The idea of making a game featuring a knight originally came from wanting to make a game in the same vein as Wizard & Warriors. Zelda 2 was a huge influence as well throughout developing the game (I’m one of those odd people who prefer Zelda 2 over the first one). A few of the more obvious modern influences are probably Rogue Legacy and Shovel Knight, both of which I played a ton of during the early development of Cathedral.

 

What were the most exciting aspects of development? 

Probably everything I’ve learned along the way. Opening my own company, throwing myself into a world I knew very little about. Going to conferences and meeting gamers and other devs. I knew programming going in, but everything else regarding game development is something I have picked up along the way.

 

What were the most challenging aspects of development?  

Without a doubt getting the game done. It was close to never getting finished a few times during the years; sometimes due to stress or pressing yourself too hard and taking long breaks from it, sometimes due to budget issues, and sometimes due to just because you simply couldn’t find the time to work on the game. Seeing the game getting done is a great reward though.

 

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How rewarding has it been for you and Decemberborn Interactive to see Cathedral garnish the popularity it has done since its release?

Very. It feels like you’ve accomplished something just by having the game “out there” – no matter what happens, it’s impossible to give up at this point because the game is already released. Once you’ve released it, you have in many ways succeeded, regardless of whether the game sells well or poorly. Seeing people actually play the game on streams, and talking about the game, and actually liking it is a huge bonus. I can be a bit stressed out at times, especially when I see people who don’t like the game, but the majority of our players do seem to like it.

 

Similarly, a vast majority of the negative appraisals on Steam seem to compare it to Shovel Knight and how they don’t think Cathedral is as good as the former. I personally believe these criticisms are pretty unjustified, since Cathedral, whilst sharing similarities to Shovel Knight, is an entirely different experience with different things to offer gamers. How would you respond to that? 

This is going to be a long answer: I always had a soft spot for various “knight games” that were available for NES and Sega when I grew up, such as Wizard & Warriors, Ghost n’ Goblins, and even more arcadey games such as Golden Axe. I also loved exploration-based games in the style of Zelda and Metroid and wanted to combine those things into one game, but I wasn’t sure how to pull off the NES style. I started working on Cathedral in December 2014 and played Shovel Knight at the same time. I remember thinking “Wow, these guys really pulled off the 8-bit look”; I thought it was perfectly executed, and I felt like this is such a good way to present the NES-style in a modern era, so we definitely drew a lot of inspiration from there. I personally always thought of Cathedral as our tribute to both the games we grew up with as well as the games we play today, where me and Mattias (the other developer) picked parts that we loved about those games and incorporated them into Cathedral in some form. I very much loved Shovel Knight, and it definitely colored my opinion on how to present a “faux” NES style in the modern era, and that absolutely affected Cathedral. Cathedral is first and foremost a Metroidvania though, so I still consider them to be different genres, plus there are just so many other games I could point to as a source of inspiration as well. If someone decides that Cathedral is a Shovel Knight clone, I can’t really do anything to change their mind except respectfully state the way I see things, but I think you’re missing a lot of the love that went into making the game, as well as the references to the games that came before. That being said, there are definitely worse things to be compared to than Shovel Knight 🙂

 

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Are you looking to bring the game to other platforms in the future? 

We’re still hoping to bring it to Xbox and PlayStation – no concrete plans so far though. Hopefully, we’ll have some more news on this in the not too distant future!

 

On the subject of porting the game to the Switch, if you and Decemberborn Interactive could develop for any Nintendo franchise of your choice, which would it be and why?

I think I’d have to go with either Zelda or Metroid. How cool would it be to make your very own Metroid game?

 

What’s next for Decemberborn Interactive?

Currently, we’re in the final phases of our Switch port for Cathedral. Simultaneously, we’ve been working on a yet undisclosed project. We still don’t know what will come of it, but we’re basically building a prototype for a new game out of a bunch of ideas we’ve had for a long time and never quite fit into Cathedral. It’s a really fun phase of game design, where we kind of just brainstorm and test ideas, and hopefully a few of them will stick.

 

Do you have any advice for aspiring developers that may be reading this? 

If I open up Twitter right now, I’d probably see ten games at once that all look cooler than what I could ever do. It’s easy to become discouraged to work on your own stuff sometimes when you see all the awesome games people are working on. But remember that very few take that extra step to actually finish their game and release it. Aim for making something with a reasonable scope, and be resilient enough to finish it. It’s a very rewarding feeling, seeing your game out there.

 

Do you have anything else to add?

Well, I was going to leave a good recipe for pickled herring brine, but I saw that Mikael of Elden Pixels already did that, so no. Nothing off the top of my head!

 

I would like to take the opportunity to thank Eric for taking the time to speak to me regarding this awesome title and to wish both Decemberborn Interactive and Elden Pixels the best of luck with the Port to the Nintendo Switch. If you want to keep up with what Decemberborn is working on, you can visit the website here:

https://www.decemberborn.com/

There also is a link to my review of Cathedral at the top of this article and it’s a very positive one; I enjoyed every aspect of this game from beginning to end and there are a lot of positive talking points to go over. Until then, I hope you guys enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed drafting it up.

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88