Developer(s) – Decemberborn Interactive
Publisher(s) – Decemberborn Interactive & Elden Pixels
Designers – Eric Lavesson & Mattias Andersen
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.
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.
8/10 (Very Good)