So I've brought this up before in other reviews but I've been amazed by how well catered to fans of the Metroidvania genre have been lately. New ones seem to release on an almost monthly basis, giving lovers of the game type plenty to choose from when seeking their next fix. With this abundance though comes a problem, which ones are worth your precious cash or your limited time? Which of course brings us to Cathedral, how does it rank in the ever-growing list of Metroidvania releases we have to choose from?
Well, let's find out!
I'm into Metroidvania games in general, so would have been interested in this regardless but after noticing it was published by Elden Pixels I was even more intrigued. The last title I played from these guys, Alwas Legacy, was also a Metroidvania and one I rather enjoyed. They even seem to be doing the whole shared universe thing that's extremely popular right now as Alwas main character makes a cameo. It also implies that this games universe, her games universe, as well as others, are all part of some huge multiverse with the main characters of each game bouncing around its various realms.
Which is how our story begins. Much like Alwas Legacy, our main character, who is a heavily armoured but silent knight, suddenly finds himself in a strange realm. With a crack of thunder and a flash of light, he appears outside the huge and foreboding Cathedral of the title and has little option but to set off to explore, hoping to find a way home, as well as recover his lost memory. But of course, not all goes well, with him being drawn into a quest that will see him travel to the 4 corners of this new world, on a mission to track down 5 powerful creatures who guard the mystical orbs that will unlock his only path home.
I've already used the term "Metroidvania" a few times in this review, so you can probably guess the form this game is going to take. Following the usual conventions of the genre, as you explore the various areas that make up the quite substantial game world, you'll come across many items, paths, rooms and whole new sections that can't be accessed when you first discover them. Instead, you'll have to wait till later when, as you've explored some more, you'll locate equipment and items that will allow you to backtrack and collect these formerly unreachable collectables, as well as access whole new locations. This mechanic is fundamental to the genre but is also an area where many new Metroidvania games can fail. They'll introduce the same old items we've seen a hundred times before and use them in predictable or well-used ways. However, Cathedral is rather good in this regard, with new abilities being a good mix of the expected and the different. The usual suspects like double jump and dash are here but also more unique ones too. For instance, you get a spectre that can be summoned briefly, can squeeze into small areas and is used to hit inaccessible switches, move bricks and so on. There's a crossbow bolt firing gauntlet that can be used both in combat and exploration, allowing you to fire its shots through most walls to hit inaccessible switches. A magic lantern is obtained that can light braziers driving away the darkness or can burn away thorny roots that block your path to many areas. There are others too, which I won't spoil and you can discover on your own, but suffice to say that each has its uses, puzzles involving them are fun and challenging, while there's also plenty of areas where you can experiment with their powers.
Experimenting while exploring is something that's highly rewarded. I don't think I've played a game in recent memory that's this packed with secrets both little and large. Almost every room on the rather substantial map has at least one thing to find. It might be as small as a brick that can be destroyed to reveal a gem worth money, a hidden room that has a collectable or even something greater like a path to a whole new optional area, with substantial rewards like an armour or weapon upgrade to find. I was finding secrets in rooms I'd walked through a hundred times before and it made backtracking, something that can become a chore, way more enjoyable with me returning to previous areas simply to collect that last piece of cash or hoping for a much-needed upgrade.
And speaking of searching areas, the difference in locations is something that Cathedral also excels at. There are more than a few you'll have to travel through on your adventure, with each district being distinct from the other. Whether it's the Gothic brickwork of the titular Cathedral, the bright and colourful charm of the first town you discover, the dark and dense greenery of the forest or any of the rest of the various themed locales, you'll discover an area with its own theme where the foreground, background and layout makes it feel like it's own thing. They also all have their unique features that fit their given style, with the forest being filled with wooden platforms, tree houses and vines, for instance. Enemies are also themed, the graveyard full of Grim Reapers, zombies and undead hands grasping from their graves, while the Necromancers tomb has many traps and ghouls to deal with those trying to disturb the occupants' eternal slumber. Each area is also well designed, when just moving from A to B you'll encounter many elements and obstacles to overcome and, just like secrets, almost every room has something you'll need to contend with that requires more than just walking or simple platforming. You might have platforms that disappear the second they're stepped on, bricks that appear only for a second and require careful jumping in a timed sequence or you might need to use your downward attack to bounce from acidic bubbles or spinning blades of death. Whatever the particular interactive element for that room, you'll find it makes exploring fun but also challenging to overcome while never quite slipping into the realms of the frustrating.
Unfortunately, though, that's not true of everything in Cathedral and that brings me to the one part of the game I really didn't like. The difficulty is all over the place, rising and falling, dipping and spiking in a way that managed to kill my fun at certain points. Entering a new location can result in a big jump in difficulty, mostly involving the damage done and taken by enemies. They go from dying in 1 or 2 hits to taking 5 or 6 to beat. The damage they do can also increase by a factor of 4, making combat way less easy. Admittedly this can be offset by finding or buying upgrades to armour/swords and to be honest it stays on the right side of frustrating by being challenging rather than annoying.
But then you hit the Necromancer. My God that bloody Necromancer!
Guarding the 2nd Orb, you'll encounter this boss about a third way through the game but he might be the most difficult and downright annoying of the whole thing. Taking very little damage from each of your attacks, being difficult to hit as he jumps around like crazy and doing massive damage with each hit, he quickly went from difficult, to frustrating, to me almost rage quitting. It took 20-30 attempts before I finally, with pure luck and a huge fluke, beat him.
But what made matters worse was how the setting up for the battle each time is handled. Upon death you return to the last checkpoint you found, only losing a percentage of your saved cash. What increased frustration considerably though was this, because the fight is so difficult you'll find you want to return to the local wizard who can provide you with extra hearts that double your health. Once used, however, they're gone for good and can't be returned with healing items. It also disappears on death, so each time you die by the Necromancers hands, you need to return to the wizard to buy the increase again. This isn't simple though, instead of just starting with it if you had it when passing the checkpoint, you'll need to go back to the village. So, from the checkpoint you need to backtrack through trap and enemy filled rooms to reach the teleporter, teleport to the village teleporter, head to the wizard, pay for the boost again (and you better hope you have the cash) before having to do the whole thing on the way back but also hoping you don't take any damage that removes the boosted hearts. Now, remember I told you it took 20-30 attempts to finally win this fight? Imagine doing this each time and you can see why I got frustrated, as I spent more time preparing for the fight each time than actually fighting it.
As well as the difficulty spikes, there were some minor annoyances with the downward attack that lets you bounce on enemies and certain dangerous items in dungeons like acid bubbles and chainsaw discs of death. The move is activated by pressing down on the stick and hitting attack but must be done again after each hit. It makes chaining this attack very difficult and allowing you to simply hold the buttons, much like Shovel Knight does, would have completely negated this problem. This move is only needed in a few select areas though and as such is relatively minor compared to the much more frustrating problem of the difficulty spikes.
In summary, Cathedral is a good addition to the Metroidvania stable but one that's also made frustrating by some difficulty spikes and punishing unfair boss fights. The colourful 16bit art style is well done, echoing the look of their previous release Alwas Legacy, and the various levels are all different with each having its own individual style. The powers and abilities too are a nice mix of the classic and new, which regulars of the genre should enjoy. Buyers should be aware of the difficulty spikes though, especially around that damned Necromancer, as controllers may be thrown across the room in fits of anger!
Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 7.5/10
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