Cathedral | Review | Nintendo Switch

  • Developer: Decemberborn AB
  • Publisher: Elden Pixels
  • Release date: 18/02/2021
  • Price: £12.59 / $14.99
  • Review code provided by Elden Pixels

Introducing: Cathedral Switch Review

So, let me say right off the bat that I am generally not a fan of Metroidvania games. I’ve played a decent number of them (though shockingly, I haven’t played either of the two series for which the genre takes its name) in an attempt to find a love for the genre, but it’s just never really happened for me. It’s one of those types of games that I feel like I should love based on my interests, but I’ve just never properly clicked with one. Still, I keep trying. Cathedral has been my most recent attempt at the genre. So, will it make a Metroidvania fan of me?

Summoned

Cathedral starts rather abruptly, with you appearing in the titular cathedral on a pillar. A short jaunt downwards and you’re set free with three different directions to go. So, exploring, that’s good, that’s something that can be done even without context. In fact, starting so suddenly like this was a big bonus for me because it gave the promise that exploring would explain what was going on, or could at least lead to some answers. From there, you run into a little ghost-like creature called Soul, who ends up making you take a mighty long fall, after which you are found by someone from the nearby village. After resting up and returning to the site of your fall, you get on good terms with Soul and the two of you team up in order to open a mysterious door in the cathedral – one that is missing some keystones in order to get it open. So, there’s your long term goal while you’re looking around and finding things.

There’s a healthy sprinkling of lore in there as well, of course, but I’m not going to get into it here because it is one of the parts that is much more fun to discover for yourself. However, I am sad to say that this is working off of one of the most common story ideas, “Collect the certain number of the special thing!”. We’ve seen it everywhere and, while it does work for this game to be sure, I can’t help but feel like it’s something that I’ve done before. Despite the fact that there is lore that’s fun to find and ties the world together, the world is just lacking a lot of the charm that would pull me into a game like this. The world itself isn’t a groundbreaking take on fantasy either, so I can’t help but feel that this will just blend in with the wave of other titles saturating this genre. If Cathedral was going to stand out more, then it would need something like the inventive world design of Hollow Knight or the heart-tugging character motivations of Shovel Knight. Here what we have is Soul, who is cute and lovable, but needs someone to play off of, which doesn’t work the best against a silent protagonist.

Breaking into it

Cathedral kind of got off to a bad start with me. You see, when you start the game and drop into the first room of the cathedral for the first time, there are three paths to go down. Obviously, one of these is the one that will lead to progress while the others are ways that you will have a roadblock that needs to be returned to. The problem is that I got stuck for a while because one of these spots that I thought was a dead end was actually the critical path. Cathedral has a bad habit of expecting more out of you than it has prepared you for. I know that difficulty is part of the genre here, but I don’t think that it’s too much to ask to give the player a little time to ease into things in the first area that you are in. It’s a bit much, then, that the first time I needed to bounce off the top of an enemy to progress it was a vertical bounce that wasn’t the most apparent and it was off a very small enemy that would move towards me after attacking it. So, if I screwed up and needed to try again (which I did, many times, because I was still figuring things out) the enemy would no longer be in a good position to make the jump I needed to. And it wasn’t a case of me overthinking a jump, either. I tried many, many times to make the jump without the enemy bounce, because it looked like I should be able to. Each time I ended up a very frustrating inch short.

The general level design was bothering me a lot too. There are A LOT of one-way paths and it is actually possible to soft-lock your game. I know because I did. While this is fixable by closing out and coming back, which will put you at a checkpoint, that doesn’t mean that it’s not frustrating. I don’t mind having to leave and come back to an area later, but when I end up having trouble finding a way to leave because I dropped into the area via a ledge that is now too high for me to jump onto? That’s where we start having a problem. While there is a map, it’s mostly only helpful for knowing if you have been in an area before and where the nearest activated checkpoint is. It consists of a series of coloured blocks that mark out different zones and a few icons, and that’s it.

The one thing that I do have to praise is the quest system that keeps track of what you’re doing and what people have asked you to do. It’s simple, but it’s something. It kept me from having to take notes about places that I should be checking out and kept track of whether the books I had found had been taken back to the town, or if I was going to have to stop there the next time that I passed by it. 

Frustrations Pile Up

When it comes to combat… I was frustrated. There are ways to get better tools, but that doesn’t change some of the core problems. Enemies die well enough, and they never moved at a speed that I was unhappy with. However, there are a lot of enemies that just appear. If you have been through the room before, you might remember they’re there and manage just fine. They tend to appear very close to the player, not activating when you enter the room, but rather when you get close enough to trigger them. It’s irritating for obvious reasons like not always having enough time to react, but also because it happened so, so often when I was jumping between narrow platforms where one hit might knock me off…

Perhaps the biggest disappointment for me, though, was how lackluster the upgrades that you are able to find could be. Many times it seemed like they were going to be big game changers, only to be really pitiful when I actually used them. A crossbow to give you a ranged attack? The bolts are limited, you can run out in a situation and need to backtrack to get more, and the projectile is so narrow that it can be devilishly hard to even make good use of. A powerup that allows you to control Soul for a short while? The time is really short, to the point where you might need to send them multiple times for one task.  A tool that allows you to make your own platforms to jump on? Can only be used while standing on the ground so you can’t even use it to save yourself if you miss a jump. I kept hoping that I might be making new progress and getting more capable, but sometimes ended up feeling like I was gathering new frustrations along the way.

A Real Banger

Cathedral looks pretty good and the enemy designs are creatively done. The pixel art pops and is clear aside from spots where level layouts make it look like something is doable when it’s not, or something may have the texture of being destructible when it really isn’t. It’s just little things like that, for the most part. I loved that my upgrades were visibly displayed on the character, though. It was a nice touch that I will never fail to appreciate when it comes up in gaming. It gives that little more sense that your character is growing and progressing too, not just you as a player. I will say that I wish there was a little more creativity in some areas you go through, though. The town looks like a generic fantasy town and the graveyard looks as you’d expect. Everything was good, but never surprising.

The soundtrack is a banger, though. They went for the full chiptune treatment and classically bleep-y sound effects in a way that really worked for the game that they were putting together here. The music felt appropriate for the areas that I was in, but stayed out of the way when I didn’t want to think about it too much. It was really one of my favourite parts of the game. I actually found a blog post from the game’s composer, Aron Kramer, about the process he undertook for creating the soundtrack that was really interesting if you’re curious about that kind of stuff (you can find it here). 

Running Along

For all the problems that I had, the game ran butter smooth and looked great in both handheld and on my tv. I ended up playing mostly handheld, though, as games like this are great for playing while laid out in bed. The only issue I ran into was the time that I soft-locked the game, but that was more an issue of level design rather than one of bugginess.

It’s Not Really That Bad

I want to reiterate that despite the complaints that I have had, I don’t think that Cathedral is a “bad game”, but one that I don’t think will be a very good entry into the Metroidvania genre for those like me who don’t already have an affection for it. It’s just not very newcomer friendly. That being said, it’s a decent price and it certainly has the length to justify it, so if you need to scratch that itch, it might for a more seasoned player. But, if anything that I mentioned would be a major turn off for you as a player, it might be your sign to stay away. Cathedral did not make me a fan of the genre, but there’s always next time.

Pros

  • Good art direction
  • Soundtrack is a bop
  • Quest system kept good track of things

Cons

  • Lacks a unique charm
  • Severe learning curve
  • Gameplay frustrations will turn away newcomers

Verdict

Cathedral is just fine, but doesn’t stand out from the pack and won’t win over any who aren’t already a fan of it’s genre.

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