Ever play a game that’s perfectly competent, well-designed and a faithful student of the genre it belongs to, but also overwhelmingly dull? Cathedral is one such game. It’s one of those indie Metroidvanias, with old-school aesthetics and a heavy dose of nostalgia. If Cathedral had have come out a few years ago, when this kind of thing wasn’t done so often, it would have been something interesting for its scope and stuff challenge. However, a metaphoric tonne of Metroidvanias have arrived in the past decade, and Cathedral has done nothing that helps it stand out.
You’re going to be doing everything in Cathedral that you’d expect to for the genre – wandering left and right, up and down, finding currently inaccessible areas and making note of their locations so you can come back later on once you’ve got the requisite special ability. Of course, earlier games of the genre did this to help extend their length out, but Cathedral will run you 15-odd hours, and at that length, constant backtracking becomes an exhausting and mundane process. It also doesn’t help that the developer seemed to decide that this was a game where you would be encouraged to “explore” around the place, and that meant that they didn’t need to provide much by way of guidance. Okay, fine… except if you’re going to do that then there better be some real rewards for making discoveries, like Dark Souls would gift you with bits of lore and items of antiquity. Unfortunately, Cathedral’s rewards are purely utilitarian, add nothing to the “universe”, and it doesn’t make for a satisfying loop.
What might hook players in is the combination of challenging gameplay and the variety of challenges on offer. Cathedral will test all of your dexterity skills, from precision platforming to agile combat, and it’s more than happy to punish players that aren’t up to the task. There are inevitably some that will find this kind of challenge invigorating and it’ll tap into the tenacious side of them… but with so little context giving me a reason to play on I found my (admittedly frequent) periods where I felt like I couldn’t make progress to be exhausting. That issue with progress was assuredly on me – the knight protagonist controls fine – but there was a definite lack of satisfaction when I was able to clear the hurdle.
Aesthetically the game is pleasant to look at, but again, lacks the distinctive charm of a Shovel Knight or Shantae. There’s always a risk, when you put a character into a full-body suit of armour, that they may lack for personality, and that’s certainly the truth with Cathedral. Enemy designs are similarly uninspired – they’re what you’d expect, and get the job done, but there’s nothing that’s going to wow you with its newness.
– Matt S.
Find me on Twitter: @mattsainsb