It’s quite possible you haven’t heard of Cathedral. With the glut of indie titles trying to replicate the Metroidvania formula, it’s very easy for titles to fall through our perception cracks. When Cathedral originally launched in 2019 on PC, I know I certainly missed it. Then in 2021, the game came out on Switch and now, just a little over a year later, this little-Metroidvania-that-can has come out on PS4.
Developed by Decemberborn Interactive, Cathedral is a gorgeous, retro, 8-bit Metroidvania that checks all the relevant boxes, adds some new ones of its own, and goes on to completely own the genre with an expansive, thrilling and utterly addictive tale about saving the world.
Woe betide you if you choose to pass on it!
You awaken in the eponymous Cathedral as an amnesiac. With no memory of who you are or how you got there, you only know you have to find a way out from this twisting labyrinth looking to do you in with every step. Cue one nearly fatal fall and you’ll find yourself in the pleasant village of Ivystone where your true adventure begins.
Displaying a stoicism that would make DOOM Guy sweat, you go about the job of interacting with people to gain new quests and insight about the world around you, before heading back out into the wild, with your final destination – after some serious gallivanting across the breadth of this intriguing new world – being the dreaded Cathedral again. There, you will find your answers at last.
If a Metroidvania were only judged by the size of its world, then Cathedral would surely have its case made. Thankfully, the size of Cathedral is just one of its many positive aspects. There is some wonderful 8-bit pixel art on display, fantastic NPC dialogue, puzzles to solve, hair-raising platforming sequences, and wonderful character controls that make the journey all the more amazing.
As with all Metroidvanias, you’ll need to explore every nook and cranny of Cathedral‘s world to progress. The game doesn’t hold your hand on where to go and what to do (though there is a fortune teller in each town to point you in the right direction if you feel yourself overwhelmed) and you’ll find yourself having to backtrack a lot to reach new areas you couldn’t before with every new ability you gain. The game doles them out to you at a rate just fast enough to keep you invested, but not enough to make you feel overpowered.
The game’s platforming alone can be very challenging, with pixel-perfect movement needed when navigating your way between spike traps, moving platforms, and acid pits galore. Where it really gets intense is when you combine of enemies with those killer platforming sections. It’s not uncommon to have to time jumps on disappearing platforms with enemies attacking you at the same time.
This is where the stellar movement system comes into play. Gone from Cathedral is the inertia that usually plagues these titles. Your protagonist is wonderfully responsive, with the ability to do 180% turns in the air after a jump. It makes climbing platforms directly above each other a breeze but really comes into its own when fighting at the same time as you can jump towards where you need to go, turn in the air, and still throw out some attacks at the same time. Success then is down to your ability to judge distances and plan your jumps. Something you will get better at the more you play. Don’t let the simplistic look or level design fool you, Cathedral is incredibly challenging in this regard.
Towns play a vital role in your journey, not just for collecting or finishing quests, healing, or buying some spanky new armour, but also because there’s a bank for you to deposit your hard-fought cash in. This is important because every death will cost you about 10% of your cash. Now that doesn’t sound like a lot, but in later sections that amount gets compounded as you die, die, and die again while pushing forward. Cathedral is no Demon’s Souls, but you will be dying a lot and if you want to afford anything, including more armour or talismans to help you out, you’re going to have to save that cash. The game may liberally throw money at you, but believe me, it just as easily delights in draining your wallet. Also, along with the copious amount of checkpoints dotted across the world, there are teleporters to discover that will take you wherever you want to go. And, if you find one in a dungeon, you can be sure a boss isn’t too far off.
Each of the game’s dungeons is themed and full of its own puzzles to take care of. Bosses fall into the pattern recognition formula but, while they may start off simple enough, further down the line you’ll be engaging in platforming and also some puzzle-solving while simultaneously dealing with them.
Visually Cathedral replicates the 8-bit era fantastically. The animation is gorgeous and full of personality and charm. Whether it’s the slimes that blow snot bubbles while asleep, or the reapers that look ashamed when you block its attack, Cathedral is a gorgeous, if minimalist, game.
Cathedral also packs a rocking soundtrack that feels as though it were lifted directly from an NES game, with a nice variety of tracks, some of which will stick with you long after you’ve put the game down.
If you have any interest in Metroidvanias or side-scrolling action platformers, then you really do need to put Cathedral onto your list of games to play. With its addictive, one-more-go-gameplay, massive world, abundant sidequests, and stellar writing, Cathedral is a challenging retro Metroidvania that does the genre proud, and then some.
A Review code for Cathedral was provided to Gameblur by the Publisher.
Cathedral (PS4) ReviewCathedral (PS4) Review
Audio8/10 Very Good
- Great writing
- Tight and responsive gameplay and controls
- Massive world to explore
- Great soundtrack
- Can get really challenging down the line