Cathedral is a retro-style Metroidvania style game that has been out on steam for some time and has now finally made its way onto Nintendo Switch. Upon first glance, you may write Cathedral off as a Shovel Knight clone but the game is much more than that.
You start the game with little to no story intentionally and awake in a mysterious Cathedral with a suit of armour and a sword and that’s about it, this game does not hold your hand, it’s up to you to figure out what’s going on. Luckily, the first area is pretty linear, and you eventually end up in a town called Ivystone Ridge. This small town acts as a hub world of sorts featuring a shop, NPC’s, fortune teller etc.
You learn quite early on that there is a door at the base of the Cathedral which requires five orbs to open up. You can set out from Ivystone Ridge in either direction in search of these orbs. Thankfully, the fortune teller is on hand to help guide the way.
Including the hub town, Cathedral has a total of 16 different areas to explore. Each of these areas is massive and will keep you busy dealing with numerous puzzle and unique enemy types.
Throughout each area you’ll find various upgrades that will help you on your quest, these include items such as a bow-gauntlet that allows you to fire arrows and character abilities like the double jump. Progress is hindered in typical Metroidvania style with the need for certain abilities to progress further, an example would be these pillars of wood that block off access to certain areas, you’ll need to track down a lantern to be able to burn these and pass through them. Personally, I really like this more open-ended type of gameplay.
Difficulty in Cathedral is also very organic and if you enter an area you are not sufficiently upgraded there’s a chance you may be killed in one hit (as I found out a few times during my playthrough!). Luckily, you’ll stumble across heart containers that work in the exact same way as they do in the Zelda series, permanently increasing your overall health. A few heart containers and armour upgrades later, you’ll be ready to tackle the next area.
Bosses are another thing I must mention. There’s not too many of them but they are fantastic, each one has just the right amount of difficulty and I really wish there was more of them. One boss, in particular, took me 15+ attempts and each time I seemed to get it down to less than 10% health I died. Eventually, I managed to lock down the attack patterns and achieved victory!
The level design in Cathedral is very good and you can tell the developers know how to put a game together. Sometimes, Metroidvania style games tend to feel a little hollow with endless empty rooms only serving as filler content to link one area to another. Cathedral has none of this, every room is very meticulously designed to keep the player on their toes.
Cathedral adopts an 8-bit, NES style aesthetic even down to the colour palletes used which all look great. Each of Cathedral’s different areas is thematically varied from one another and make great use of colour to differentiate themselves. For example, one of the lower areas in the game, the Poison Pavilion, is covered in purple-pinkish poison and which is visually quite different from say the Icepeak Mountain area which is full of those ‘Mega Man’ blues.
The music in Cathedral is also great with many of the games chip tunes staying in my head long after putting down my Switch and features some really great sound design for enemies and special effects.
The mix of gameplay, music and finding upgrades in Cathedral kept me hooked and what was supposed to short little play sessions ended up going on for hours which, to me, is always the sign of a good game.
The overall playtime of Cathedral was something I also found surprising with a playthrough taking around 20 hours to complete. That was just for the main story as there is approximately an additional 5 – 6 hours to attain the collectables and secrets to find littered through the different areas.
One thing to note however is the abilities, once found you need to equip them, which is something I couldn’t get used to at first, but it eventually clicked with me. You’ll be switching between these abilities often, especially later in the game and I found having to choose between having the dash ability or the double jump ability particularly annoying at times but overall the system works well.
Although the game features many great mechanics and upgrades, Cathedral doesn’t offer much new to the genre. Throughout the game, you’ll get your expected powerups and upgrades, but these all seem to be recycled mechanics from other games in the genre, however, this does not detract from the game in the slightest. I just wish we had something ‘new’ here.
I must say, although I appreciate the length of the game, I was a little bit disappointed by how much backtracking there was. I mean sure, I know Metrovanias have a lot of backtracking and I usually love it but in Cathedral getting from A – B seemed much harder for me than usual. There are portals throughout that let you choose where to teleport which help a lot, but I really was craving an item to teleport you to the hub town quite often. I would say at least 50% of my playthrough consisted of backtracking, sometimes aimlessly. This was mainly due to my own stupidity and Ivystone Ridge thankfully has the fortune-teller who will point out the next destination if you get stuck which helps to keep you focused on finding the next orb or upgrade.
Cathedral surprised me with just how good it is. Although not all of its ideas were overly original, the sheer amount of them made for a really enjoyable, cohesive and fun game. In an age where everything is trying to be a Metroidvania in some way or another, it’s good to see some of these smaller games, such as Cathedral getting it right and delivering a really good gaming experience. I really hope there will be a sequel at some point and I would say if you’re a fan of Metroidvania style games, you owe it to yourself to give Cathedral a try!