Adding to the ever-expanding selection of Metroidvania-style releases on the Nintendo Switch, Cathedral sends players on an epic 8-bit adventure across an expansive world full of dangerous enemies and perilous challenges. It makes for a fun (and difficult) time too, but it doesn’t do anything that you wouldn’t have seen before. Does it manage do enough to be worth your attention on a platform that is packed to the brim with similar types of adventures, though?
It’s hard to describe Cathedral’s plot in depth, because honestly, there’s not a whole lot there. Players take on the role of a knight who must travel across the land to collect five elemental orbs, each of which is used to open a mysterious door within the titular cathedral. There’s a bit more detail to be found in regards to the world, the demon named Ardur, and even the knight himself as you progress through the game, though there’s nothing on offer story-wise that’ll particularly blow you away. It’s nice to have a tale to follow during your adventure, but don’t expect it to be a particularly memorable one.
Cathedral embraces the Metroidvania genre in the most traditional of ways, with it setting players out across an expansive and open world as they look to find their way around, beat up plenty of baddies, uncover collectibles and secrets, and eventually unlock the abilities required to reach areas that were previously inaccessible. Were you hoping for innovation? Yeah, you’re not really going to find that here, but everything it offers across the world is does well.
There are plenty of enjoyable platforming challenges and puzzles to complete as you progress through the game, whilst the locales you get to visit in the world add plenty of variety and even some moments of solace outside of all of the adventuring. You might need them too, with Cathedral certainly proving to be a tough game throughout – besides the fact that you’ll need some precision-perfect platforming prowess to get through some areas, the enemies are relentless and can quickly send you to an early grave. Thankfully, checkpoints are plentiful enough that the difficulty never hits frustrating levels, but you do lose ten percent of your accumulated gold when you die so there is a punishment in place.
The non-linearity of the experience might see those deaths occurring a bit more frequently early on too. Cathedral is very open and expansive in design, with a lot of tough areas accessible from the get-go; it’s something I found out when I headed to a particular locale and found that the enemies could absolutely annihilate me with ease. Admittedly, I wasn’t sure if this was just the game being a bit tougher than I expected or if I had actually hit somewhere that I wasn’t ready for yet, with the lack of sign-posting for the player catching me off-guard and clearly leading me astray. Did I survive through it? Heck no, I went venturing elsewhere and I found an area that my skill level was a bit more ready for instead, but it does show that those who like a challenge can venture off the beaten track in Cathedral if they please. You can always come back for revenge when you’re a bit more powerful too, which is always satisfying…
Personally, I prefer more sign-posting (even in a Metroidvania-style title) so it would have been nicer if Cathedral was a bit more direct in places, but it’s something that will probably come down to player preference. Kudos to the developer for utilising a useful map feature and fast travel though, which makes re-visiting areas and backtracking a lot more accessible during the latter segments of the game.
As mentioned, there’s not much to find in Cathedral that feels particularly innovative. The protagonist has a basic move set consisting of running, jumping, attacking, and bouncing off enemies with downwards attacks, though you’ll also unlock additional abilities such as a dash, arrows to hit far targets, and summonable spirits to help open new pathways. You can also purchase some upgrades at the town including one that sees you losing less gold each time you die (a must-have in my opinion) or you could even double up your health capacity temporarily to get through a particularly tricky section. These can certainly make your life easier and often make death a little less punishing.
Whilst not innovative, Cathedral nails all of the basics and offers a genuinely fun world to explore. You’d have seen a lot of the platforming mechanics done before over the years, but the way they string together here through the difficult but fair level design makes it satisfying to simply traverse across the world. One of my particular highlights was the boss fights, with each bringing a challenging showdown for players to try and overcome – again, they weren’t particularly innovative, but the boss designs were great and mastering their move patterns to pick your moment to strike always proved entertaining. No matter where I was in the game, it always proved to be fun.
That’s not to say that it didn’t have some issues though. For one, some of the standard enemies could feel a little cheap in design and often follow you to the point where it’s almost impossible to avoid them. Worst of all, some of their attacks can hit you back and often knock you into even more hazards, causing unending frustration during some of the trickier platforming sequences.
The aesthetic could just feel a little basic at times too. Now don’t get me wrong, I love an 8-bit visual style and there were plenty of areas in the game that genuinely felt impressive to look at. However, it’s something that has been done across a lot of games now so it could make it difficult to differentiate it from any other 8-bit Metroidvania release, whilst Cathedral’s lengthy escapade (it took me around sixteen hours to beat the game) saw me growing a bit bored of it by the time I reached the ending.
Cathedral’s adventure is certainly an enjoyable one thanks to its solid level design and fun boss battles, but it is lacking in the innovation required to really help it stand out. The Nintendo Switch library is packed to the brim with Metroidvania-style adventures after all, and honestly, it doesn’t really offer anything that would make you want to choose to play it over the multitude of other titles available.
Fortunately, Cathedral does offer enough quality across almost all facets of its design that it still manages to stand out as a worthwhile release in the genre. Sure, it might not do anything you wouldn’t have seen before and it does have a few flaws here and there, but the solid level design, the expansive world, and the fun boss battles ensures that it offers more than enough to pique the interest of Metroidvania-loving gamers.
Developer: Decemberborn Interactive
Publisher: Elden Pixels
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PC