The most dark, horror, and gothic indie Metroidvania

Castlevania and Metroid created their own genre, which is getting a second youth with indie games: metroidvania. These games have in common a 2D aesthetic, a huge map to explore with interconnected elements, many secrets and hidden areas to discover using different abilities, backtracking, and in general a huge focus on exploration. Usually, metroidvania games have a wide bestiary, with many standard enemies, and gigantic bosses to defeat. RPG elements are also quite common, including statistics, levels, and dozens of different equipment.

Surely, both the founding fathers of the genre have their amount of horror elements. Metroid features grotesque aliens and an overall lonely and oppressive atmosphere. Castlevania is also not second in this, with one of the most inspiring dark fantasy/gothic settings, and with a bestiary full of the most disturbing creatures (and you can check them here: Most dark, scary and creepy bosses from Castlevania saga). However, with the new flow of indie metroidvania, the genre got even more refreshed with novel dark, horror, or mature atmospheres.

In the following article, I will describe some of the darkest or horror metroidvania games. I will include only proper metroidvania, with a 2D art-style, a huge interconnected world, and multiple abilities or RPG features needed to explore.

I will focus on metroidvania with dark, horror, or in general a mature atmosphere. It could be for the oppressive or depressing environment, for the brutal combat and the violent gameplay, or for the disturbing elements: whichever is the cause, these games are more mature-oriented than the average metroidvania. Moreover, for each of them, I will analyse the world-building, the bestiary and the bosses, and why the atmosphere is considered dark or horror. The article will be constantly updated, so new fitting games will be included once released.

Vigil: the Longest Night

Details: Vigil was a surprise last year, and one of the best examples of metroidvania directly infused with horror elements. Vigil is a great homage to the legendary Bloodborne, sharing with it the dark themes and the oppressive atmosphere. Vigil is a pure metroidvania with strong RPG elements, including a deep level system, skills, and different playstyles. From fast daggers to the complexity of the bow, the player has the power of shaping the gameplay. The exploration is a focal point, with a giant interconnected world full of secrets to discover, including alternative bosses, hidden eldritch realms, and dozens of different armors and equipment. This is where the game gets even more interesting, because every item not only is very original and interesting to use, but also well characterised in terms of lore.

World: From dense and deadly woods, to haunted mines and a ship graveyard inhabited by deep-sea eldritch terrors, the world of Vigil is a huge and twisted net touching common dark fantasy tropes. Secrets are everywhere, and backtracking is crucial to find the most hidden places and battles, and secondary characters have different quests to fulfill. Moreover, the same world will be visited under three different “conditions” (avoiding spoilers) and many areas will change according to this, with new enemies, items, and bosses. And to conclude, how to forget about the secret eldritch realms accessible only while playing special ocarina on an altar in the depths of a crypt?

Dark/Horror: The horror in Vigil is a very strong element. Secondary characters will face horrible consequences, death and disease are everywhere, and grotesque experiments on innocent people are only the tip of the iceberg. Moreover, secondary quests could end up really traumatically, and not every character should be trusted. Church and religion are also a twisted trope present in Vigil, painting an ever more dark but believable fantasy world.

Bestiary: The grotesque enemies are pure nightmare-inducing, and masterfully portrayed with a gorgeous art style. Every area has several new enemies, with very interesting designs and behaviors. For example, the ship graveyard is full of complex deep-sea creatures, including a sort of snail-woman and an aggressive mass of tentacles. The bosses have also a nightmarish and original design. I challenge you to meet the Broodmother and her spawn without being heavily disturbed (and you can know more about her in my article: Monster of the Week: The Brood Mother and her progeny (Vigil)).

Knifeboy

Details: An unexpected surprise for a crazy metroidvania based on indie comics, set in an insane sci-fi world full of charm and personality. The art-style is very detailed and interesting, especially the enemies’ design and some locations. It could be raw sometimes, but it is full of passion and able to paint a unique world full of colors and details. The combat side is not incredibly deep, with very standard combos and easy but really interesting boss fights. Platform sections are quite challenging, but never tiring, thanks to really well-planned checkpoints. Of course, as a one-man game, there are some bugs that can be a bit bothering. However, the experience is so original and interesting, that I kept playing regarding the bugs. The world, the dozens of characters, the crazy bosses, and the many secrets are too interesting to stop playing. 

World: The game is based on a quite big open world, with a lot of secrets and places to explore. A day/night cycle allows different layers of exploration, with some places opening only at a specific time, and different monsters or collectibles only available at night, for example. Each new area is a completely novel and bizarre environment, from a DJ club, to a sort of pseudo-gothic asylum, and an arena managed by a group of pig-butchers on stilts. The game is a crazy tornado of surprises and pulp references, with secondary quests allowing to access a UFO or to see the true face of Santa Claus. Also, the game is a proper metroidvania, since new upgrades will allow the player to explore new areas.

Dark/Horror: Knifeboy cannot be defined as a horror game under any category, but it surely meets the requirement to be in this article for the high level of violence and the grotesque and twisted characters/enemies. Knifeboy is like an indie comic book targeted to a mature audience, a game that is not afraid to show enemies cut in half and some nudity here and there.

Bestiary: This game knows how to create original enemies and bosses. If common enemies like a sort of colorful humanoid bat that looks like a Mexican painting under LSD are already interesting, including sort of pig-like creatures walking on stilts, the bosses have an especially great design. They are difficult to describe using words, just imagine the most gigantic, colorful, complex, and bizarre abomination, and probably you will not be even close to what you will face in Knifeboy.

Blasphemous

Details: Blasphemous is probably one of the most well-known games in this article, a huge metroidvania with strong horror elements inspired by Catholicism. The game is challenging and full of surprises, with an amazing world to explore and many tough fights. Blasphemous has also incredible pixel art, able to convey the brutality of the fighting system in every red pixel. If you are looking for a challenging, brutal, and horror metroidvania, Blasphemous should be your first choice.

World: Custodia is a dark and cruel world shaped by the Miracle, a sort of unknown force that molds the bodies of true believers in horrible ways. The world is beautifully interconnected, using really original and haunted places. From the cold peaks in which is hiding a monastery of nuns that self-burn their bodies, to the rooftop of a gothic cathedral inhabited by twisted angelic beings: Blasphemous knows how to create a complex world using religious references. The secondary characters are an integrated part of this world, insane being touched by the Miracle, forced for example to be constantly whipped by an invisible force, or to be forever imprisoned half-fused in an olive tree.

Dark/Horror: Blasphemous is probably the most horror and brutal metroidvania that is out. Every detail is pure horror and nightmare-inducing, especially how religion is twisted in favor of horror. Moreover, the fighting is brutal, with gory executions when enemies are at low health.

Bestiary: Every single enemy is a grotesque combination of religion, Spanish folklore (the developers are from there), and pure horror. Seriously, every single enemy, from the most common soldier to the most gigantic boss, could be on the cover of a metal album. The religious elements combine with the creatures in very original ways, including a boss inspired by the “Pietà” of Michelangelo, or others with Church architectures inserted in their design (more info here: Catholic Art and Architecture in the twisted world of Blasphemous: how religious iconography can build nightmares). Plus, the bosses are simply great, especially the giant skeleton of a cardinal lifted by giant hands, and the disturbing Exposito, which can only be described as a sort of gigantic baby Jesus that will literally rip the main character in half (which also have an analysis here: Monster of the Week: Exposito, Scion of Abjuration (Blasphemous)).

Demoniaca Everlasting Night

Details: Heavily inspired by Castlevania Symphony of the Night, Demoniaca is a metroidvania combining horror elements, light adult contents (brief sex and nudity), and a combat system typical of fighting games based on combos. The RPG elements are many and well-integrated, including many different items and random drops. However, since here on Dark RPGs you can already find a complete review of Demoniaca, I will just leave here the link for more details: Demoniaca Everlasting Night Review: a dark and mature beat ’em up metroidvania.

World: As mainly inspired by Castlevania, Demoniaca is entirely set in a gigantic castle. There are of course different sections, for example the library or a hall full of mirrors. The exploration is rewarded not only for secrets but also for hidden merchants and moves. A great feature is the special mini-bosses marked on the map, but almost impossible to defeat without coming back much later at a higher level. Some characters are quite original and brilliant, such as Boxman, a mysterious man teaching powerful techniques hiding his face inside a box.

Dark/Horror: Demoniaca is a violent game, especially in the pixel art cutscenes and for some brutal elements in the background. The game has also mild adult content, including brief sexual scenes that appear like random illusions, or nudity, especially involving secondary bosses, or for example, a character seating on a throne while surrounded by half-naked slaves.

Bestiary: Part of the bestiary is not very original and inspired. For example, there are too many variants of skeletons, and some creatures are really too similar to iconic enemies from Doom. However, there are some interesting surprises, especially in the library section and in the second half of the game, with creepy murderous nurse dolls wielding massive syringes or hack-saws. Another brilliant example is a gruesome spiked-skeleton with inserted body-parts that is able to inflict the negative status “thorne,” transforming the main character into a sort of Hellraiser-ish version of herself.

Dark Light

Details: The game is still in Early Access, but is clearly showing its potential. The strongest point of Dark Light is its sci-fi horror atmosphere, a sort of 2D Dead Space, which is something not very common for a metroidvania. Dark Light has also major influences from Dark Souls, especially the level up system, based on converting fragments collecting during exploration in credits. But of course, if death arrives before the conversion, the fragments will be forever lost. The gameplay is very classic, but involving several pieces of equipment, including a firearm, a melee weapon, grenades, and a drone. New items are randomly dropped while exploring, or directly as loot from defeated enemies.

World: Earth is now a rotten wasteland, a harsh landscape roamed by deadly creatures. The atmosphere is always oppressive, and the exploration extremely cautious. Even if the world is still under construction, there are already several paths and secret areas to uncover, usually using keys collected in other zones. The backgrounds are gorgeous and haunting, able to paint a horror sci-fi world, with a gigantic robotic hand emerging from the ground, or a titanic cybernetic skull, just to mention some examples.

Dark/Horror: The atmosphere is dense and oppressive, the combat is brutal, and dying is a common occurrence. Enemies will ambush from dark places, and, several times, a double-tap will be necessary to check if an enemy is truly dead. The silence is a constant threat to your psychological health while exploring the wasteland, the equivalent of exploring the silent ship in Dead Space.

Bestiary: In Dark Light, you can expect a series of quite classic but always interesting examples of horror sci-fi creatures. Invisible mutants, deadly parasites, grotesque zombies with huge chainsaws, or chaos warriors in full armor and with a Gatling gun: if you can name a creature-trope from horror-scifi, it is probably in the game.

Salt and Sanctuary

Details: One of the first examples of recent dark metroidvania, Salt and Sanctuary tried to be the first 2D Souls-like. And the experiment succeeded with really good results. The combat is stamina-based, tough and challenging, while the RPG elements are deep and satisfying. The dark world of Salt and Sanctuary is open to any gameplay, with hundreds of weapons, items, and enchantments to collect. The game is also highly-replayable, including a NG+, multiple endings, and branch-based secondary quests with more than one outcome.

World: The world is entirely contained in a huge island collecting castaways from many shipwrecks. The island is a mysterious and ethereal place, a sort of limbo or border between life and death. Salt is the main element comprising the creatures living on the island, a sort of “soul,” but also the main currency to level up in the game. Moreover, the island is a very variegated environment, with cursed forests, colossal pyramids, hidden lakes, and amoral alchemic labs. The world is a twisted maze of areas very well connected, especially vertically. There are also many hidden elements, including bosses, locations, and even obscure guilds to join.

Dark/Horror: The game has a lonely, dark and oppressive atmosphere, a constant tale of silent areas and suffering. In this sort of limbo, there is no space for anything funny or light-hearted, but only for speechless sufferance and existential doubts. The backgrounds, especially of the bosses, retrieved through the bestiary or item descriptions in proper Souls-like formula, will also add drama and horror to the already heavy atmosphere.

Bestiary: From the half of the game, every monster will be incredibly original, dark, and disturbing. From murderous dolls to living cages waiting to imprison the player to be their new son, every new enemy is an unexpected and challenging surprise. The bosses are especially disturbing, imbued with madness or extreme loneliness. A terrifying example is the skinless, a giant alchemic abomination without skin, or a metal “tree” made of tortured bodies that need to be destroyed to defeat the boss. But my favourite example is probably the Queen of Smiles, a deranged and grinning maniac with a psychotic background, which loves blades and decorating her room with corpses.

Minoria

Details: Minoria is the spiritual sequel of Momodora, with a different art-style and the same developers behind it. As the famous Momodra before, Minoria is a proper metroidvania, just on a slightly smaller scale. The game features interesting RPG elements, including levels, and different pieces of equipment to create the best strategy for every situation. The art-style is gorgeous, and it is perfectly fitting for telling a fairytale. But be aware, behind the fable-like facade, Minoria hides a more dark core, touching important topics from religion to coexisting with nature. Minoria is also full of secrets, including a hidden boss after a set of deadly challenges, NG+, and multiple endings. But what I really liked is that, if the player is able to defeat a boss without receiving damage, a secret item will be unlocked, and this is different for every boss.

World: Minoria is almost completely set in dark and labyrinthine corridors, from the majestic beauty of a cathedral to the inner depths of a torture dungeon. A forest can also be accessed later on, creating a more complex world, but still embraced in a decadent and sad-inducing atmosphere. There are also hidden chambers with a lot of interesting details and furniture scattered around. Plus, the player can retrieve diary pages that will unveil even more the dark lore of Minoria.

Dark/Horror: Even if the fairytale art-style could make you think otherwise, psychologically speaking, Minoria is probably the darkest game on this list. Gray morality is at the core of the experience, including delicate topics such as being brainwashed by religion. Several elements will make you feel unexpectedly uneasy, including bosses begging for their life, or random prisoners asking to be killed to ease their sufferance. Gore is also present in the background, including corpses and walls drenched in blood. The atmosphere is so interesting that I also wrote a complete article about it, here is the link if you want to read more about: The gray machinery of the Inquisition behind the cute facade of Minoria [Review and Analysis].

Bestiary: The number of creatures is not as wide as other titles, and the regular enemies far too common, but bosses and sub-bosses have interesting designs, with complex and inspired battles. The main enemies are usually witches or ancient nature forces. The witches tend to have different shapes, for example a gigantic and sexy succubus. Force of nature can also become particularly interesting, such as a giant slug-plant woman.

Monster of the Week: The Brood Mother and her progeny (Vigil)

Origin: Vigil the Longest Night

Appearance: The boss is a giant and grotesque abomination, showing female humanoid traits combined with insect morphology. The abdomen especially resembles the one of a giant larva, or of the queen of a hive. Atrophic wings are falling on her back, like vestigial elements clearly unable to lift such a massive figure. The arms are extremely long and dangerous, used as a weapon, especially for the claws at the end. The long neck and the face are the only elements still keeping a sparkle of her female appearance, especially the pale face that resembles a marble mask. However, when her mouth is wide open, the creature shows inevitably her grotesque nature. Her body is curved under extreme sufferance, an amorphous and unfunctional mass acquired through wild experimentations, with scars and stitches covering her body as proof. But the Brood Mother would not be described as a mother without having a progeny, and definitively this is the most grotesque detail about this creature.

Background: The deformed and grotesque creature was not always in this way. The Brood Mother was once just a normal girl, following religious duties, and in love with her boyfriend. Sadly one day, she was betrayed and became the guinea pig of an insane doctor. Her body was subject to twisted experiments, while she slowly lost both her mind and her humanity. Now the pain of those wild experiments is a clear mark on her body, as the twisted path of stitches crossing her body.

The main weapons of the gigantic boss are of course her arms, incredibly long and dangerous, able to easily crush even the most worthy opponent. Her strength is so abnormal and human, that even the ceiling of the cave will collapse under her devastating punches. But as previously specified, the progeny of the Brood Mother is her most dangerous and twisted detail. Small and grotesque infants will be expelled from her body as rounded eggs that, if not promptly destroyed, will hatch in her swarming progeny. The small creatures have deformed bodies fused together like an amorphous mass of sufferance, a sort of sick combination between a fetus and a larva. The void expression on their faces and the infant-like appearance almost create a deep feeling of guilty uneasiness inside the player, who will be forced to slay the apparently harmless creatures. An interesting detail is that, even after slaying the boss, her infants will continue to grow and evolve, from larvae to fly-like monstrosities.

By coming back to the cave later in the cave, the main character will face these new and disturbing abominations, able to spit poison and to self destroy after charging the player. Definitively this time the sense of guilty will disappear. One terrible and macabre detail hinted behind the tragic story of the Brood Mother, especially since the poor woman was in love and having a boyfriend, and the mutated Brood Mother is constantly giving birth, is that probably the woman was pregnant when the experiments started.

Catholic Art and Architecture in the twisted world of Blasphemous: how religious iconography can build nightmares

As the name suggests, Blasphemous is a horror metroidvania that really uses inspiration from religious art to create the unique world of Cvstodia. In this horrific land, the Miracle is a sort of eldritch energy that grants wishes to the believers, but twisting their desires and martyrdom in a disturbing and unexpected way. In this fictional land where religion and fanaticism are founding elements, existing classic and religious art is the most important reference. Dark fantasy elements are combined with the aesthetic and extremes of Catholicism, shaping a unique world full of interesting places and memorable characters. Not only famous paintings of saints and religious figures are partially reshaped into disturbing creatures, but also symbolism and religious iconic elements are used to create nightmarish entities. Between the many twisted creatures and characters inhabiting the world of Cvstodia, in the following article I selected the most striking references to Catholic art in terms of paintings, sculptures, and architectures.

One of the strongest and most evident connections with religious art is the boss called Ten Piedad. Probably the first boss to be faced in the game, the creature immediately strikes for the resemblance with the iconic Michelangelo’s statue the Pietà. If the statue of the Virgin Mary is identical to the real one, Jesus, by contrast, is far more different, because the boss itself is lying in the arms of the statue. The reference is familiar but disturbing at the same time, since the hideous and disfigured monster is still posing at the beginning of the fight as the statue of Jesus. The name of the boss is also not hiding the reference, since Piedad is the Spanish name for Pity, same as Pietà in Italian. Other than a striking artistic reference, the boss also works reverting the religious symbolism, transforming the body of Jesus ready for resurrection, in a disturbing figure. The monster was once a man, who just wanted to sleep in the arms of the statue of Mary. During his restless sleep, the Miracle morphed his body in a disfigured monster, imprisoning his sleeping mind in this hideous monster. This concept could be a symbolism of “what if the resurrection of Jesus went wrong?”. A creepy what-if, imagining how after sleeping, or being dead, the man-that-once-was would instead come back as an evil version of himself.

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The martyrs are a common topic in many religious paintings, often adorning the colourful windows inside churches with images of their ultimate suffering. San Sebastiano (Saint Sebastian) is probably one of the most famous martyrs, at least for the strong and iconic image of his death. The Christian man was executed by Romans after they discovered his true religion and, after being bound to a stake, he was shot with dozens of arrows. The image of his martyrdom was portrayed many times by famous painters, becoming an iconic symbol of unjust sufferance. In Blasphemous’s world, the character of Gemino is a direct visual reference to the martyrdom of San Sebastiano. He is imprisoned inside a metal statue, bound to an olive tree, exposed to extreme coldness, and pierced by multiple arrows, resembling in the pose every painting of San Sebastiano. Gemino is also a martyr, suffering this terrible torture until he will become part of the tree itself. Gemino’s only treasure is a small olive, the last gift that nature offered him before starting his torment, a small symbol that he will treasure in his hand till it will freeze.

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Between countless artistic references to Spanish traditions or masterpieces such as the works of Goya or Velazquez, it is difficult to decide which reference is more interesting. But focusing on the religious more than on the artistic side, Cherubs, for example, are a very common concept used in many characters and creatures of Blasphemous. Sometimes, the reference is used quite literally, for example in the collectables, which in this case are flying childish angels imprisoned in cages.

Even if there are several references to Cherubs, especially to the way they are portrayed in religious art, the case of the Headless Chamberlain is probably the most emblematic. The nightmarish creature has the body of a man but missing the head, going around with a pillow with on top the head of a Cherub. To highlight its creepiness, the creature has also a bag full of disembodied heads. The Headless Chamberlain attacks by throwing the flying head, which can move on its own while hunting the intruders. In this specific case, the Headless Chamberlain is directly inspired by the painting The Immaculate Conception (1662), as stated by the creators of Blasphemous in the official artbook (NDR which is really gorgeous, if you didn’t buy it). In the painting, several angelic heads are flying in the top corners of the painting, harmless and angelic in this case, but used as the core element to create the nightmarish Headless Chamberlain.

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Child-like angelic faces are common in many other designs in Blasphemous universe. The lord of all the Cherubs, called Jocinero, is a particularly interesting and disturbing character, but I will talk about him in a future article. The embodiment of paedophobia, or the fear of children, is clearly Exposito, the most iconic and disturbing boss of Blasphemous. The creature is a gargantuan baby with the strength of dozens of men, resembling a giant Cherub. However, Exposito is also very similar to Baby Jesus, especially due to the golden crown of thorns adorning is head. I will not speak more about Exposito since I already covered its design and symbolism in a previous article, available HERE.

The artistic religious references inside Blasphemous are not only limited to paintings but are also connected to more architectural details. Churches are specifically implemented inside the design of several enemies, a combination of flesh and architecture, connecting the sacred with the profane. Some enemies simply use as main weapon church elements, such as giant crucifixes or bells. The Shield Maiden is a small exception and, even if it uses religious architecture as weapons, the design of the weapons is more interesting and elaborated, integrating complex decorative elements. The most interesting detail is that while using a golden decorative element as a shield, the creature removed the head of the statue to wear it as helm.

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On the other hand, other creatures have architectural elements directly embodied in their design. Let’s talk for example of the Blazing Icon. The female figure is covered with red velvet, looking like an elaborate walking curtain. The most interesting detail is the cage-like structure around her head, which uniquely defines the design. The structure is clearly inspired by architectural elements inside churches, for example resembling the famous baldachin in the middle of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. The baldachin is positioned in the middle of the church, marking the entrance to the supposed tomb of St. Peter. The head-ornament creates a figure that is practically a living and walking element of a church. The baldachin-like cage is probably quite heavy, and this is reflected in the Blazing Icon, which is slowly walking around oppressed by such weight.

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Another enemy brings the concept of religious architecture integrated into the design even a step further. The creature is not present in the game, at least for the moment, but its beautiful concept is available in the artbook. The heavy knight shows an incredibly detailed and complex design, practically looking like a weaponized chapel. A tower-like tabernacle, which is used to store the images of various saints, would be probably used as the main weapon of the knight, like a sort of improvised holy mace. The body itself works as a reliquary, with the probable head of a saint exposed behind glass. This is a very common phenomenon in several churches, where body-parts of saints are exhibited as religious emblems. The knight is the quintessence of religious architecture integrated into the design, a walking chapel ready to smash down the infidels.

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Still, there could be a lot to talk about artistic and religious elements inside characters and monsters of Blasphemous. For example, Sepulcro Errante is a golem-like creature bringing on its back the tomb of a Spanish king, while the iconic creature Amargura could be almost considered as a living altar. But I think that the creatures analysed in the article are the most iconic and direct integration of catholic paintings and architectures into the grim world of Blasphemous.

Monster of the Week: Exposito, Scion of Abjuration (Blasphemous)

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Origin: Blasphemous

Appearance: At first glimpse, he could even look like a normal child, a sort of oversized baby Jesus or a giant cherub. Then, his nightmarish profile will become very clear in all the sick details. The giant baby is blindfolded, and looks like that he is constantly crying tears of blood, flowing down under the bandage in red rivers. Exposito wears on his head a big wicked crown, a very clear symbol of Catholicism, and a close recall to the figure of baby Jesus. The baby is held by a wicker woman, a colossal figure missing detailed traits, holding the baby like a maternal shadow. During the battle in the game and also in the last released concept art, a  snake-like creature extended itself from the main body of the wicker woman, like a sort of appendage. While the wicker woman simply moves around, and the baby only tries to catch and dismember whoever can perceive, the snake creature is attacking and protecting the baby with a multitude of skills. It is interesting to notice that, especially in the concept art, the face of the snake is like the one of a sad woman, probably representing the deceased mother of Exposito, which still tries to protect him.

Background: Exposito is really the embodiment of whatever could be interpreted as creepy or scary inside catholic art. The holiness fades because of the disturbing details of this figure, which clearly express the contrast between holy and profane. The complex creature is also a sort of unholy trinity, composed by 3 wicked creatures: the mother (instead of the father), the son is clearly there, and let’s suppose that the snake is a sort of holy spirit. However, the story of Exposito is provided directly by the game itself, and it is really a sad one. Just as introduction, the name Exposito is used  in Spain for orphan children with unknown parents. Exposito was a child, when the Inquisition burned his mother for heresy. The child was blindfolded to avoid to see the horrible scene but, even blindfolded, the poor kid was continuously crying. The last wish of the mother, while burning on the pyre, was that the people build a wicker figure in her image, to hold and to comfort her baby for when she will be dead. The Miracle, an energy mutating and twisting religious events in the land of Custodia, saw this scene and granted the wish, creating Exposito. The giant baby and the wicker woman are the perfect representation of the dualism between mother and son, even if in this case it is twisted with sadness and horror.

Regarding the fight itself and the attacks, the snake-like creature will do most of the job. The monster can attack with its own body, or can spit  poison or fire bullets. The creature will move following complex patterns, making really difficult to fight while avoiding its body. The giant baby will instead target specific regions of the arena. If the main character will be unlucky enough to finish in one of those areas, the giant baby will instantly kill him, brutally dismembering his body.

The gray machinery of the Inquisition behind the cute facade of Minoria [Review and Analysis]

When you check images of the new game from the creators of Momodora, Minoria, you see an interesting aesthetic full of cute characters, like a modern fairytale. But behind this delicate facade, Minoria touches really dark and delicate topics, from religion, to dogmas, the oppression of the weak ones and the violence against nature. The colorful aesthetic is hiding the gray moral patterns of Minoria’s plot and setting.

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From the gameplay point of view, Minoria is a classic Metroidvania with a good RPG component. There are secrets to discover, different equipment and magics (called incenses), and also a bonus boss fight. The game is short for the genre (around 5 hours), but with 2 endings and also secret equipment unlocked when defeating a boss without getting damaged.

But the plot, the lore and the hidden layers built of small details are the most interesting side of Minoria. In the world of Minoria, an unforgiving Catholic Church is using the Inquisition to hunt for witches, powerful beings in contact with nature. If this is not dark enough, behind the fairytale facade of the art-style, the dark core of Minoria will slowly and subtly appear. First, it will be the dead bodies lying in the background, then it is the turn of lore books with really disturbing details.

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It will soon be clear through notes and books that the silent protagonist was brainwashed to become an inquisitor. A weapon without a morality ready to kill whoever is judged by the Church. The Church is also a rotten and corrupted organization. For example, the Saints in this world are members of the clergy who now live isolated from the world, surrounded by extreme wealth and pleasures. If games like Blasphemous use the horror of religions and Inquisition in a very direct way, in Minoria everything is more subtle, the grayness is hidden in few lines of dialogue, or in the backgrounds. But the player will feel this sense of uneasiness. The lack of free will, and the absence of morality, are also translated into the gameplay. Somehow, the linearity of the game is the main responsible of creating those chains. While killing witches, you will soon realize that they are not that evil, but, anyway, you cannot do nothing other than killing them.

This is really evident while fighting a couple of specific bosses. When they will be at low health, they will stop fighting, dragging around the arena while cursing you. They are already defeated and deadly wounded, but you have no alternative than keep on fighting. There is no way to have pity for the boss. The main character cannot fight the orders of the Church, as well as the player cannot break the linearity of the game. But you would like to do that, to find a way to avoid these murders. The linearity of the game is making you question your morality. Why cannot stop? Why cannot avoid to kill this character? But you character is only a brainwashed gear of a bloodthirsty machinery, so you just keep on fighting. Only at the very end of the game, the player will have a real decision to do. But, even in this case, the choice is reverted, and a promised happy ending will bring to even more death; and also to a final boss fight against a hopeless and powerless character.

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Under the main cathedral of the Order, a dark dungeon will reveal all the hidden torments caused by the Church. While fighting your way through the dungeon, you will meet skinny and traumatized prisoners who will only ask to kill them, such big is their pain. There is no reward for sparing or killing them, so also in this case the weight of your choices is meaningless, like if for the main character the life or death of another human being is totally irrelevant. This will cause a huge sense of uneasiness for the player, in a gorgeous and colorful world with fairytale-like characters, death will powerfully emerge from the background.

Also the concept of fighting against the nature will make you question your action. Some of the boss Battles are against primordial forces of nature, called Witch Deities, but is it truly necessary to destroy something so ancient? Also the main purpose of the game is to burn down a magic forest, which of course can open so many parallelism with the problems of our real world. But this is another story.

Behind all the colorful and the beauty of Minoria, a dark truth lies, a gray story where the linearity of the game will make you feel a brainwashed and blood-thirsty machine, without second thoughts for questions or pity. A deep story where nature and free will collide against dogmas and impositions.

Demoniaca Everlasting Night Review: a dark and mature beat ’em up metroidvania

Castlevania Symphony of the Night (SOTN) is probably the best Castlevania ever created, so no wondering that future metroidvania often used it as main inspiration. Sadly, right now the series is practically dead, and between the many indie metroidvania, very few of them have a comparable dark and gothic atmosphere. Demoniaca is the project of an Italian team, inspired by SOTN but bringing its own identity into a really dark and grim world, with a small amount of violence and nudity. Other than a mature and violent world, Demoniaca is also offering a deep and innovative combat system for the genre, and a beautiful pixel art. But I will talk about that shortly.

Demoniaca tells the tale of a girl abandoned half dead by a group of demons in a mass grave. Her blood got mixed with the one of demons, and she is able to heal and reborn as half’demon. She will follow her own revenge path while trying to stop a catastrophic ritual in a huge tower full of demons. Along her path she will face terrible monsters, huge bosses, and will also meet weird characters. The pixel art of the game is very gorgeous and complex, especially for characters, enemies and bosses. There are a lot of effects on the screen, sparkles, lightnings and also characters appearing during specific summons or attacks. Also in some cutscenes or after loading a new area, a zoom function will better highlight the characters, providing lot more details. The music is fitting with the general atmosphere, with rock tracks based on a strong guitar, which will accompany the player while exploring the dark depths of the tower.

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The combat style of the game is very peculiar for the genre, and it is also very deep. Basically it is based on fighting games such as King of Fighters or Street Fighter, with the four basic buttons connected to different kind of kicks and punches. While progressing through the game, the main character will unlock new moves, to be executed as combination of buttons. Some new attacks are also able to open hidden areas or to progress in the game. There is also a parry function, which allow to reduce or to completely waive the damage received by the enemies. The combat system is deep and appealing, but quite difficult to master and to practically apply, often reducing to spamming the most effective  single attack against a specific enemy.

The RPG side of Demoniaca is well developed and integrated. The main character is able to level up with experience, to collect souls as money to buy new items, and can equip several accessories. There is a huge quantity of items to collect, from rings or necklaces to boost the statistics, to more peculiar items which will expand for example the information on the mini-map, showing also the movement of the enemies. The items can be collected from hidden chests, but also the enemies will sometime drop special necklaces or rings. The emphasis is however not on obtaining new weapons, but on discovering new combos and attacks to practice and to perform them.

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Demoniaca is a really challenging and punishing game, with a huge step in the difficulty after the first boss. The enemies punch hard, with strong and fast attacks, usually lot faster than the main character. Also flying enemies are particularly nasty and difficult to fight or to simply avoid, since often they are almost immortal and with very narrow space between them. Demoniaca also feature an old-school save system, based on finding save points. So forget about autosaves or checkpoints and go to save often, because if you die then you will lost lot of progresses. Of course these are not negative side, but it worth to mention that people looking for an easy metroidvania will find in Demoniaca a real challenge. Instead, old-school players will probably love it.

The enemies are interesting in both design and attacks, with a lot of variety in each new area. The bosses are huge and challenging, usually providing long and strategic battles. Even regular enemies are quite hard to defeat, and it is very important to discover their weak points, even if sometimes this is not too obvious. For example, a huge robot fighting with a telekinetic knife will make the main character into pieces, especially because its attacks are unblockable, till the player will discover that the telekinetic knife can be punched-back to avoid any damage, if executed at the correct moment. Each enemy is really a unique surprise. A small and apparently useless enemy can inflict the status “Retro”, reverting the graphical style of Demoniaca into a retro gameboy-like aesthetic.

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The characters show also a peculiar design, going from aggressive demon-like human, to mysterious being such as the Boxman. I am particular fan of this character, a weird and mysterious being wearing a cardboard box over his head, teaching techniques and appearing in the most unexpected situations. For some reason he really hates crows, but this is another story.

The game is full of small secrets, and has a lot of back-tracking, in the good metroidvania formula. For example, some secret areas or events can be accessed only later by using a specific ability. There are also super strong unique mini-bosses, marked on the map with a star, which are usually too strong to fight when met for the first time, and they need to be revisited again later in the story. The game is full of references, especially of course to Castlevania, but also to King of Fighters, for example in the main character sprites. I was also surprised to see some enemies very inspired by Doom, especially by the Pain Elementals and the Cacodemons.

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Sadly there are some negative sides in Demoniaca’s experience. The background is a bit static and repetitive, compared to the level of details of characters and monsters. The game is also really challenging, but with the correct items and with practice, every challenge can be overcome. The controls sometimes are not so responsive, especially during the platform session, which can be a little clumsy. However the game was released only few days ago and the developers look really responsive, so the majority of these issues could be solved in future patches.

Demoniaca is an interesting dark metroidvania, with nice characters and enemies, together with a deep combat system inspired by fighting games. If you can overcome the challenge, Demoniaca can be a really rewarding experience.

The review was based on a free STEAM key provided by the developers.

Interview with ” The Game Kitchen”, the Spanish team behind the dark metroidvania Blasphemous

 

Blasphemous was one of the most successful Kickstarter’s campaigns, and one of the most awaited indie game of 2019. The gorgeous and detailed pixel-art caught almost instantaneously the attention of the press and the players, but there is a lot more in Blasphemous‘s world other than the graphic. The game is a really dark and gruesome RPG metroid-vania, with a strong horror background, especially for the grotesque enemy design. The world of Cvstodia, land where Blasphemous is set, is directly influenced by Catholic religion, creating a unique, twisted and disturbing atmosphere, where religion meets horror.

The Game Kitchen is the brilliant Spanish studio behind Blasphemous, previous authors of the horror point and click saga of The Last Door. Using as inspiration traditions and celebrations from Spain, this independent studio was able to create a really unique and dark world, and one of the most mature and original metroid-vania ever created.

I had the possibility to ask some questions abut Blasphemous to the Game Kitchen. In the following interview, you will find details on how the world of Blasphemous and its creatures were created, the traditional influences of the team, and what are the future plans for the game. If you want to know more about Blasphemous, I hope you will enjoy the following interview.

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Q1: Thank you for your time and for the opportunity. Blasphemous looks a really promising game, with an interesting and unique setting. As an action-platform, Blasphemous is very different from your previous titles, the horror point and click adventure saga of The Last Door. How the idea behind Blasphemous was born?

A1: (Enrique Cabeza) Sorry for my English in advance. After The Last Door we needed to lay the foundations for a new project and after a lot of testing we felt that the next game should be different and could attract a wider range of players but, more importantly, that the game would be very attractive to ourselves as developers. At that time the team was extremely small and the project was going to have a minimal budget, but after the Kickstarter campaign, everything changed and we were able to increase the size of the team and the budget considerably. In addition, the success of the Kickstarter campaign indicated that the game was attractive enough and that we were heading in the right direction.

Q2; Which are the biggest influences for the design, the lore and the gameplay of Blasphemous?

A2: Well, gameplay influences come from games like Castlevania, Strider, Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, Metroid, Dark Souls or Devil May Cry. We wanted to mix Hack&Slash combat styles and progression and exploration of the metroid-vania genre. In terms of lore we have followed the heritage of the Souls saga format that we love so much, but really the stories are inspired by legends of our city Seville of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and mystical religious writers such as Santa Teresa, Gonzalo de Berceo or San Juan de la Cruz. 

Q3: What was the most challenging part of the developing?

A3: From my point of view, the most challenging thing has been to unite the artistic part of the game with the combat design with the giant bosses. That’s probably what caused us the most nightmares. We’ve learned a lot about how not to do some things.

Q4: Spanish traditions, folklore and culture seems to have an interesting influence in the world of Blasphemous. How much Spanish traditions influenced the world of Blasphemous? Could you make some examples?

A4: We realized that our own city, Seville, was full of interesting and unique elements that could serve to create our own dark fantasy. The cultural richness of the city is enormous from the artistic, architectural and historical point of view, so we felt that we were doing an honest job and our own. 

For example, one of the Spanish painters whose works have influenced us the most is Francisco de Goya because he has a series of dark and macabre paintings whose atmosphere fell in love with us and that fit perfectly into the tone of the game we wanted to create. Seville is full of religious art with hundreds of years of antiquity. One of its most important traditions is Holy Week which is truly spectacular. Really, all these works and traditions are not lived here as something merely religious, but it is something cultural and traditional, and a part of our DNA.

Q5: From the title to the world itself, Blasphemous clearly integrates religious figures and symbolism, for example Michelangelo’s Pietà for one of the first bosses [Figure 1]. How did you integrate religious topics in a horror environment?

A5: Much of the religious art, especially that of Andalusia, in southern Spain, is very dark and gloomy. Seville is full of religious iconography that represents suffering and tragedy in a unique way. I think it was a good decision to inspire the art of the game in all this art and heritage of southern Spain.

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Figure 1: Boss inspired by “La Pietà” of Michelangelo

Q6: I am a personal fan of the creature design of Blasphemous, especially one of the bosses: a gigantic blindfolded child lifted by a humanoid dark creature [Figure 2]. The design is really terrifying and unique, is this boss still part of the game? Could you provide some details maybe about the background or the battle against this creepy foe?

A6: We don’t want to give many clues about it because inside the game the players will be able to find a lot of information about all the characters and the world of Cvstodia. We think it’s better for players to find and discuss the whole lore of the game. We have published a two hundred page art book explaining the artistic influences and creative processes that have given rise to all the creatures and characters in the game. I hope you find it interesting!

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Figure 2: One of the most creepy and disturbing bosses of Blasphemous

Q7: Let’s continue to talk about the unique creature design of Blasphemous. Which is your favourite monster or boss so far? Why?

A7: I think Crisanta is one of my favourite bosses, the design of her armour is very iconic, also the girl climbed to the giant is one of my favourite enemies and has turned out to be one of the most shocking for players, is inspired by one of the most important Spanish paintings in history and the universal painting ‘Las Meninas’ [Figure 3]. One of my favourite characters is Desamparados, the woman in the painting that appears in the Blasphemous comic “El Arrodillamiento”, which is published in Steam, I think is one of the characters I enjoyed most designing and writing.

Q8: How are you balancing the difficulty of Blasphemous? Will it be more difficulty levels or maybe a New Game+, in the way of Souls game for example?

A8: Yeah, there’s a New Game+ on the way. The balancing in the games is something very difficult to achieve and I think the gameplay designers of Blasphemous have done a tremendous job. Hopefully we can even improve this aspect in future updates with the help of the community.

Q9:  The world of Blasphemous looks a really interesting place to explore. How much focus will be on the exploration and on the search for secrets? Just to have an averaged idea, how big will be the map in terms of hours to be fully explored?

A9: It’s complicated to say. I think we’ve introduced a lot of rooms to explore and secrets to discover with the budget we had. There are players who complete the game after thirty hours and others much earlier.  However, we have plans to add more and more content to the game which we hope players find very satisfying.

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Figure 3: Artwork of the creature inspire by “Las Meninas”

Q10: My obvious last question will be about the future of the game. Are you planning to support the game after lunch, with DLCs for example?

A10: Yes!! We are already working on new game content as well as correcting and improving existing aspects of the game. Blasphemous has just started!

Final Remarks:

I would like to thank the Game Kitchen, especially Mauricio Garcia Serrano and Enrique Cabeza, for the great opportunity and for their interesting answers. As probably many other fans, I am also curious to discover what monstrosities will be lurking in the future DLCs. I want just to remember that Blasphemous is available for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and also STEAM.