Cathedral: the classics never diocese
Take me to church
You should play Cathedral. I realise that's a bit of a spoiler to open my coverage of the game with, but... you should play it. If you like Metroidvanias and you like old-school video games, it's as simple a matter as this - Cathedral is brilliant and one of my favourite contemporary throwback games. The difficulty balance is superb, the controls are spot-on and the game feel is just about perfect. And then comes the tricky part - explaining exactly why.
See, in several ways, Cathedral is quite unremarkable. A word that has been the kiss of death for many a genuinely good game. "Unremarkable" doesn't mean bad. It's familiar, cosy even. It, like other lesser-known slices of excellence - The Witch & The 66 Mushrooms or Blue Flame, to name a couple - does something you've seen before but does it brilliantly. To the Nth degree, gameplay wise.
Shades of Shovel Knight, here, but I like Cathedral a little better. Less cruft, less of a wank. That's not to say Shovel Knight is a bad game - of course it isn't - but it is a compromised game, compromised by modern expectations of what constitutes a challenging game, or the myriad and markedly less interesting add-on modes. I don't care about any of that, I just want the purest possible experience. Cathedral understands that. Cathedral is exactly what I want from a game like this.
I freely acknowledge that it isn't necessarily what you or anyone else would want. As I played through parts of this game, I found myself grinning and thinking "ooh, this reminds me of The Addams Family for SNES", which might be the most Stuart Gipp thing that's popped into my head for a while. Can I recommend the game on that basis? No, of course not. Nobody cares about The Addams Family on SNES. Nobody's interested in the way it sets down ground rules for its many, many obstacles, then gradually, carefully escalates the stakes and the gauntlets you have to run before offering you respite in the form of a life-up, or a checkpoint. That's the vibe I get from Cathedral - the game is difficult as hell and any little bone it throws to you makes you feel like you've been blessed by a benevolent gaming god.
That's not to say it's one of those masocore style platformers. It's not. It's just refreshingly hands-off in the way it treats you. Because the structure and inputs are quite simple, you can figure out the important stuff yourself and just get on with it. You've got your map, you know what you can do, and that's great. Dying drops you back at the last checkpoint (which aren't egregiously spaced apart by any means, but they're certainly not on every screen) with about 10% of your money missing, which you can easily regain by defeating enemies. It's punishing, but not brutal. And it's brilliant. And I'd like you to buy it and play it, please. Even though I compared it to The Addams Family on SNES. Thank you.