Cathedral is a pixel-art Metroidvania developed by Decemberborn and published by Elden Pixels, the latter of whom are known for developing the Alwa games (Awakening and Legacy). Set in a high-fantasy environment across a sprawling inter-connected overworld, Cathedral certainly looks ambitious. Pixel-art Metroidvanias are of course pretty common-place from the indie-community – will this one stand out or merge into the background?
As you’d expect, being a Metroidvania, Cathedral plays out in a non-linear narrative where you can traverse through a singular large world rather than progressing through consecutive levels. I’ve played quite a few Metroidvanias over recent years and for me, non-linearity is one of the core principles that should be incorporated into any good Metroidvania, and I’ve played too many of them recently that drift away from this. However, I’m pleased to say that Cathedral has this principle front and centre. I really enjoyed this game because it is a quintessential Metroidvania and has all the hallmarks that you want to see – non-linearity, puzzles, keys, side quests, upgrades, RPG elements, villages/towns, packed full of secrets - Cathedral has it all.
The character you play as (a knight with a name of your choosing) has a sword and a shield, can jump and also use down attacks with their sword, like the infamous pogo-sticking in Hollow Knight and Shovel Knight. The various dungeons throughout the world are tied together by an overworld that takes you through various terrain that you typically see in these kinds of games – ice, forest, cemetery, etc.
You can up Cathedral uses an interesting system in which you lose a maximum of 10% of the money you have in your possession each time you die (this percentage can be decreased with upgrades) and therefore, you’re incentivised to bank your money at the various shops you come across (second and final Hollow Knight reference – anyone who’s played it will get cold sweats at the thought of banking money!). This teaches you to be disciplined and to make sure you don’t hold too much money at any one time because you could lose some of it when you die – and you will die as this game is tricky!
The general platforming when travelling through the open world is difficult at times. However, I found all of the platforming ideas to be quite original, which was refreshing. There are quite a few different types of disappearing blocks that form a large part of the platforming – some are timed blocks, some disintegrate when you jump on them, etc – and when combined, it all makes for a challenging but rewarding experience.
There are some minor frustrating elements to the gameplay – your knight can only attack left, right and down, and not above which is annoying, especially with flying enemies. Also – the enemy AI is questionable in that they normally follow your character laterally across the screen, which makes perfect sense and yet, they still do the same thing when you’re going up and down ladders, hence you end up with a load of enemies at the top or bottom of a ladder when you’re on it, meaning you’re doomed to take damage.
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In Alwa’s Legacy, there was a nice mechanic where you could turn check points into warp points (if you have enough of a particular collectible) which made you think strategically about which save points were in important locations and therefore, should be changed into warp points. I think that would have been a really good idea to adopt with this game but alas, it does not feature. I appreciate the Alwa games were a different dev team but still, it would have vastly improved the fast-travel in Cathedral.
Story / Personality
I could basically describe the plot of any Legend of Zelda to you and it would describe Cathedral. You play as a character whom you can name yourself and who is mute throughout the story. They must travel through the game world and collect orbs by defeating bosses at the end of each dungeon. Once all orbs are collected, a door opens that leads to the final chapter of the game.
I have to say that I didn’t realise until writing this that I didn’t actually know a great deal about the story, which I guess demonstrates how it isn’t explained particularly well. I’m not a text-skipper, so I was reading everything and watching the various cinematics but failed to grasp the basics of it. Maybe that’s just me, but I think that goes to show that if you want a game that is dripping in story detail, then Cathedral is probably not for you.
Graphics / Sound Design
Being pixel-art, Cathedral has a very 16-bit feel to it of course, and there are no surprises here. The graphics meet the pixel-art standard but don’t necessarily exceed it, however the graphics are fun, colourful and detailed. I found it quite challenging to work out what was background art and what was a usable platform to start with; distinguishing between the two is difficult, especially in the overworld, until you get used to the game.
There’s also a pixel-art friendly, chip-tune soundtrack to accompany you throughout. The sound effects have a more Game Boy/8-bit audio aesthetic rather than an SNES/16-bit one which means the sound quality feels a bit behind in comparison to the graphics, but the tunes are catchy nonetheless and you’ll be left humming them after you’ve finished playing.
Final Score: 85%
I feel that coming from the Elden Pixels stable, Cathedral will inevitably be compared to the Alwa games and for me, it’s certainly as good as them; I would love to see Cathedral get the Alwa’s Legacy treatment and have a graphically-upgraded sequel. I like to see myself as a Metroidvania connoisseur, having played so many, and Cathedral is among the best I’ve played on the Switch; it’s a fantastically well-put-together adventure with addictive gameplay and a must-have for any fans of the genre.
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