This is the first in what will likely be a new regular feature on my Cblog, in which I re-examine games that we have fond memories of and see if they still hold up. If you have suggestions for titles to be featured in the future or ideas on how I can improve the column, please let me know.
When I received my very first Game Boy for a birthday in 1990, I played Tetris pretty much non-stop for a week. I never became too terribly good at manipulating tetronimoes, however, and soon ached for something new to play. Gargoyle's Quest: Ghosts 'n Goblins was the first game I bought for the pea-green gaming machine and I absolutely adored it.
Gargoyle's Quest is an platformer/RPG. As Firebrand, the titular gargoyle, it is your mission to save the Ghoul Realm from evil King Breager. Since you are far too weak to accomplish this task at the outset of the game, you must travel throughout the Ghoul Realm seeking assistance from its leaders and wise men to gain power. That, and killing a lot of guys in white robes.
Impressive graphics for a Game Boy game circa 1990.
The first thing that struck me about this game when I first played it were the graphics. I'd tried out Super Mario Land and a few of the other early games for the Game Boy and they didn't hold a candle to Gargoyle's Quest. The enemies were very detailed and reasonably well animated for the time, though it did suffer from some flickering and slowdown when things got a bit hectic. Like most games of the time, it also lacked much in the way of backgrounds, which could make some areas seem a bit bland.
Another area in which the game excels is the music. Gargoyle's Quest is loosely tied to the Ghouls 'n Ghosts series (the sprite for Firebrand is lifted almost directly from the Red Demon in GnG) and a lot of the music sounds very similar to that cousin. There are really good tunes in most of the levels but the experience is marred somewhat by the unnecessarily loud and obnoxious sound effect that's played whenever you pick up an item. Guess what the "Breaker" shot does to these blocks. Go on. Guess.
All of the action is carried out in platforming levels. Firebrand can breath balls of fire, cling to walls and hover for limited distances. As you progress, he gains the ability to jump higher and hover longer in addition to earning projectile attacks that break special blocks or provide a surface to cling to on spiked walls. Most of the level design is pretty clever and requires that you make the most of the abilities you have to get through to the end. Some of them are seemingly impossible to traverse without taking damage along the way, such as one area with a narrow, vertical passage of spiked walls with spikes moving in and out at intervals that practically requires you to take a hit and drop to the bottom while still invincible.
Of course, once you reach the end of a level, you'll have a boss encounter. The bosses look pretty cool for a game but are ultimately disappointing as they're usually far easier to conquer than the path that brings you to them. There are exceptions to this rule, of course, and the final confrontation can be downright brutal (particularly if you make the wrong decision before starting it).
The RPG elements are not this game's strong suit.
In between the platforming levels, the game switches to a top-down perspective and you wander around a world map. And you'll wander in it a lot. Characters will send you to see someone else a considerable distance away and then expect you to hoof it back to talk to them after you've completed whatever errand the second character wanted you to do. It's frustrating and dull most of the time.
While traveling, you'll frequently have random encounters that put you into a small platform area with a few bad guys to kill. These are never very difficult and are rewarded with a few vials (the currency of the Ghoul Realm). While they're an annoying interruption of the game, having them there helps a lot as vials are exchanged in towns for extra lives and you're probably going to need quite a few to pass some of the more difficult stages. There is also the occasional, brief platforming area representing your trip across a bridge or through a cave. I like these because they break up the monotony of the worst part of the game. Well, almost
the worst part.
I remember thinking that Gargoyle's Quest had a good story. This is a fallacy. There's a decent amount of comments to be heard from the various townspeople and central figures but it's all crap. Mindless jibber-jabber that takes forever to get through because the screen is so small, the text size so large and the message speed painfully slow. The only problem is that if you don't talk to them, you can get lost on the map as they'll provide information on where to travel next.
Even with these faults, Gargoyle's Quest is a good game. The challenging platform stages are strong enough to carry the weight of all the other dross on its back, though I often think the game could have more effectively told its story with some slideshow action between levels and spare me the aimless wandering that so often occurs. But before you go fire up that Game Boy, consider Gargoyle's Quest II: The Demon Darkness for the NES.
Gargoyle's Quest II is essentially a graphical update.
Calling the second game in this series a "sequel" might be going a bit far. Gargoyle's Quest II is more of a remake than anything else. It has practically the same story, with the same characters and the same retarded names for the relics you'll have to collect to increase your power. The graphics, already a strong suit of the Game Boy title, are considerably better and don't suffer from the hiccups its predecessor did. Control is improved somewhat, reducing some of the frustration that invariably occurs. And, while plot elements and gameplay remain largely the same, the platforming levels are different so it's still something of a fresh experience.
There's still the horrible text and world map travel issues, but the random encounters have at least been removed. Sadly, the music sounds generic and lacks the pizazz of the GnG-inspired tracks. Still, it's the better choice between the two and I highly recommend /not
Reach out and touch someone.
The SNES also enjoyed an iteration of the Gargoyle's Quest series, eschewing the name. Demon's Crest drastically alters the core game by adding in some new elements and getting rid of a lot of the stuff that just didn't work.
This time, the story is much improved but that may have to do with there just not being much of it. Firebrand was defeated and imprisoned for a thousand years by a demon named Phalanx who now rules the Ghoul Realm. Breaking out, he sets his sights on revenge. The game tells you this at the very beginning and nothing else relevant is said until the finale. In fact, hardly anything is said at all (thank God).
This game is utterly beautiful. Characters are highly detailed with fluid animation and even the backgrounds have been given some tender lovin' care. Few platformers on the SNES have impressed me in terms of graphics as much as Demon's Crest.
The boss battles in Demon's Crest are painfully hard.
Whereas the first two games in the series focused heavily on level design and left the boss encounters more or less by the wayside, the baddies really get their due in this one. The levels are still challenging, but it's more challenging to avoid or kill the enemies than it is to navigate the landscape. And, once you reach the boss, they can easily decimate you. It's a good thing that the death animation is gorgeous because you're going to see it. A lot.
To compensate for this, Firebrand gets access to new powers, a much larger quantity of health and can hover indefinitely from the very start of the game. In addition to the now standard projectiles, he can use potions and spells to gain an edge. He can also equip crests and talismans. Talismans have effects such as increasing rate of fire or reducing the damage you take. Equipping a crest transforms Firebrand into one of five alternate forms which both give him new powers and remove some of his basic ones. The air crest, for example, allows him to fly upwards for the first time ever but he can no longer cling to walls.
Flying is always better than walking.
These items are acquired through brutal boss battles or are hidden within the game's seven stages. In another surprising shift in the Gargoyle's Quest paradigm, Demon's Crest is a somewhat non-linear experience. Instead of having to march his way around the Ghoul Realm as he has in the past, Firebrand can now (gasp!) fly over the world map to any of the stages. Extremely skilled players could conceivably complete the game after having only passed through a few of the levels, but to get the best of the four different endings you'll have to complete all but the final stage at least twice to find all the hidden items and multiple routes.
All told, the Gargoyle's Quest series is a solid group of platform games. Not everything works and they certainly aren't without their flaws. Taken as a whole, however, the good bits are really good and the bad bits are more annoyances than anything else. While it's a bit disappointing that the NES "sequel" wound up just being a rehash, I can hardly be upset when it's as fun as it is.
Still good after all these years.