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Gargoyle's Quest (Game Boy) artwork

Gargoyle's Quest (Game Boy) review

"From dominating hapless knights to taking over the underworld: A success story!"

Eventually, life became pretty boring for the demon known as Red Arremer. His main hobby was emotionally and physically torturing the brave knight Arthur. That poor guy was limited by a general lack of mobility and really struggled with advanced concepts such as actually aiming the weapons he threw at monsters, which made it child's play for Red to hover out of reach before swooping down to remove the knight's armor (and then his flesh) before flying off, chuckling all the while.

Ah, the masochistic hell of playing Ghosts 'n Goblins! It's a game where the most famous aspect is arguably that one specific enemy, a somewhat rare monster so physically superior to your knight that the very first encounter with one (taking place partway through the game's opening level) could easily be considered the make-or-break point where a lot of players realized they were in way over their head. Red Arremer: a demon so dominant that Capcom decided to release a series of games, beginning with the Game Boy's Gargoyle's Quest, focusing on him single-handedly conquering the underworld. Because if you can toy with a noble knight and make him appear to be an impotent child, exactly what is capable of standing up against your might?

More than I thought! Turns out that in Hell, Red (or Firebrand, as he was named for American audiences) isn't the only formidable demon in town. If Arthur is the best warrior Earth has to offer, it's probably a good thing these demons are embroiled in a civil war, or all the good citizens of this planet would be huddled in caves and ruins, hoping against hope they can survive a bit longer before being rooted out and devoured. In this case, the cause of the conflict is a chap named King Breager, who has taken over Hell, or as it's known here, "the Ghoul Realm", and…wait just a minute…

You know, the amazing thing about this game is that it was actually released in America AND earned NES and SNES follow-up titles in Gargoyle's Quest II and Demon's Crest, respectively. Back in the day, Nintendo of America was very against religious references, so they must have put in a LOT of work to make this one "safe" for us. The demonic Firebrand, known as RED Arremer, became a gargoyle who, according to the box art, is actually green. Hell became the Ghoul Realm and a particular powerhouse's name became Rushifell, which still is "Lucifer", only pronounced with a drunken slur. Go on and try it; pound down a bunch of shots and mumble "Roo-shee-feh" until you pass out or whatever. This review isn't going anywhere...

Gargoyle's Quest screenshot Gargoyle's Quest screenshot Gargoyle's Quest screenshot

Okay, now that you woke up on your couch with a splitting headache and are trying to remember why your browser is open to this page, it's time to get back to Gargoyle's Quest. Firebrand is alerted of Breager's coup by a procession of dying minions, so he leaps into action in order to achieve his destiny by killing the usurper and gaining untold power. He'll go through two distinct types of gameplay to do so -- fun platforming stages and game-padding overhead exploration sections.

To start with the latter, these things are, to be charitable, necessary evils. The Ghoul Realm is surprisingly similar to the worlds seen in the typical old-school Dragon Quest game, wherein you'll traverse bland terrain looking for towns and other points of interest. In those not-so-bustling burgs, you'll find a few NPCs who offer vague advice on what you're supposed to be doing, as well as bestow passwords or allow you to trade collectible vials for extra lives. Out in the wild, you have random battles that take you to a tiny action zone to fight a handful of enemies for a vial or two. That's cool when you're basically getting free vials for exterminating cannon fodder, but not so fun later in the game when those random battles essentially are mini-bosses.

As you might guess, these areas might be kind of tedious and annoying, but aren't really much more than exposition-filled walks between the action levels which make it worth playing. Firebrand is one of those cool characters that actually feels different to control than the majority of gaming protagonists, much like the hero of Bionic Commando had a different vibe to him because, in lieu of jumping, he used an extendable robotic arm to swing from anything it could attach to.

While traversing these levels, you'll do typical things such as jumping and firing projectiles, but you'll also have the limited ability to fly. Early in the game, this amounts to little more than being able to extend a jump a bit further, but as you progress through the game, Firebrand gets more powerful. He'll be able to jump higher and fly further, until you've reached the end of the game and can fly infinitely to the left or right. Now, you can't use your wings to progress upward, but there are ways to work around that -- a necessity, since many of these levels do require you to do at least a bit of ascending.

Gargoyle's Quest screenshot Gargoyle's Quest screenshot Gargoyle's Quest screenshot

Being a demon…I mean, gargoyle, Firebrand has sharp claws on his hands and feet, allowing him to hook onto most walls and propel himself upward with jumps. As you advance through the game, he also gains some diversity in his attacks. The first new form of projectile allows him to break through walls that he can't stick to, while the second emits some sort of gooey substance that provides a temporary safe haven on spiked walls, allowing him to climb up those, as long as you're precise with jumping and firing.

Oftentimes, the challenge in getting through a particular stage revolves around you using Firebrand's abilities to navigate various obstacles, with monsters primarily there to make things a bit trickier. Getting through a large, spike-filled chamber with only a few platforms suspended in the air might not be all that tough, but what if a number of those platforms have foes spewing projectiles at you? Suddenly, things have gotten a lot trickier because, diverse array of abilities or not, our hero is scarcely more durable than poor Arthur. At the beginning of the game, his life bar is a mere two dots in length. By the end, it's grown to a comparatively robust five dots -- a number that becomes less impressive when considering that certain enemies are capable of removing two with one attack. Add in minor details such as how there aren't many health-restoring goodies to be found and how the most useful is a permanently-held key item that, in the vein of old-school games, is located on a particular square of the world that is vaguely alluded to by maybe one NPC and it's easy to see how the action in this game can get pretty tense.

But that's why we still play these old games, right? Like many of its era, Gargoyle's Quest isn't particularly long, with around six or seven decent-sized action levels and a couple of small "bridge" levels thrown into the mix. A skilled player familiar with this game's challenges could probably run through it in an hour or two, so Capcom obviously wanted to make things tough. At least this game didn't frustrate me to the degree Ghosts 'n Goblins did, as there only were a handful of moments where I found myself getting irritated. Ironically enough, after having fun mocking Arthur and his struggles against the far more mobile Red Arremer, my worst moments in this game involved adversaries more adapt at flying than Firebrand. To give one example, a particular stage has a spike-filled segment where you have to contend with winds pushing you backwards and a large enemy, able to fly at angles you can't, doggedly pursuing you. One miscalculation and you'll either die or wind up at the boss, who's found shortly after this challenge, with absolutely no margin for error. For quite some time, this diabolical little area proved to be quite the roadblock!

Frustrating moments such as that, as well as the tedious nature of traveling the world and getting into random encounters while trying to make it to the next meaningful challenge, keep Gargoyle's Quest from being a classic; however, it's still a pretty fun game. Firebrand is a neat guy to control, with his gradually-improving ability to fly and multiple kinds of projectiles, and it is enjoyable to be able to utilize a character who'd been a nemesis of mine when I was playing Ghosts 'n Goblins. After watching Arthur die so many times against him, man, it was so nice to switch sides. Let the old knight rust in pieces -- Red Arremer forever!

Project Horror 2019

Bonus Content

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Staff review by Rob Hamilton (October 18, 2019)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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