Gargoyle's Quest: Ghosts 'n Goblins
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • Game Boy
  • Developer:
    • Capcom
  • Publisher:
    • Capcom
  • Released:
    • JP 05/02/1990
    • US July 1990
    • UK 1991
Score: 75%

This review was published on 06/08/2017.

Known in Japan as Red Arremer: Makaimura Gaiden, which roughly translates to Red Arremer: Demon World Village Side Story, Gargoyle's Quest: Ghosts 'n Goblins is a side-scrolling platform video game developed and published by Capcom for the Game Boy. It was originally released in Japan on May 2, 1990, North America in July 1990, and Europe in 1991. As its subtitle implies, this game is a spinoff from the Ghosts 'n Goblins series, which began with the release of the Ghosts 'n Goblins arcade game in 1985, and got a sequel in 1988 named Ghouls 'n Ghosts. While the mainline Ghosts 'n Goblins games are usually straightforward platformers, Gargoyle's Quest combines the platforming with some lightweight RPG elements. It's a pretty unique combination, especially since there aren't very many games out there that do this sort of thing. Gargoyle's Quest lacks the finesse of the Ghosts 'n Goblins games, but it makes up for that with its interesting mechanics.

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Long ago, an army of creatures known only as the Destroyers came from a neighboring universe and invaded the Ghoul Realm. The denizens of the Ghoul Realm were no match for the Destroyers, falling like flies to their might. Just as all hope was lost, an incredible fire swept over the Ghoul Realm, totally annihilating the Destroyers' army. This was the result of the Red Blaze, a gargoyle with enormous power who saved the Ghoul Realm from destruction. Gargoyle's Quest is set several hundred years later, where the Ghoul Realm once again faces the threat of extinction. Now another gargoyle predestined to carry on the namesake of the Red Blaze must become the new savior of the Ghoul Realm. He's the titular Red Arremer in the Japanese version, but is named Firebrand in the Western releases of the game. If you've played the previous Ghosts 'n Goblins games, then you'll know him as the infamous red gargoyle, the most vicious enemy in the series.

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Everyone's worst nightmare from the Ghosts 'n Goblins series, the dreaded red gargoyle enemy, is the protagonist of this game and the character you control. The game is broken up into two forms of game play; side-scrolling action sections and overhead exploratory ones. In the overhead bits, things look and play much like a traditional Japanese role-playing game, specifically something of the Dragon Warrior variety. In other words, you use the d-pad to walk in the four cardinal directions, the A button to bring up the menu and confirm selections, and the B button to cancel selections or exit the menu. You can do a couple of things in the menu, such as talk to NPCs, use an item from your inventory, check your current status, and inspect the ground for items. This is all fairly simple, so you should quickly grasp it even if you aren't into RPGs. It's a little irritating that you can't converse with NPCs without going into the menu, though. That's an old holdover from the Dragon Warrior era of RPGs, but it's no less annoying.

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Like most RPGs, the overhead segments are further divided into an over world map and towns. Towns are often filled with friendly creatures Firebrand can speak with, usually to learn more about the unfolding plot and get hints on where to go next. There are also typically NPCs that will give you passwords to save your progress. Over the course of the game, you'll find vials, which function as a currency in towns. The only things you can really buy are extra lives, known in this game as "Talismans of the Cyclone." Anyway, no real action occurs during the faux RPG sections, but there are random encounters on the over world map. Whenever you get into one of these, you'll transition into the side-scrolling perspective, where you'll be pitted against a few enemies in a small enclosed area. Once the enemies have been vanquished, you'll be taken back to the over world map to be on your merry way. This is one of the few downsides to the game, because random encounters are never fun. Thankfully, there are no turn-based battles in this game.

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During the side-scrolling segments, pressing left or right on the d-pad will cause you to walk in those directions, the A button is for jumping, and the B button triggers your little gargoyle's fire breathing attack. Your tiny gargoyle is capable of far more than that, however. If you press the A button while in the air, you'll begin to fly in place. At that point, you can fly left or right by pressing the appropriate directions on the d-pad. You can't gain altitude like this, but you also won't lose altitude until your flight meter runs out. Intentionally losing altitude is a bit awkward, however, as you must press the A button midflight to enter freefall, and then press A again at the desired altitude to stay there. On top of all that, you can cling to walls and most vertical surfaces by moving towards them. It's even possible to attack while clung to a wall. The controls take some getting used to, but the abilities at your disposal are fairly cool.

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One of the menu options during the overhead bits is "LVL," which stands for level. Despite that and the obvious RPG influences this game takes on, Firebrand can't actually level up. Instead, he acquires artifacts throughout his quest that upgrade his capabilities. These upgrades allow him to jump higher, fly farther, and take more hits. Additionally, Firebrand gets different "weapons," in a manner of speaking. He begins the game with a puny fire breath attack that shoots a single fireball at a time and does minimal damage, but will quickly acquire more potent projectiles that do more damage and can be shot more rapidly. Not only are they handy in combat, but these breath attacks also often allow you to access new areas, making them necessary to progress in the game. Such breath attacks include a boomerang shaped fireball that can destroy certain types of blocks, and a ball that forms a sticky surface on spikes, allowing Firebrand to cling to them safely. You can switch between these attacks at any time from the menu. This adds a Metroid vibe to everything, though unlike that game, Gargoyle's Quest is entirely linear. Either way, the upgrades and different breath attacks are neat.

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The general flow of the game consists of exploring the over world, talking with denizens of towns, then doing a nearby side-scrolling section to either move on to the next area on the map or acquire a plot important item. Basically, the side-scrolling segments replace what would normally be dungeons in any other RPG. This works well, because Firebrand's unique brand of abilities make playing these sections a treat. They do get quite hard, however. The difficulty primarily comes from the unforgiving environments constantly forcing you to fly, change altitudes, and cling to walls. The awkwardness of some of these actions can make this extremely frustrating. You do eventually get a potion that can be used once per side-scrolling stage to fully replenish Firebrand's health, but even that isn't enough at times. Further, if you exhaust all your lives during a side-scrolling bit, you'll be tossed back out to the over world map, meaning you'll have to try again from the beginning of the stage. At no point does Gargoyle's Quest ever get as hard as any of the Ghosts 'n Goblins games, but it's still a tough cookie.

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Its inherent uniqueness and polish put it a cut above most titles on the Game Boy. The combination of overhead RPG sections with side-scrolling platformer bits is a strange one indeed, but it works. These two systems of game play complement each other surprisingly well, as the overhead sections provide a nice break from the intense action of the side-scrolling stuff. Also, while there are some minor RPG mechanics at play here, they're lightweight enough to not saddle the player with needless complexity. The only issues with the game are the slightly awkward controls, annoying random encounters, and maddening difficulty. None of those issues are enough to put a damper on this game's highly enjoyable nature, however.

Word Count: 1,378

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