Saturday, October 17, 2015

Gargoyle's Quest (Game Boy, 1990)



Also Known As Red Arremer: Makai-Mura Gaiden, Gargoyle's Quest is a side-story to the legendary Ghouls n' Ghosts series from the late 80's and early 90's. That series was best known for having nightmarish difficulty, even at a time when high difficulty was the norm. In any case, there was one particularly nasty foe, a red gargoyle, which I talked about in the last post quite a bit. This recurring foe, named Firebrand, ended up getting his own series. Gargoyle's Quest is where it all begins. No word on if Arthur shows up in this game to make Firebrand's life miserable, but it'd certainly be karma.


Here's the box-art, which is strikingly bad (hence why it didn't get first-image billing in this post - it's too much of an embarassment to have this picture on the front page). For some reason, they made Firebrand green in this picture. And what the hell is a Klansman doing in there? Let's... let's just move on quickly.

Really? Are the graphics that real? More importantly, even in the ad for the game they get Firebrand's color wrong. Again they turn this fire-breathing badass into what appears to be a little green imp who looks like he should be hopping around going "HEE HEE HEE HEE HEE" as he furiously thrusts his junk towards horrified onlookers.

The story. This game has a story! The story is pretty laughable, but in 1990 I'm sure it seemed cool enough. I never played Gargoyle's Quest back then; it used to be on my shortlist for "games I'd like to get" in Elementary School, but it was perpetually leapfrogged by other games. Many years later, civilizations have risen and fallen, and I finally got around to playing this.

This game was brought to us by the luminaries at Capcom, once one of the top game companies on the planet at the time.

Immediately notable about the game is that it switches between an overhead view (for exploration) and a side-scrolling view (for the stages). This seems to be an attempt to give the game an "RPG feel", which is admirable but doesn't really work in this context. The overhead view areas don't have much of a point here.

There's the Klansman from the box art of the game! He doesn't last long, as Firebrand torches him with a fireball. Not only can Firebrand spit fire, he can hover temporarily. The meter on the left indicates his hover power; it runs out quickly, but regenerates just as fast. Also, as short as the life and hover meters are, they can be improved by collecting powerups over time.

The side-scrolling sections, which make up all of the action (and thus the meat of the game) are very well-done. Firebrand has the ability to cling to walls, something the whole game is based around. He's slow-moving and sluggish, like many protagonists from games in this era, so success is a matter of getting used to the controls and working with their deficiencies. Kinda like rolling with punches.

This game loves vertical corridors and spikes. Lots of spikes. It controls very well, at least, and gliding from wall to wall is easy.

Much like the series that Gargoyle's Quest spun off from, the challenge is in full-force here. It isn't nearly as bad as, say, Super Ghouls and Ghosts, but for a Game Boy platformer it's a bit on the harsh side.

The first boss is a OH MY GOD WHAT THE HELL IS THAT

Victory comes quickly and Firebrand moves on to more overworld. I like the overworld graphics a lot; they bring back memories of the RPGs of that era. Unfortunately, they also come with a huge, huge annoyance...

...random battles. Yes, you can get randomly sucked into battles on the overworld. Dispatch a few enemies and you're bounced back to the overworld to continue what you were doing. This gets irritating fast for the simple reason that you don't gain EXP in this game, so there's little reward.

You DO get vials for winning random battles, which can be traded for extra lives after you get enough of them. Still, this isn't as much of an incentive as character-building, and random battles need as much incentive as possible to keep from being a drag.

One particularly tricky level has you looping in a circle until you notice that you can actually get into the ceiling at this one spot. This is some really inventive level design. Gotta say, I'm impressed with this game.

Block-buster: No relation to the archaic video store chain, now only spoken of in legend.


Skeletons in chariots: Learn to hate 'em, because thanks to their shields they can only be damaged from the back. The game sports some pretty good AI, and they usually spin to face Firebrand wherever he is.

Talking to townspeople becomes crucial fast, as people drop hints about what you need to do at any given time. Here, for instance, you search under a tree to find an important item. Never would have known to look there if I hadn't been talking to people. In the pre-Gamefaqs era, townspeople were the guides.

Firebrand marches against stormy weather as I continue to have no complaints. This is just a good game and stands out among what the Game Boy had to offer in 1990.

Another boss. These fights use a lot of geometry; winning is a matter of figuring out the best escape route so you don't get cornered. The bosses tend to move in straight lines toward you and stop. Given Firebrand's slow speed, you have to have good timing as well.

Games like this are good for kids because they help develop improved timing and hand-eye coordination. As an adult (allegedly), I have a built-in advantage because I can bring the geometry skills I already have from years of playing pool with girls in skirts.

Not according to the box art.

Firebrand wanders in the desert for a while at one point. For some reason the dunes have faces. Here in the Ghoul Realm, your rules do not apply. Question is, is "Ghoul Realm" a censored way of saying "Hell"?

SO MANY SPIKES EVERYWHERE! Judicious use of Firebrand's hovering ability is the only way to survive. This game stealthily teaches you conservation and rationing.

Another boss. What the hell is that thing? It's like something out of Prometheus, the planet of Dr. Moreau.

Here's Rushifell, the second-to-last boss. He's a lot more memorable than the actual villain of the game. Why? He's got a cool name, and he puts up a hell of a battle.

He hovers in the center of the room and requires quick reflexes to beat. There's a pattern to his attacks, though. Like most games of this era, this game gives specific attack patterns to all of the bosses. Learn those, and the game isn't too difficult.

Winning nets Firebrand the most powerful attack in the game, Darkfire.

It's a bit late to explain now, but there are four "weapons" in the game. The default fire breath, which is weak and can only be fired one shot at a time. Block-buster, which is stronger, can be fired multiple times, and breaks blocks. Claw, which is even stronger than that and creates platforms on spikes. And lastly, Darkfire, which is basically an upgrade of the first fire breath. No particular special powers and can only be fired once at a time, but does a lot more damage than anything else. You also get an urn that can be used once per stage and is effectively an Energy Tank type deal for restoring health. This is best saved for the bosses.

The final stage, Breager's Castle, is full of bones and everything is on fire. So basically, it's just like Detroit.

Here's Breager, the big bad.

He has lots of arms (and, strangely, pretty much follows the same attack pattern as Rushifell). This fight is frustrating because you can only damage him in a very small area, and that area is only vulnerable once in a great while.

Doesn't take too many shots of Darkfire to bring him down, at least. This fight is still pretty far above the rest of the game in difficulty.

He bears some resemblance to Sardius, the final boss of Super Ghouls and Ghosts. Weird.

I barely win the fight, and Firebrand scampers off, cackling with maniacal imp laughter. That is, if you believe the box art. Don't believe the box art.

I like how safe has a question mark next to it. Good humor, Capcom.

And that's the end of Gargoyle's Quest. I knocked off the whole game in two hours (probably less, actually). It isn't too difficult and it's pretty fun, definitely a little piece of Game Boy history. That said, it's hard to recommend it when it has superior follow-ups on the NES and SNES.

3 comments:

  1. Would you say this game is similar to Zelda 2?

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    Replies
    1. It's very similar, yes. Definitely belongs in the same genre.

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  2. Capcom was not messing around back then. Way to explain the quality of the design.

    You spent 2 hours on the game, but that's still more time than the marketing department spent on the box art.

    You're right about villagers being like GameFAQs, and I think the sign of a bad RPG is when they have random sidequests/etc. that are not hinted at at all and you must thus check the Internet to get to.

    ReplyDelete