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07 December 2015 @ 06:02 pm
Game Review: Gargoyle's Quest  
Gargoyle's Quest is another one of those games I learned about through Nintendo Power. I was positive that it was through the Counselor's Corner section, but I looked through most of the Nintendo Power issues that I had a child and I could only find one question asked about Gargoyle's Quest and it's not about the topic I remember. I looked up the game in a Nintendo Power database, checked issue #12, but even it doesn't have the question asking where to find the Wings of the Falcon that I remember reading about. Which is good, because the answer is, "You talk to the townsghouls and follow their clear and explicit instructions." I won't say it's impossible to screw up, but it seems very unlikely.

Anyway, this game wasn't quite what I expected.

Phenomenal cosmic power, itty bitty screen size.

"Quest" is the operative word here. I got the idea to play this when listening to the Watch Out for Fireballs episode on Demon's Crest, and I was expecting a sidescrolling platformer with flying. And sure, there's a lot of sidescrolling platforming, but it's mixed in with Dragon Quest-like overworld sections, where you go from town to town, talk to the townsghouls and townsgargoyles, use the check (well, CHK) command to search for hidden items, get into random battles, buy extra lives, and a ton of extra RPG mechanics that I wasn't expecting at all before I got through the first level.

Now that I think about it, it's an interesting relic of a time before RPG mechanics and progression became the default that seeped its way to every single genre out there in an effort to get our lizard brains invested in those bars going up and seeking the next dinging sound. Gargoyle's Quest has RPG elements, but they're the reverse of what's common now. There's no leveling, no increasing your stats except when you get pre-determined quest items, and nothing to buy with your moneyvials except extra lives (or "Talismans of the Cyclone," as they're called. The naming certainly fits the gothic mood). Instead, the RPG elements are talking to NPCs, searching for hidden items, grinding for money, and random overworld battles which take place in side-scrolling stages instead of being turn-based. I'm surprised something like this hasn't been made now, in the days where everything has RPG elements and a thousand indie puzzle-platformers have bloomed.

Wallclimbing and chill.

But in playing it, you kind of realize why. The platforming sections are pretty good, though being a Game Boy game the screen is just a little too cramped for my taste. And Firebrand's health is...insufficient. You start with two bars and everything does one damage, and by the end of the game you have five bars and most things do two damage. Hmm.

No, the problem is the overworld, which doesn't really add that much to the gameplay. The main benefit of the towns and the random battles are that they provide a few bits of meaningless dialogue about the ghoul realm and they provide a way for you to grind vials for as many Talismans of the Cyclone as you want, but it seems to me like this just provides extra incentive for the developers to make the game brutally hard. Since you can approach any stage with an arbitrary number of lives, trial-and-error deaths or escalating damage to the point where you devalue the player's upgrade progress are no problem. After all, there are checkpoints in the stages, so as long as the player has more lives, they can just keep going. Even though the cost of lives quadruples over the course of the game.

I'm glad I played this with save states, is what I'm saying.

This is at the "everything kills you" part of the game.

I mean, I feel like I could have done it just fine if I had kid patience and kid free time and was willing to grind vials for hours and memorize layouts and patterns and throw myself endlessly at levels and use the passwords. I could have beaten it. It probably wouldn't even have taken me all that long, honestly, he said, with an arrogant lift to his jaw and a steely glint in his eye.

The sidescrolling was the best part. Firebrand can jump, fly for a limited time, cling to walls for an unlimited time, and throw fireballs. Upgrades mostly involve jumping higher and flying for a longer time as well as three different kinds of fireballs you can throw. These fireball upgrades don't stack, which caught me by surprise and sent me to a FAQ at least twice. Once when I got the upgrade that let me splatter climbable surfaces on top of spikes and then got stuck, only to realize after reading that the climbable ooze upgrade doesn't stack with the blockbuster upgrade, and then once again in the fight to prove myself to Lucifer"Rushifell" (thanks, Nintendo of America censorship department!), where it also turns out that you can only hurt him with the blockbuster shot. Nothing in the game tells you this.

I don't feel so bad, though, since the only Nintendo Power Counselor's Corner question about Gargoyle's Quest that was printed is, "How do you defeat Rushifell?" By doing something totally counterintuitive, is the answer. It's not like the Wings of the Falcon where the NPCs tell you about it. You die until you figure it out, as G-d and Nintendo intended.

Uh...you tell me?

The story is more evident than in Trip World, though still pretty basic, and I lack some backstory because I've never played Ghosts 'n Goblins or Ghouls 'n Ghosts. You are Firebrand, the gargoyle in the Ghoul World. At the beginning, you hear that that Darkoan, the ruler of the Ghoul Realm, has lost his powers and that the King of Destruction is invading, and so you set out to stop him. And mostly that's it. There's no sudden twists or turns that actually matter until the very end, when Breager, King of Destruction, offers to let you join him and conquer the Ghoul Realm.

But--shocking twist--he suddenly but inevitably betrays you, strips you of all your powerups, and makes you fight him anyway. And because you have no powerups, you can't win. Otherwise, the yes/no questions have no consequences and just throw you into the question again if you answer wrong. And that's good, because sometimes I was offered choices like this:
I'm the Barone of the land, Bymon. Firebrand, you are too late. They took the Candle. It's in the Desert of Destitution to the East of here.

Your guess is as good as mind what he was asking. I assumed it was, "Will you get it?" and said yes, whereon he berated me for my cowardice and dumped me to the question again. So I said no and he sent me off to find the Candle of Darkness. No wonder the Ghoul Realm is losing the war if these are the leaders

Quality leadership.

And overall, it was okay. Relatively short and uncomplicated, with a simple plot, text that scrolled in such short lines that I had a hard time capturing any particular quote to for the screenshots here (hence the double-width one up there), and fun gameplay. It was a nice way to spend some time, but it's not going to stick with me. There aren't enough RPG subsystems to work with to make replaying it interesting, since the only upgrades you get are at set times, so there's no alternate builds or other approaches. Ironically, while I love slathering RPG elements into everything, they discourage me here. If this was just a series of platforming levels without all the walking around and random battles, I'd probably be more willing to replay it, but there are just too many games.

It did make me want to play Demon's Crest eventually, which sounds a lot more like a Metroidvania, though that'll have to wait until I do my Legend of Zelda -> Zelda II -> Link to the Past -> Link's Awakening quadrology playthrough. I'm not sure why that Nintendo Power memory stuck with me for decades, especially when I made the whole thing up out of whole cloth, but now I can finally lay it to rest and move on with my life. Or at least, the part of it that involves video games.
Current Mood: okayokay
Current Music: DoctorM64 - Danger in Old Tourian
q99q99 on December 8th, 2015 10:12 am (UTC)
I had that game but got stuck, like, super early on. There was some bit of an early level which I think I was just using the wrong method of trying to get past or something.
dorchadasdorchadas on December 8th, 2015 03:21 pm (UTC)
There were definitely a few moments that would have been rage-inducing if I had been playing it on original hardware, without save states.
q99q99 on December 8th, 2015 04:53 pm (UTC)
I didn't rage so much as stop. It was early enough I didn't get super-invested.

There were a couple games where I got stuck at places where I'm fairly sure the game designers didn't intend it to be a stuck-point.
dorchadasdorchadas on December 8th, 2015 05:42 pm (UTC)
I say rage because my mental model, influenced by writing these blog posts, means that I force myself to keep going at games until I win.  photo emot-orks.gif

Do you remember what those other games are?

Edited at 2015-12-08 05:44 pm (UTC)
q99q99 on December 9th, 2015 03:09 am (UTC)
One was Kid Chameleon for Sega Genesis, and another was a Spider-man game I rented for... I don't even remember if it was SNES or Genesis ^^;

I also didn't get very far in Ecco the Dolphin.