Gargoyle's Quest (1990) By:CapcomGenre:Arcade Adventure Players:1Difficulty:Medium Featured Version:Nintendo Game Boy Also Available For:Nothing
Since the mid-80's Capcom have been among the most revered and celebrated of Japanese developers and a big part of the reason for that is the numerous franchises for which they churn out many apparently endless instalments. One of the first of these was that of Ghosts'n Goblins, the splendid Sir Arthur-starring platform/run 'n' gunners which have long been notorious for their insane difficulty as well as splendour, but how many fans are as enthusiastic about the spin-offs? One of the first was Gargoyle's Quest, released exclusively for Nintendo's little handheld and strangely devoid of the main star of the previous games. In place of our brave and noble knight is something which should be familiar to fans of the original game - a scary red demon who goes by the name of either Red Arremer (Japanese version) or Firebrand (Western versions) who must battle to save the Ghoul Realm from the evil wrath of King Breager.
This is done by guiding Firebrand (I was playing the UK version of the game so we'll stick with that name) through eleven areas, or 'chapters' as they are known here. Each of them has a (oft-long-winded) title and consists of either a side-scrolling, multi-tiered, dungeon-like platform stage, a large, overhead, multi-directional 'world' area which represents Firebrand's journey from one stage to the next, or a combination of both. The former variety are not very similar to such examples from Sir Arthur's adventures though, and this is mainly due to the differences between the main characters. Firebrand shares his predecessors's ability to walk and jump around at will but he can also cling to walls and has limited flight ability so the stages are designed accordingly which means lots of walls to climb up and lots of obstacles to jump/float over. His flight is limited by an on-screen meter which at first allows him to float for only a few seconds (used by pressing the jump button while already in the air) but this, as well as a few other abilities, can be improved during the course of the game.
As well as the many obstacles, the stages are of course also home to lots of hellish ghouls, ghosts, demons, and all manner of other heinous denizens of the underworld, and all of them can swiftly bring Firebrand's quest to an end. He can (initially) take only a single hit without losing a life but is able to vanquish his numerous foes by breathing fireballs at them. He can only spit one at a time but that's enough to put down most of the supernatural nincompoops. Each side-viewed stage ends with a boss fight though, and these horrifying monsters obviously take a bit more punishment. Luckily, successful completion of some stages will reward Firebrand with special stuff such as increased flight duration, extra energy, or a new weapon, all of which greatly assist his passage through these dangerous worlds (some are essential, in fact). Found much more commonly are 'vials' which are small, vase-like thingies. Sometimes you receive them for defeating enemies, other times they're just lying around, but they can be used to buy extra lives (or 'Talisman of the Cyclone' as they are known here) so keep your eyes peeled for them!
The large overhead-viewed area is far from dissimilar to those found in many action-based RPG's and sees brave Firebrand traipsing around the landscape which features towns, where clues and hints can be found as well as shops where you can spend your vials, an occasional item or piece of equipment, but most importantly new side-scrolling stages. Much like the aforementioned RPG's, there is a basic command menu that lets you talk to anything nearby, check a location, use an item, etc, and while traversing these lands Firebrand will encounter random battles. These each take the form of a short (one-to-two screens wide) side-viewed section on which he must defeat all the enemies. Failure costs a life, success gives him some vials and the opportunity to continue. Some pathways are blocked by enemies who must also be fought in a similar fashion and attempting to pass some parts of the landscape (such as crossing a bridge) are represented by a slightly longer hazard-strewn side-scrolling section as well. All things considered then, Gargoyle's Quest is a pretty interesting and varied game for its type.
It's also not entirely the game I was expecting either but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Its aesthetics can't be compared with any other versions since it's a Game Boy exclusive but it's definitely among the best GB games I've played in this regard. The sound effects aren't very numerous or very great but the catchy, moody music is superb and the graphics are even more impressive. There's some decent animation, especially Firebrand himself, and the various sprites and backgrounds are tidy and very detailed as well. I suppose there could be more variety on both counts but there's only so many ways to portray something as gloomy and foreboding as the 'Ghoul Realm' and its inhabitants on a teeny screen with four shades of grey! That said, if it wasn't for the main character (and the name on the title screen), you might not immediately realise that Gargoyle's Quest is part of the Ghosts'n Goblins series at all but I still like the style used here a lot.
The biggest departure from the original game, though, and one that surprised me a little, is the difficulty of the game. I was expecting the same super-tough challenge, lots of swearing, and repeated 'Game Over' screens but it's actually not that hard at all. Well, it's certainly not a walkover but compared to Sir Arthur's adventures? Pffft! The stages are intricately designed and packed with hazards, such as spikes and chasms of doom and all the usual stuff, and there are a good few enemies, most of whom regenerate, but once the versatile Firebrand's jumping, wall-gripping, flying, and slightly sluggish shooting abilities have all been mastered, it's a surprisingly fair game. The random battles on the overhead sections can get a little tiresome but time spent here is considerably less than on the side-viewed sections and it's these that I found the most enjoyable as well. Their mostly-splendid design, as well as Firebrand's talents, make playing through them unlike playing a normal G'n'G game, or indeed any other platformer really, and are more than worth the effort for fans of Capcom's much-loved series and non-fans alike.