Anyone who has played Ghosts N Goblins knows it’s one of the most difficult games ever created. Sir Arthur was extremely weak, controlled terribly, and the most basic of enemies felt like an accomplishment to kill. But if that wasn’t bad enough, if you managed to get past the zombies and flying burrito monsters in the first level you were greeted by a truly devilish foe. They were the hellish gargoyles known as the Red Arremers. These regular enemies became iconic for their hair-pulling random attack patterns that left the vulnerable Arthur at their unforgiving mercy. The Red Arremer became so notorious in fact, that Capcom decided to give a special gargoyle his own little game…
Enter Gargoyle’s Quest. This early Game Boy game decided to shy away from the ports and puzzle games that were so popular at the time. Capcom opted to go a different route and create a new IP that was a spin-off of a well-established franchise. The story in the game is that “A long time ago, the Ghoul Realm barely escaped great peril. A large army of Destroyers came from a neighbouring universe. The creatures of the Ghoul Realm were no match for the powerful Destroyers. Just when everyone had given up hope, a great fire swept over the Realm, wiping out the Destroyers' army. Several hundred years have passed and the Realm is threatened once again...”
It’s no secret that the RED protagonist of this game (I’m looking at you, crappy English cover art!) has inspired me quite a bit: the gargoyle known as Firebrand. I was a bit surprised to find out that firebrand was an actual word that was pretty awesome in its own right. What is a firebrand exactly? Apart from being a totally kick ass name, it’s “a person who is passionate about a particular cause, typically inciting change and taking radical action”. And that fit the vision for my anarchist messiah wrestling persona perfectly. My look itself was inspired by the character too, as I decided to don a lucha libre mask that was bright red and impish in design. This gargoyle is well-travelled too; Firebrand has popped up in a couple fighting games over the years, most notably Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. And while people tend to know him as that enemy from Ghosts N Goblins, very few know about the trilogy of games that made him a star.
Gargoyle’s Quest is a hybrid platformer game with minor RPG touches thrown in. The main abilities of Firebrand consist of jumping, hovering for a limited period of time, clinging to walls, and shooting fireballs. The level design for this game really incorporates the flying mechanics into the gameplay, giving you platforming gameplay so unique that it hasn’t been seen since the series ended. The design of the game is extremely clever at times and luckily Firebrand controls incredibly well. This game does require very precise platforming in some sections and will punish you even if you’re the slightest bit off, but most deaths never feel that cheap and seem more like an error on your calculations.
As far as the RPG elements are concerned, apart from side scrolling gameplay the Ghoul Realm also features an overworld that you can traverse. While adventuring through these areas you will be faced with random encounters that will switch you to side scrolling battles a la Zelda 2: Link’s Adventure. Once you defeat all the enemies you will return to the overworld and be rewarded with vials, this games version of currency (The Ghoul Realm must really be hurting economically after that war, eh?). Some enemies will appear on the map as well and you must talk to them in order to initiate combat. You will also run across RPG-esque towns filled with zombie and imp NPCs you can talk to, a house where you obtain the games save feature via codes, plot advancing locale, and a shop to trade in vials for Talisman of the Cyclone (a fancy way to say extra life). Be sure to stock up on a lot of these Talisman early on as they get very expensive later and are immensely valuable for the last stretch of the game. Even if you have to grind random encounters for vials, it will be well worth it during the latter portion of the game: trust me.
Firebrand is EXTREMELY weak at the start of the game with only two HP, making him like an acrobatic version of Arthur. His hover ability is also very underpowered and he will fall from flight in a short period of time. Fear not though, as the game features many items you obtain as you progress that will help everyone’s favourite gargoyle out. Apart from the random heart s you may find during levels that give you 1 HP, you can also get the Essence of Soulstream which will grant you a full HP replenish when used… but use them wisely! You will also receive power-ups that will increase your jump height, hover time, and health (Ironically, one of the health upgrades is called Armour of Guile. SONIC BOOM!) You will also gain attacks that will allow you to break blocks and create platforms on spikes that you can cling to in order to avoid damage and rest your wings.
Full length side scrolling levels feature checkpoints mid-way through thankfully; as this game can be pretty hard. Though, for a game that’s an amalgam of Ghosts n Goblins and Zelda 2 it’s not THAT bad. Just don’t go into this expecting a Mario or Sonic platformer. The game’s difficulty really picks up once you start the “living monster tower” stage. I have to praise the level leading up the final boss fight: it’s a true test of all your acquired moves, platforming skills, and combat skills combined. Lucky for you, by the time you reach this stage Firebrand will be able to hover for an infinite amount of time! Another memorable stage is the palace level. It is very well designed throughout, using traps that will trigger boulders to come down and smash you, making you traverse carefully through the course. It also features a wind section that gives Firebrand’s wings a run for their money as their gusts blow you back while beautiful lightning strikes in the background.
And damn if this game isn’t beautiful for an OG Gameboy title. The sprites are big and nicely detailed, with Firebrand animating so smoothly it should be a crime. Enemy characters come in a vast amount of variety such as: skeleton pterodactyls, venus flytraps that spit out exploding fireballs, goblins who throw their head at you, and ghosts that strangely look like Ku Klux Klan members… just to name a few. And the backgrounds are just as nice and varied, with my favourite being the desert level. It features ghastly faces in the sand dunes before you plunge underwater and are greeted with Egyptian ruins. Even some of the spikes in Gargoyle’s Quest have more personality than most games of this genre, appearing as half buried skulls with horns serving as the “spikes”.
Levels all feel different from one another and sometimes feature a few different paths to take. The overworld desert even offers a small puzzle for you, as walking in certain directions will send Firebrand shifting around in a predetermined path that makes getting to your destination a bit of trial-and-error. Sadly the game isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Well, this gothic horror inspired game wouldn’t be relatively close to sunshine and rainbows even if it was without its flaws… oh, you get the point! The game does suffer from slowdowns once you make it to the palace stage. While it may be a minor annoyance to some, the lag actually helps you out more often than not when enemies and projectiles clutter the screen. Thankfully the music isn’t harmed by this small intrusion to the gameplay.
Because the music f’in rocks. This game comes from an era where Capcom were the kings of video game soundtracks and I challenge anyone to show me a more consistent company. Every spooky and atmospheric track is hum-worthy, with my favourite being the theme for the mini side scrolling levels that transition you through parts of the overworld. Even the “got item” music is catchy! The noises the dialogue makes in Gargoyle’s Quest is also worth noting, as it is presented in a way similar to Animal Crossing and a few other games. The scrolling text makes beeps and boops that somewhat resemble the sounds of the words appearing on screen.
This game features some laughable badly translated/cheesy dialogue as well. At one point you meet a character named Barone Jark and he sends you on a fetch quest for his powerful Gremlin Stick, which enables the block breaking attack upgrade. When you return it to him he says “I owe you with my happiness!” Really Jark, that’s it? No money or upgrades? This guy isn’t a very good employer. As you venture to the overworld to continue on you’ll realize the blocked path you need to pass hasn’t changed. I’ll save you some time here since I was wandering around a little confused after returning to Jark with the item. Apparently you don’t just talk to Jark to advance to the next area, you have to USE the Gremlin Stick on him. Then he rewards you with an upgrade, so maybe Jark isn’t such a jerk after all (hurrrrrrr~). Some other terrible dialogue includes: “Your can’t carry any more talismans!” and my personal favourite “A foreign army attacked here a long time ago. Could it be the some one?”
Anyways, what’s a classic game without some boss battles, eh? A quick note is that if you die during a boss fight, you will return to the mid-level checkpoint and have to travel back up there; fight wisely. These battles are well designed and offer unique baddies for each encounter. Ugly giant fish? Check. Demon that turns into flies? Check. Humanoid head on a snail’s body with Bowser-looking faces at the base? Err, check! I swear the second boss resembles a decaying breast that shoots a liquidy looking white fireball out from its… well you know where this is going. Apparently it’s an eyeball though: so check! A familiar face to GnG fans also appears as the semi-final boss: Rushifell/Lucifer/Loki himelf! While a challenge, once you learn his weaknesses and patterns he should be a walk in the park. The final boss has a very similar attack pattern to Rushifell, albeit with a few minor differences. All in all they are very well designed bosses and really play up to Firebrand’s unique abilities.
Sadly there is one major flaw in this game in my opinion. Rushifell’s stage has an incredibly difficult part where you must fall down walls covered with spikes while drills shoot out at you. This is easily the most annoying part of the game as precision and timing has to be perfect. It is downright maddening. I cannot get past these drills for the life of me and usually end up taking damage and falling through the bottom portions of the passage solely because of invincibility frames- if I get lucky. Shortly after this hell pit you’ll run across another drill that you must pass in a very narrow passage. Best part? The mid-level checkpoint starts you right before this drill. If you die during the Rushifell fight it’s a blast to restart from here! Rushifell is a pushover compared to the horror you must endure to get to him… if you get to him. These drills are the Red Arremers of this game, I kid you not. They are freaking infuriating and really cheap.
Verdict:- Despite the major annoyance of Rushifell’s stage and the minor annoyance of slowdown (despite how helpful it can be) this game is an unrecognized masterpiece for the Gameboy and I can’t stress that enough. Classic design, music, enemies, and protagonist warranted this game its two sequels released on the NES and SNES respectively.
The best part about it is that Gargoyle’s Quest still holds up incredibly today. It’s rare that you find a Gameboy title that has aged this well, a true testament to this unique and innovative Capcom title that sadly doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Thankfully, unlike its two sequels, this game has also been re-released on the 3DS virtual shop. It is a must-have for fans of platformers, early Capcom games, GNG, classic horror games like Castlevania, and Zelda 2 alike! Although it may cause early balding for some, it’s well worth the investment!
Second Opinion:- The music in this game makes my insides tingle almost as much as a big bowl of Transbites, mmmm-mmm! Most things from the ‘90s have disappeared in modern years: VHS tapes, overalls being in style, grunge rock, and Jonathan Taylor Thomas’ career. Sadly, this gem flew under Transbot’s radar during its release. But the good folks at Nintendo decided to share it with the world for those lucky enough to have a 3DS. Now if they just release the other two Firebrand games I won’t have to smash their office building quicker than they can say “Ooooh, that’s not Gojira!”
Though, I think I’ve developed an irrational tick in my data processor whenever I see drills now. I think I’ll be okay though... or at least I hope so. *twitch* For your sake.
Transbot Scores:- 7 out of 10