In the twilight years of the NES, Capcom made what are arguably some of the best action platformers of the time. Using lessons learned from their time designing Mega Man, games like Duck Tales and Yo! Noid were tight games that felt solid and satisfying. Even on their worst days, Capcom typically came along with something at least playable.
Gargoyle’s Quest was a taste of that in the early days of the Game Boy. It was a somewhat inventive mix of enjoyable platforming and top-down adventuring, similar to Zelda 2. Two years later, in 1992, Capcom released a prequel to it on the NES, giving us a rare example of an NES sequel that actually improves the visuals on its predecessor from another console.
And while Gargoyle’s Quest II drops any overt references to the Ghosts ‘N Goblins series, make no mistake; you are once again playing as the red gargoyle that terrorized players throughout that series.
BACK TO THE GHOUL REALM
I said that Gargoyle’s Quest II was a prequel to Gargoyle’s Quest, but I’m honestly not confident about that. You’re once again cast as Firebrand, but whether this is the same Firebrand before he sets out to become the Red Blaze or some ancestor of the Firebrand from the original game is lost on me. Functionally, the plot is exactly the same. It could even be a remake for all I know.
The gameplay has changed only minorly. It’s still split between an RPG-like top-down adventure mode, and your typical Capcom style platforming. You’re still tasked with going from town to town, conversing with townsfolk to learn where to go next, then righting the area’s wrongs by doing some side-scrolling. There are still no experience points, so all your abilities are upgraded by collecting treasures that are given to you as you advance.
Random battles have been removed, which is a bit weird. Instead of collecting vials by treading the terrain until you get jumped by a mob, there are dudes who are literally just standing there waiting for a fight. However, the vials are just used to buy additional lives, and towards the end of the game, I didn’t bother, as the stock 3 seemed to be enough.
A SPLASH OF COLOUR
It’s amazing the difference the move to console has made for the game. While the sprite work is similar, the added detail is remarkable. Rather than going for something drab and spooky, the game is absolutely awash with bright colours that pop out. A lot of the levels resemble black velvet paintings, and even castle corridors that are so commonly grey and bland are painted in all different shades of bright colours. Honestly, it’s been a while since the visuals of an NES game have made such an impression on me.
The music, on the other hand, is a bit more mixed. I love the Game Boy original, which seemed to lean hard on the gothic pipe-organ tunes that lended to the atmosphere. You get a lot more variety here, with the pipe-organ appearing occasionally. The soundtrack draws on more influences, but while there are still some standout tracks, but a number of them fall completely flat. Nothing too grating on the ears, but easily forgettable.
SPREADING YOUR WINGS
The gameplay itself is virtually unchanged. In fact, I’d have difficult finding a single aspect where it diverges. All the same power-ups are repeated, and no new mechanics are really introduced. It still relies on its hover mechanic — which allows you to cross horizontal gaps — and wall clinging to provide its identity.
The only major difference in terms of gameplay is with the level design. There’s a lot more diversity and creativity on display, with most of the main levels having some sort of gameplay hook involved. Some areas even provide multiple routes to your final destination, as well as secret areas tucked away.
That’s great and all, but Gargoyle’s Quest II introduces some issues that weren’t in its predecessor. For starters, some of the jumps require ludicrous precision; sometimes necessitating that you push Firebrand to the absolute edge of a cliff to make a jump. It also has a habit of placing hazards beneath you where you can’t see them, which, even with its limited screen real estate, the Game Boy somehow managed to avoid.
The result is a game that’s pretty unfriendly to start off with. It becomes easier as more abilities get added to your arsenal, but actually getting to that point may test your patience.
THE RETURN(?) OF THE RED BLAZE
If you liked Gargoyle’s Quest, chances are you’ll enjoy the sequel (prequel?) just as much, because it’s essentially the same game with improved graphics. Sure, all the levels are completely new, but the gameplay is almost strictly unchanged.
However, a few minor issues have cropped up and none of the problems the previous game had have been resolved. This includes the abbreviated running time, which makes the game feel somewhat half-baked and like it never has the chance to reach his potential. However, these issues don’t bring down the overall product too much, so I still feel Gargoyle’s Quest II is worth a look.
This review was conducted on an original NES using a cartridge copy of the game. It was purchased by the author.