Nintendo’s first cartridge based handheld, the Gameboy, was many things. It was influential, popular, long-lived, and absolutely ubiquitous. It was not, however, a very powerful system. Consider that the Atari Lynx was released later in the same year — a handheld with a full colour display and better graphical capacity — and you’ll see that the Gameboy lagged behind in terms of hardware. It still beat all its beefier rivals, so take that, colour.
Regardless of what classic games the little brick would get in its prime, the early days were spent with its library getting filled with stripped down versions of console games and single screen arcade and puzzle titles. Look at Castlevania: The Adventure as an example. It’s got some of the standards of the classic NES series, but it’s limited in design and greatly scaled back. It’s like no one knew how to work in four shades of pea soup, and it took some time before they would figure it out. Developers didn’t really seem to get a handle on things until 1992, when games like Super Mario Land 2 and Kirby’s Dream Land hit the market. They were short games, but they were quality titles.
However, there’s one 1990 release that gave a decent look at what was to come, and that was Capcom’s Gargoyle’s Quest.
CHANT THE RESURRECTION SPELL
Did you ever play Ghosts ‘N Goblins or Ghouls ‘N Ghosts, or whatever other asinine way the English localization team named the Makaimura games? If you know what I’m talking about, you probably know about Red Arremer, that dick gargoyle who assaults you at inopportune times throughout the series. He’s widely considered to be the toughest, most vexing baddy in the franchise, probably causing more deaths than any of the bosses. Well, someone decided to make a game about him.
I wish I knew how this happened. I like to imagine that someone was working on a Ghosts ‘N Goblins port for the Gameboy and either ran into difficulty with the design or was playing around with Red Arremer and discovered that he was fun to play as. That’s just a loose theory that I can’t prove, as there’s a dearth of information on the game’s development rolling around.
Regardless, Gargoyle’s Quest is the first game in the Makaimura series to land on the Gameboy, and it serves as a Gaiden, or side-story. Following the gargoyle, Firebrand, as he tries to free the Ghoul Realm and claim the title of Red Blaze, it’s a completely different kind of game to what you’d typically find in Ghosts ‘N Goblins. While those were hyper-difficult, side-scrolling, action games, Gargoyle’s Quest is a strange mix of extremely light RPG elements and Mega Man style precision platforming.
OUT ABOUT TOWN
There’s two modes (or maybe three, if you want to get technical) to the game: a top-down exploration style, very reminiscent of your typical RPG, and a side-scroller which is probably most similar to Mega Man.
Exploration itself is split between towns and traversal. In the overworld, you attempt to navigate your way to the next destination while tripping over the occasional random battle. The random battles are always straightforward dust ups with your usual assortment of baddies, which award you with vials to spend. Oh, you know what? Zelda 2. The exploration is like Zelda 2.
Anyway, when you reach the towns, you can speak to various townsfolk who give you pretty simplistic background information about what’s been going on and where you should be going to. You can also pick up a password (or spell of resurrection), as well as spend your vials to buy extra lives (or talismans of the cyclone, confusingly). The townsfolk aren’t terribly engaging, and the text absolutely crawls onto screen, but the game’s pretty linear overall, and talking to them is usually the only way to proceed.
There are no experience points, so it would be difficult to argue that Gargoyle’s Quest is an RPG, outside the mere existence of a stats page that shows your attack and flight capabilities. Those stats are only improved by picking up specific items that are pretty much mandatory, so it’s really just for show. The interface in general could have probably been a whole lot better, had they dropped the RPG pretense. Every time you want to interact with something, you first need to bring up a menu, and that’s pointless. There should have just been an action button.
SEE WHAT STICKS
The side-scroller sections are a bit more standard. These occur whenever you enter an enemy stronghold or just need to traverse a bridge or similar area. It’s your typical platformer with one trick up its sleeve: Firebrand can hover temporarily and cling to walls.
This means that there’s a lot more verticality going on. Initially you can only hover for a few seconds, but this is increased as time goes by. You can cling to walls and wall jump up them with ease, but most levels restrict this, focusing more on controlled falls and precise landings. Clinging also refills your hover gauge, so bare spots on walls are common in longer sections to allow you to get your bearings when descending or prepare yourself for another long jump.
This is really the game’s best feature. The platforming is very precise, and while the level design isn’t all that it could be, there’s some creative use of your skills that continues on as you gain further abilities. There are some issue related to the Gameboy’s limited screen real estate, mostly cropping up when you can’t see the ground beneath you while you hover over distances, but I never ran into any major issues throughout.
WINGS OF A GARGOYLE
It’s certainly an interesting setup, and Gargoyle’s Quest proves itself to be a fun little title throughout. However, it runs up against a few issues. Most strikingly is its brief length. It’s slightly longer than it would take to comfortably complete in a single sitting, but extremely short for what it is. It feels greatly abridged with power-ups getting dumped on you before finally kicking you out the door. It’s also not that difficult, though this may be because you’re encouraged to simply buy your stock of lives every town you enter.
Yet, I feel it makes up for this with its winning personality. The music, the atmosphere, and the solid gameplay all make for a treat on the old dot-matrix screen. It’s just too bad that there’s a prevalent feeling that it’s just not all it could be. Fortunately, it was followed by a couple of sequels, so there’s still a chance that this Gargoyle will get to spread its wings.
This review was conducted on the 3DS virtual console version of the game. It was paid for by the author.