I was unaware of how big a deal Gargoyle’s Quest is until after I downloaded it. My brother recommended it to me originally, and as it looked like a fun Game Boy oddity I decided to take a punt and download it from the 3DS virtual console. Turns out this is the first in a series that spreads across the NES and SNES, and is an offshoot of the super-hardcore Ghosts ‘n Ghouls.
Anyway, Gargoyle’s Quest was originally launched in the 1990, and features Firebrand the Gargoyle who goes on a, um, quest. The game is an unconventional mashup of top-down RPG with side-scrolling action platforming sections spliced in – think Zelda II, accept good. The plot is, as you’d expect, too absurd to recount in full, but it involves you traveling across the Ghoul Realm to battle the evil King Breager, who is trying to take over the world.
It’s all pretty stupid stuff, but it’s all played so deadpan, and it’s hard not to be charmed when your collecting items with names like ‘The Candle of Darkness’, ‘The Talisman of The Cyclone’ and ‘The Gremlin Stick’. Furthermore, if you’re a fan of Gameboy graphics, this is going to warm your cockles. The top-down RPG elements – although light – put me in mind of a Link’s Awakening as you potter around towns, talking to the ghoulish inhabitants. The side scrolling sections are especially vivid, with the large, 2D sprite bosses looking fantastic.
The key gimmick for the side scrolling sections is the fact you can cling to the side of (just about) any wall indefinitely, and that you can hover for a short period of time. This may not sound particularly exciting, but it adds a great amount of vertically to each level as you scale castle walls and wall jump between moving platforms.
What I found particularly impressive is the sense of power you get as you power up your various abilities. For example at the beginning of the game, you can only jump and hover a short distance, and your only attack is a weak ball of flame. Fairly quickly though you’re given the ability to hover for much longer and jump much higher, allowing you to traverse much more easily than before. The levels too do a great jump of keeping pace with your new abilities, and pretty soon you’ll be hovering over huge, gaping chasm, breaking down walls and leaping over previously daunting enemies. Bosses from previous levels are even introduced as just normal enemies, now a cinch to defeat with your upgraded fire breathe.
Of course this being released in 1990s, the difficultly can spike in a couple of places – I confess I had to use a restore point to beat this horrible section which involved falling down a tunnel with spikes that quickly jut in and out (if you’ve played the game you’ll know the bit I mean). Apart from that though (and a rocky start,) I didn’t find the game overly taxing. In fact my biggest grievance is the random battles, which outside of Pokemon (and perhaps Skies of Arcadia) I’ve never had time for. Oh, and also, I love the sound track – imagine a blippy Gameboy-ised version of the upbeat gothic tones of Ghost ‘n Goal.
The term hidden gem is way overused in gaming, and to be fair this game is fairly well known among gamers. Nevertheless it somehow made it past my gaming radar for the best part of 20 years, and playing it now I can still get an awful lot of enjoyment from it. If you have a 3DS go to the virtual console to check it out.