I don’t recall where I first heard about Gargoyle’s Quest, but it is the sort of game that frequently shows up on lists like: “The 10 Best Game Boy Games You Never Played.” First off, titles like that bother me because the author had no way of knowing what the readers have or have not played, so it should be called “The 10 Best Underappreciated Game Boy Games” or something like that. Secondly, I shouldn’t really complain about the article title because it happens to be quite accurate, as it is a great game and I hadn’t played it until recently. With the release on the 3DS Virtual Console, I figured it was worth four dollars to give it a try.
Gargoyle’s Quest is sort of a strange concept for a game, but it kind of makes sense in the context of the early days of the Game Boy in 1990, when developers weren’t quite sure what to put on the system. Probably strangest is that it stars Firebrand, known as Red Arremer in Japan, one of the signature enemies of the Ghosts’N Goblins series by Capcom. It’s not crazy enough to have a plot centered on killing Arthur, but is actually about Firebrand rescuing his realm from some evil invader. This focus on saving the Ghoul Realm sort of explains the Japanese title of the game, which translates to Red Arremer: Hell Village Tale.
Anyway, the interesting thing about the game is not the story, but the structure and method of play. The game is a mix between an action/platformer and Dragon Quest. It might be better to call it an RPG platformer, but whenever I see a menu with a talk option instead of a contextual button, I blame Dragon Quest. The end result is similar to Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, but without simplified in a way that removes a lot of what is annoying about that game. There is no leveling system, so there is no grinding, and there aren’t any ways to get stuck and requires the entire game to be restarted.
In this game there are two separate yet equally important types of sections, the platforming that presents most of the challenge, and the RPGing that controls progression. Basically, there is an RPG-style overworld that must be traversed, towns to be talked to, powerup items to be gathered, and even random battles to be fought. Of course, these aren’t RPG like battles, Firebrand is just thrown into a small area with some enemies, and they must be defeated to move on. With no leveling system, the only rewards for random battles are healing items, so most of the time I was hoping I didn’t get into battles.
The platforming sections are generally used as choke points between each section of the overworld, and without the requisite powerups, Firebrand is unable to complete them. Thankfully, the player is allowed to come and go to these levels without punishment. The thing that makes the platforming interesting is Firebrand’s skill set and the level designs. At the beginning of the game, he is capable of firing a single projectile, cling to walls, and hover for short periods of time, but as more powerups are gathered he can shoot stronger projectiles, hover longer, and do other things such as destroy or create blocks.
I’ve quite enjoyed Gargoyle’s Quest because the progression of Firebrand’s powers feels good and the wall clinging and hovering mechanics lead to some interesting and unique level designs. It’s a shame that it isn’t a well-known classic, considering it is a lot better than many of the shrunken NES games of the early Game Boy library. I’ll have to make a point to try out its sequels, Gargoyle’s Quest II for NES, and Demon’s Crest for SNES. At least with those games the cover artists realized that Firebrand is red, not green, but I guess back on the old Game Boy everybody was green.