If I told you that one of the best indie games on the Switch was a spinoff of the controversial Gal Gun franchise, would you believe me?
Despite being renowned for their smutty on-rail shooters where you have to fend off horny schoolgirls, Grim Guardians; Demon Purge is nothing the Gal Gun: Double Peace game that the protagonists originate from (aside from sharing the same acronym!). Instead, this is an extremely tight, creative, and even occasionally amusing platformer and ranks as one of the best games made by Inti Creates…
… if you can forgive one slight misstep, at least.
Many thanks to Inti Creates for the review code.
The plot for Grim Guardians is charming in just how daft the whole thing is. The demon-in-training Kurona manages to fuse her demonic castle with the school of the Demon Hunter sisters Shinobu and Maya after stumbling across a strange mirror. Needless to say, after the sisters waltz up the front gate (ala the original Castlevania), they decide to put a stop to whatever nonsense is going on.
As they delve further into the school uncovering the mystery of the mixed dimensions, they come across their schoolmates that have either been captured or transformed by demonic entities. These students will be familiar to those who have played the Gal Gun series, and as the game progresses the connection between the two becomes all the more apparent. Whilst these later plot elements may be rather off-putting to some, it’s also not quite as questionable as it was in the main series of games. In fact, the game uses dialogue rather sparingly and I found it far more endearing as a whole. In fact, after playing the game I actually want to give Gal Gun: Double Peace a try in order to delve further into the background of the demon hunting sisters.
GAL GUNNING DEMONS
Despite how the game appears from the trailers, the game isn’t a Metroidvania. Sure, there are acquirable secondary weapons that allow you to access new parts of previous areas, but this game is very much a stage-based game in the vein of the early Castlevania entries or even Inti Creates’ own Curse of the Moon. Levels themselves offer a multitude of paths that you can go through, with some being hidden and some only being accessible when you have the necessary equipment.
Stages mostly go through the usual themes, with many being very reminiscent of areas from Konami’s seminal series. You start off with an entryway that goes through castle corridors, then through caves, a library, and even a clock tower. They’re all tried and true tropes, but the game always finds a way to make them not feel quite as derivative. The library stage, for example, has you exploring a series of doors and locating switches that open up further areas – even leading to a great laboratory section at one point.
Even though levels themselves can feel quite formulaic, the same cannot be said about the protagonists. The two school girls can either be switched at will, or played simultaeously with a friend (locally), and both characters are completely unique. Maya, my favourite, has a smaller health bar and can only attack at short range using her origami attacks – however, these attacks also deal pretty heavy damage to foes and can take out enemies in no time. Shinobu is the taller one of the two and can have issues with smaller enemies, but her larger health pool and long range attacks can also make her the safer option of the two to use. Her arsenal consists of SMGs, grenades, mines, and the like – and she also has to take time to reload when needed. It’s so bizarre seeing modern weapons in such medieval surroundings, but the ridiculousness of it is also what makes it so compelling too.
GRIM RIPPING AND TEARING
Inside the demonic school/castle hybrid, you’ll face off against a pretty impressive number of enemies. Early on, enemies tend to the standard ghouls, knights, and skeletons; however, later on there are some far more unique creations to take down, including a head-flinging demon, a radioactive lizard, and a … chandelier. Certain characters prove more effective against certain enemy types, but you can theoretically use either should you prefer one over the other. There’s a decent range of sub weapons that will help you deal with most situations.
These sub weapons typically tend to have dual functionality that can help you navigate the environment or take care of enemies. Shinobu’s mines can deal heavy damage to enemies, but they can also blow up weak floors too. Maya’s umbrella can shield you from hazardous liquids and can help you glide to safety, but it also charges up and allows you to perform a devastating dash attack. They’re all so fun to use, and ammunition is so plentiful that I never felt like I had to preserve them for special occasions. There’s also a special team attack that you can pull off once you have acquired enough pride (special jewels that drop rather frequently), and this will perform a devastating attack that works wonders against bosses.
Speaking of which, bosses in this game really are a real highlight and also serve as the way to obtain new sub weapons. The first main boss you’ll encounter is a Giant Bat, bringing back memories of the first Castlevania, but it’s attacks are far more interesting to deal with and an absolute joy to take down. Other bosses are less stereotypical, such as the guitar wielding rabbit boss of the second stage, but all offer adrenaline-pumping excitement – especially as they have a tendency to perform a final desperate attack with their dying breath, so make sure to stay on your toes.
Luckily, if you die, bosses will maintain a proportion of their health when you get back to them. The dead character will still remain dead, but you can resurrect her by going up to her fallen body and button mashing the life back into her – something made all the more difficult in the middle of the boss fight, of course. It’s a nice and forgiving death system that feels like a slight punishment, but never really stops you from advancing. Losing both sisters will result in the loss of a life (which may be infinite anyway depending on your difficulty selection), but even then you’ll be merely sent back to the last checkpoint.
Inti Creates have done an impressive job in taking what was rather a niche series and turning it into a great platformer that will appeal to a much wider audience. With its stunning spritework and suitably gothic soundtrack, there really is little to criticise for the most part. The main bugbear I had was the sensitivity of the right stick’s waypoint function, which I found often showed itself even when I didn’t press anything. It’s bound to be an issue with the Switch’s analogue sticks, but this is a function that probably should have been a button press anyway. Aside from that, there’s only really one other major criticism, but it’s one that could be a dealbreaker for many people…
**CAUTION: MINOR SPOILERS IN THE NEXT PART- JUMP TO THE CONCLUSION IF YOU WANT TO GO IN FRESH!**
I was ready to award the game full marks after taking down what I had assumed to be the final boss. It was a fantastic journey, and I could see the replay potential of a new game plus. Unfortunately the developers also saw that too and instead force you down the replay path for a round two before you’re actually allowed to finish the game.
The forced second playthrough was popularised by Capcom’s Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins series, and it’s just as divisive here as it was there. You can tackle them in any order via a hub room, and your new abilities will also allow you to access some cool new areas that you couldn’t before, but but you still can’t escape the feeling of ‘I’ve done all this already’. Facing off against harder variants of the game’s bosses does help increase the enjoyment, but this could also have probably been done on a harder difficulty or in an NG+.
That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the second time around. Some of those new areas are awesome, and it felt really rewarding blasting through the game using my newly acquired sub weapons, but I also felt like the game was cheating in order to pad out the game-time a bit. If the levels were remixed, or had other elements to help make them feel more unique to the first round, it probably would have helped a lot. As it is, I can imagine this will rub people up the wrong way.
After you reach the end for realsies, access to a Boss Rush mode opens up and allows you to beat the game’s bosses again. Whilst I’m not a fan of boss rushes, the quality of the game’s big baddies makes this mode a worthwhile addition. As for the main game, there’s no New Game Plus, unfortunately, but you will unlock a new harder difficulty mode. This mode removes the ability to heal your sister back to life, so losing one of your limited lives can really make things a lot tougher.
I wasn’t expecting to like Grim Guardians as much as I did, but it truly is a stunning platformer that I had a blast with. The second half of the game is likely to prove controversial for many players, but don’t let it put you off one of Inti Creates’ best titles. Do yourself a favour and go back to school!