From one time point to another, the on-rails shooter Gal*Gun comes back to Xbox in the form of Grim Guardians: Demon Purge. Developed and published by Inti Creates, this action platformer has players play as sisters Shinobu and Maya, swapping their student occupation for demon hunting when their school is suddenly replaced by a giant eerie castle. Vicious demons and giant bosses await both of our Demon Hunters as they progress to the top of the castle where a mischievous devil awaits them…
This entry is a fairly big change for the series, but not for Inti Creates, who for many Xbox players will recognise as a force within the 2D platformer sphere with games such as Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, Gunvolt Chronicles, Blaster Master, and more. With that in mind, it’s only natural that Grim Guardians ended up being the best game in the Gal*Gun series of games (huge genre shift aside).
Now, let’s get to demon purging.
In Grim Guardians, players will explore the giant demonic castle with two playable characters, Shinobu the ranged attacker and Maya the up close ‘n personal melee user. Both characters have a unique set of sub-weapons and minor movement differences that you’ll need to progress through the game, whether that’s taking out hard to reach enemies with Shinobu, crawling through tight crevices with Maya, or just swapping between both characters in tandem for a given situation.
Both playable characters control very well and have enough heft to them to keep them grounded to levels but light enough that makes good and fun platforming possible. There is an interesting choice made by the developers here in that Shinobu has more health than Maya, who in turn does more damage to enemies. This encourages a more ranged and methodical playstyle I feel, and it worked out better than I thought it would. The sisters’ default move set is limited to simple attacks, however. Sub-weapons might fill in some of these holes that are game mechanics and eventually your default weapons do get buffed. But Maya not having something as simple as an ‘attack from above’ move does leave me a bit miffed.
Fighting off baddies is fun thanks to the versatility of both characters. Most enemies will typically die in a few shots from Shinobu, but some of the tougher ones can easily be dispatched by Maya’s powerful naginato strikes. A good variety of enemies waltz the halls of the castle, some recolours and some entirely unique to the stage. I felt that the game was quite fair in the tools it offers players and the challenges themselves, such as being able to range attack enemies that situate themselves right before pitfalls or crawling away from a leafy green with legs that is quick on its feet.
Inti’s sprite work is put on full display here and the game is a real looker. Whether that’s the levels themselves or how baddies gib ‘n gore across the environment in spectacular fashion (i.e., body parts causing splashes in pools of liquid), the visuals, music, and audio bytes make the game feel very much alive in the darkness of the demonic castle. Each level is a reflection of stages from the sisters’ school, which you can catch glimpses of in a rather cool effect by using their special move. The levels themselves are easy to follow, where simply following the main path will lead you to the stage boss. Going off the beaten path will yield health, sub-weapon upgrades, and special points alongside finding Shinobu and Maya’s other classmates who are all either stuck somewhere out in the open or crevices that aren’t quite available to reach yet.
Unfortunately, level design comes up a bit short. A lot of rooms lack any verticality or level gimmicks to keep things interesting. Many rooms are more focused on keeping you moving forward and there’s not many points of interest besides a weakened wall structure here and there. As a result, it feels like you’ll be coasting from room to room with no purpose other than finding the exit. The locked parts of prior stages do contain health, defense, and other upgrades to make upcoming battles easier, however, which gives you a reason to explore.
Still, moment to moment gameplay ends up being a lot of fun, especially for those new to action platformer games of this genre. There are three play styles: casual, veteran, and legend which players can choose when starting the game or during a stage. This determines how much damage you take from baddies but even then, the stages themselves are short and pretty easy to get through. And there is a revive mechanic available when a character is knocked out, giving you a chance to get back to where you last died a lot faster.
I do think said revive mechanic kills the flow of the game, however, as dying can set you up to two rooms back with the last remaining character. And this also trivializes stage bosses quite a bit, as it’s pretty difficult to lose lives when you can get your partner back up fairly quickly. I also had two moments where my partner’s body was not present at the last point of death, forcing me to restart from a checkpoint and wasting a life unnecessarily. This works better in the game’s coop mode, which I think is implemented pretty well (aside from pitfalls). Do keep in mind that it’s local coop only, however.
As for the game’s narrative, it’s fanservice for anyone who likes Gal*Gun. The girls you rescue have a variety of things to say about their situation and there is a lot of goofy chatter about ‘important stuff’, mixed in with some briefly serious moments. I personally liked it, having played the on-rail shooters years back. Besides that, it’s easily skippable for anyone who doesn’t care what the characters have to say about a school riddled with demons and angels that enjoy making a junior boy’s life a living hell.
Grim Guardians: Demon Purge is a good action platformer that comes together remarkably well. Another score for Inti Creates’ catalogue of fun 2D platformers.
Grim Guardians: Demon Purge
Xbox Series X
- Solid combat and weapon diversity.
- Good variety of enemy types and fun boss fights keep the game challenging.
- Gorgeous spritework and visuals.
- Cooperative mode is well-implemented and fun, especially when you get all your weapons.
- Levels are generally unremarkable.
- Revive mechanic breaks the flow of the game in solo mode.