Thursday, March 9, 2023

Gal Guardians: Demon Purge Review

Developer: Inti Creates
Platforms: XB, PS, Steam, NS
Price: $24.99
Version Played: Switch

Gal Guardians: Demon Purge (formerly known as Grim Guardians) is Bloodstained Curse of the Moon 3 minus Bloodstained, plus Gal Gun. I guess Inti Creates just wanted to do their own thing, with their own IP. This is still that classic Castlevania-inspired game, though. After playing Curse of the Moon 2, I thought maybe they’d get really crazy, with more dogs in mechs and trips to the moon in Compile shoot 'em up levels, but that’s not the route they took with Gal Guardians at all. Graphics and gameplaywise, this game sticks even closer to the Castlevania style than the CotM games. It’s the story and characters where they went full Inti.

Gal Guardians is an action platformer in the style of the Castlevania games that came before Symphony of the Night (minus Simon’s Quest), AKA the ClassicVanias. More specifically, it’s a lot like Castlevania: Bloodlines (Genesis) in terms of structure. You play through linear levels with branching paths, fight a boss at the end, and then move on to a completely separate level. This isn’t a Metroidvania, it’s much closer to Shantae: Half Genie Hero than it is to Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse. Gal Guardians also gets a lot of its inspiration from Castlevania: Rondo of Blood with its level and boss design, and it still has the character switching tag mechanic from the Curse of the Moon games, which was clearly inspired by Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse and Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin.
There’s a pretty huge difference in gameplay between Gal Guardians and Bloodstained CotM, though. Unlike CotM, Gal Guardians controls much more like the Metroidvanias than the ClassicVanias. Running speed is faster, you get more air control, and your attack animations generally don’t have as much delay and feel much snappier. You also don’t have to press up to go up stairs, you just jump on them. Knockback is still an option tied to the Veteran (Normal) and Legend (Hard) difficulties. Casual difficulty does not have knockback. This makes Gal Gal Guardians’ gameplay feel much faster and more modern than CotM’s, which I am perfectly fine with.
This might not be a Metroidvania, but there is quite a bit of exploration involved. Since you get new subweapons after beating every boss, you can open new paths and find hidden items on following playthroughs with them. You’re free to teleport to the beginning of any level you’ve unlocked after a boss fight, so you can do this whenever you want, but it’s in the second half of the game where you’re really encouraged to play through the more difficult paths to find quest items and upgrades with all the subweapons you've acquired. I don’t think the level design is like a Metroidvania at all, but there is more exploration in Gal Guardians than in similar games, like Mega Man X, Shantae HGH, and Cyber Shadow.
Gal Guardians has the same character switching tag mechanic as the Curse of the Moon games, but with a twist, you can revive your fallen partner. If you die, you lose a character and restart at the last checkpoint, but if you make it back to where you died with the other one, you can mash X over their body and bring them back to life at half health. I wonder if they got this idea from River City Girls. This game also has 2 player co-op and you can do this there, too. You only lose a life when you die on both characters in single player. This actually makes it kind of hard to lose a life. I’ve never actually seen the Game Over screen. Sometimes I just killed myself so I could restart at full health before a boss fight.
The 2 playable characters in the game are the demon hunting sisters, Maya and Shinobu. Don't ask me what their Gal Gun origins are because I've never played those games. Each character has their own HP bar, but share MP. They also share the Pride (special) meter, which you can use for a special double team attack when it’s full and both characters are alive. Their running and jumping feels exactly the same, so the gameplay differences are all in their weapons and abilities.
Maya is a melee character who attacks with a sword, spear, and shurikens all in the same combo. They all look like they're made of psychic energy, so I'm guessing she's a Ninja spirit medium and her weapons work like Psylocke's from X-Men. Maya does a lot of damage, but has short range, and less HP than Shinobu. She has the ability to crawl, and since her sword swings in a wide arc, she's the only one who can hit tiny annoying enemies, like spiders, with regular attacks. Her subweapons include an origami swan she can use as platforms, an umbrella that gives her slow fall and protects her from hazardous falling liquids, and a penguin that freezes enemies. Maya unlocks a Mega Man-like charge attack on the 2nd loop, which shoots out a giant shuriken and lets her jump backwards in the air, essentially giving her a double jump.
Shinobu is a gun toting maniac. Her outfit makes me think of Shanoa from Order of Ecclesia, but she plays more like Robert from CotM2, if he didn't suck. Her main weapon is a machine gun, which fires 3 round bursts. You can also hold the button down for fully automatic fire. She only gets 100 bullets; though, so you have to reload. You can reload by double tapping down on the d-pad or by simply pressing the Y button again if you're already out of ammo. Shinobu can only fire horizontally on the first loop, but unlocks the ability to shoot upwards as well in the second loop. Her bullets fly well above the ground, even while crouching, so she can't shoot little creepy crawlies on the same level as her at all. She can hit them with her subweapons, which include a rocket launcher, mines, grenades, and a grappling hook. Shinobu feels more like Mega Man than a Castlevania character, so she’s kind of weird for a game like this, but unlike Robert, she's a lot of fun to play.
Just like the Curse of the Moon games, Gal Guardians is designed to be played through multiple times. This game does things a bit differently from CotM2, though. It doesn’t split the game into multiple chapters or anything like that, it just keeps going. On the second loop, you unlock a base with NPCs to talk to, more story, new quests, a new final level, weapon upgrades, new boss phases, and new and more difficult paths in every level. The first loop is really only like a third of the game. You don't even see the credits roll after the first loop. Playing the second loop and fighting the real last boss is a must, in my opinion. That's truly where the game shines. After beating the 2nd loop, you unlock a Boss Rush mode and the Legend difficulty, which has more enemies, which respawn when the screen moves past their spawn point, just like in old NES games. There is no reviving on Legend, either. Letting even one sister die means you lose a life.
I believe I said I wanted these games to go 16-bit in one of my CotM reviews. Well, they blew right past that gen. Gal Guardians just looks like what I’d expect from a modern 2D game from Inti. The graphics clearly look like they're inspired by the GBA and DS Castlevanias, but they look much better than those games ever could on the GBA and DS' low resolution screens. All the backgrounds are intricately detailed, every level looks completely different, and your characters have a bunch of little animations that didn't even need to be in the game, just like in SOTN. This game is a beautiful gothic work of art. I did notice some screen tearing here and there, and some framerate drops while scrolling into a certain boss room, but it otherwise runs great on Switch.
The music is also really good. It's a Classical and hard rock inspired soundtrack, just like what you’d hear in Castlevania and Bloodstained. It fits the game perfectly. It's not Michuru Yamane, it's Ippo Yamada, but it's still awesome. The game has a bunch of little voice clips that play during gameplay and boss intros, but most of the dialogue is not voice acted. There is no way to turn off the girl’s voice clips that play during gameplay, so I’m sure they will get on some people’s nerves, but I was fine with them.

You're not going to see any of this if you only play the first loop, but Inti lets their perv flag fly in the 2nd and 3rd loops. I'm guessing they did it this way because this is probably where most other reviewers will stop playing and then complain about the game being too short. The second half of the game opens up a questline that has you looking for girl's gym clothes, panties, and lad mags to get a guy's pheromones up so he can tell you how to get to the true final boss. It's pretty cringy. Don't get me wrong, this is a T rated game. There's nothing here you wouldn't see in a Master Roshi scene in Dragon Ball. But frankly, it feels very out of place in a game about fighting ghosts, demons, and cryptids in haunted castles. I’m guessing it’s perfectly on brand for Gal Gun, though. This isn't a hentai game, but I think people should be aware of its perviness.
More like Pantyvania, am I right!? Well, aside from the anime perviness, this is an amazing game. It's just so much fun all the way through. I think it's even better than the Bloodstained CotM games. It’s my GOTY so far. I love the level and boss designs, it has great pacing, and just the right balance between action and exploration. The graphics look great, too! I hope they make another one of these. It's a shame they had to change the name. Grim Guardians sounded much better.