It might not be too off kilter to think that, in some alternate universe, things could have shaken out differently in Capcom’s stable and Firebrand the Red Arremer/Gargoyle would have become a bigger star. The company could have been associated more with crimson than true blue, and fans today could be crying out over the absence of their favourite bald firebreather in his own games (not that a few out there aren’t, we’re sure). There’s no changing history now, of course, but Firebrand did have a good foundation of games on which to launch a career. Gargoyle’s Quest II: The Demon Darkness is one, and it’s worthy on either the 3DS or the Wii U’s Virtual Console.
Our previous review of The Demon Darkness on Wii U provides an excellent overview of what to expect, and everything really seems to translate nicely onto the smaller screens of the 3DS. The journey to save the monstrous peace of the Ghoul Realm remains the same, as does the mix of overhead RPG conversing and full-on side-scrolling platform action. Let’s take this opportunity, then, to look closer at each side of the demon’s coin.
The RPG-ish side of The Demon Darkness will likely not floor you with its generally sparse storytelling, but it’s charming in an old-school way. This largely comes through in the form of odd-sounding word choices presumably chalked up to the early days of game translation. Increase your jumping ability by being blessed with the power of… the Spectre’s Fingernail? Couldn’t the spectre have just kept that on with a Band-Aid or something? Little things like this can make for a delightfully quirky experience.
Although there’s a fine collection of empowering items to find, The Demon Darkness doesn’t allow you to level up independently to overcome challenges. Everything is found or granted in a pretty direct order that allows progress to the next area. This isn’t really a bad thing, but those who hear “RPG” and expect more freedom of choice may be disappointed. There are still some alternate paths to explore to find some extra pick-ups and fights, though.
Let’s not mince words when it comes to the platforming aspect of this game: it can be a real challenge at times. The “Nintendo Hard” trope is exemplified here in some ways, where you may need to memorize the appearances of enemies or repeat stage attempts until you get used to the feeling of handling moving platforms or other hazards. Controls feel faithful through these trials, however, and things seem a bit easier to handle once you have more items and oomph beneath your wings. Firebrand’s abilities to hover and cling to walls also become quite fun once you get used to them, plus you can take advantage of the Virtual Console’s restore points instead of relying on passwords. Hooray for modern technology!
Gargoyle’s Quest II: The Demon Darkness remains a fine little gem from back in the day that deserves all the appreciation of players who are up to its tough but not impossible style of gameplay. Firebrand might not have as many backpacks or plushies as other characters out there, but his brand of game is still one to enjoy at home or on the go.