Gal Guardians: Demon Purge Review - Screenshot 1 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

From Inti Creates, developers of the critically acclaimed Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon duo and the Mega Man Zero/ZX series, comes a new Metroidvania rendered in a 16-bit graphical style, utilising modern hardware for various special effects, animation, and sprite creation. And it’s a fine-looking game, overall. While some areas are a tad bland, others, like the theatre backdrop and haunted galleon, are visually opulent. In terms of detail and general beauty, however, it falls a way short of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night’s gothic showboating.

There’s a touch of knowing satire in Grim Guardians: Demon Purge's narrative setup. When two sisters find themselves cast in a demonic netherworld university altogether different from their own, they need to pair up to battle their way to the spire, defeat cute demoness Kurona, rescue their school friends, and return to their realm of sunlight and Seifuku. Playfully aware of how the schoolgirl-turned-heroine trope has been done to death, it plays light with the premise.

Gal Guardians: Demon Purge Review - Screenshot 2 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

Standing out these days with a Metroidvania means doing something different with the formula. Inti Creates has a lot of experience in the genre, building here on Curse of the Moon's template — complete with boss desperation attacks and two-loop trials — with a few novel tweaks. Instrumentally, you control the two sisters in tandem, able to swap between them with a trigger tap. Shinobu Kamizono is a range attack character, who wields a machine gun in a style very reminiscent of the developer’s Gunvolt series. You can reload by double tapping down, prompting a brief animated pitstop that requires some distance from encroaching enemies.

Shinobu, while useful for keeping out of harm’s way, is very underpowered compared to her sister, Maya Kamizono, who wields a close-range, combo-ready scythe. Maya strikes with power, cleaving the university’s monsters with ease, but requires a more up-close-and-personal strategy. Additionally, she can crouch lower and has a crawl ability, allowing her to get through gaps her sister can’t reach. Her superior overall properties come at the detriment of a smaller amount of HP, however.

Each girl has an independent life bar, meaning if one is close to death, you can switch over until a health drop appears. If one dies, however, it isn’t game over just yet. You’re returned to a checkpoint, and the sister still in the runnings has to do a Dark Souls-style reconnaissance to find the body of her downed sibling and perform a resuscitation by hammering the 'X' button. While this revival will get both girls back in the game, it won’t fully top up the life bar, and at times — especially at the beginning of a boss battle — you really need to be on point to complete the revival without taking an additional hit. In a really nice touch, the game supports a two-player co-op where two friends can independently control their preferred heroine, which is a very fresh idea for this genre.

Gal Guardians: Demon Purge Review - Screenshot 3 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

Each sister wields secondary weapons. Shinobu, initially an upward projectile blade, and Maya, a temporary Shikigami that shields from a single hit. With boss defeats, additional secondary weapons are earned and switched between using a handy dial overlay. Charging secondary weapons requires collecting of magical items from overhead shields, Grim Guardian’s equivalent of Castlevania candelabra. There’s also a refillable gauge that allows the sisters to momentarily team up to fire an ultra-powerful projectile. Assuming you allow for the warmup animation and get it on target, it can be absolutely devastating to larger enemies and looks great as it momentarily warps the background back to reality.

Expectedly, each sister’s unique pros and cons are what make the game tick. While at first, Shinobu is mostly useful as a revival assist character, as time goes on they both become integral to strategising through various gauntlets.

Grim Guardians is relatively short, and is only trying until you get a feel for the combat beats, maiden switching, and enemy patterns. Then, things that initially frustrated are quickly overcome and dispatched in a smooth and enjoyable staccato rhythm. You can accrue a lot of lives, too, making the Veteran difficulty the only one we would recommend, and the infinite life Casual Mode too soft to sustain a satisfying loop.

Gal Guardians: Demon Purge Review - Screenshot 4 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

Unlike something like Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth, grinding and levelling-up are removed from the equation in place of item-based power and utility increases. Its Metroidvania-lite properties also extend to doing away with maps altogether, encouraging you to stray from the beaten path in search of extra lives and kidnapped school friends. Once you clear all stages, you can take on the second loop (much like Curse of the Moon) where bosses return with newer, tougher attack patterns, before taking on the true last boss to complete the game. That said, magical portals can warp you back to previous stages at any point, regardless of whether it’s your first or second run. For those that prefer to explore old ground with new abilities early on, this can reap secret weapon power-ups, amongst others, but certain locked doors will stay impenetrable until the appropriate time.

Grim Guardians is a bit more streamlined than your average Metroidvania, and we like that. While there are plenty of alternate paths — and some annoying retreads should you get dropped into basements — it’s less broad and roaming than the usual genre fare; again, closer to the formulas established in Curse of the Moon.

And it’s entertaining on the whole, particularly in the way that you increase in power and utilise both sisters to their specific advantages. It looks and sounds great, with some awesome-looking ghouls and three-headed dogs with their eyeballs hanging out. Bosses are excellent, especially the demonic, guitar-toting rabbit who plays electric death in front of a live auditorium, his overture cut short when he’s crushed by a giant chandelier. It’s splendidly gory, too, spouting buckets of blood all over the place, with great crimson pools bursting from monsters and painting the walls.

Gal Guardians: Demon Purge Review - Screenshot 5 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

On a personal note, we’re less fond of the voice samples being so regular with no option to either change to Japanese language or turn them off outright. They don’t feel necessary to footnote every character switch, death, or revival, and it would have been nice to include a means to adjust them to your liking.

Inti Creates really knows what it's doing in this field. It's proven itself as a developer who understands the tenets of good, old-school gaming, including key elements from its previous work to form another sprightly romp through demonic lairs. It lacks that certain spark that elevated the Curse of the Moon titles, in that the engagement factor for the duration is just a notch below. That said, it’s still a solid, playable adventure that feels good to carve through.


For Metroidvania fans and lovers of Inti Creates' works, Grim Guardians certainly does enough to please. Getting to grips with combat negotiations and levelling up your weaponry brings with it a sense of reward and progression, and it’s enjoyable to backtrack for secrets. It’s not quite on the level of Curse of the Moon, its closest relative, but it’s not far off — and the sibling switching idea is at least novel and fun to work with. Gory, spritely, and occasionally creatively inspired, it hits all the right notes, just sometimes in a little too sparse a manner to be considered overwhelmingly compelling.