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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I'm a fan of Inti Creates. Outside of the Gal Gun games, I usually just purchase their games blind. If anyone likes the character-swapping aspect of this game, I recommend you give Full Metal Furies a try.
Clear as I steer from this kind of articles, the "character-swapping ode to Castlevania" line admittedly coaxed my idle curiosity to see how many times Portrait of Ruin would be namedropped.
Sounds more like Castlevania than Metroidvania. But I'm fine with that, definitely gonna have fun with this. Although the issue with the voices is a bit annoying hopefully that'll be patched.
But I have one question for the reviewer: Why is Gal Gun not mentioned at any point in this review??? This game is a Gal Gun spinoff, it even has the same initials and the characters, very weird not to mention that, no? Unless I missed it somewhere.
The drought after Order of Ecclesia taught me a harsh lesson: You can never have enough Castlevania in your life.
I rarely preorder indies, but I knew I'd love this one the moment I played the demo. The fun cast from Gal*Gun: Double Peace, the cool character switching mechanic, and especially the Classicvania inspiration. I also loved the Curse of the Moon games, but I've always preferred 16-bit Castlevania, and Grim Guardians draws more heavily from those entries.
I will object a bit, though: the review seems to be judging this as a Metroidvania, and... it's clearly not. It's more like Rondo of Blood: a linear action game with branching story paths and whatnot.
I do love me some Portrait of Ruin, so a character-swapping game like this might be fun. But ... I dunno, I wasn't too big a fan of either Deedlit Wonder Labyrinth or Touhou Luna Nights, and I'm getting that same kind of "all style no substance" kinda vibe from this one too...
I've had my eye on this one and it sounds cool. I may have to pick it up!
I do agree that it appears to not be a "Metroidvania," another reason we should ABOLISH use of that term. Metroid was doing it way before Castlevania was, so just compare them all to Metroid. This looks like more of a CV game before SOTN.
Great review. Downloading this now but i do have one question. How are the gun gal games ?
What the heck is wrong with her legs?
@old-dad Not sure what you mean by "how are they," but I'll attempt to answer.
The Gal*Gun games are fanservicey rail shooters where you play a high school kid who has to fend off hordes of love-struck girls with an ecstasy-inducing gun after they're enchanted by a cupid. Typically the games feature branching story paths, and gameplay is sort of like a cutesy version of House of the Dead: the game moves your character, and you have to shoot at things on the screen. There are also boss battles and whatnot.
Considering they're those sorts of games, they definitely won't be for everyone, but I always found the fanservice elements weren't too over-bearing, and the characters/writing/presentation are all charming, IMO.
This game is a spinoff sequel of Gal*Gun: Double Peace, the second (and probably best) entry in the series.
I want a new metroidvania, but I'd rather wait for Curse of the Sea Rats, which is also having a physical release.
“ No option to mute the fairly repetitive voice samples”
Inti Creates has gone from the dev who made the Zero series to the dev who makes meandering 2D games with inescapable annoying voice acting.
Hmm, I wonder if this means no Curse of the Moon 3. I expected that to come along with a trilogy physical release in Asia, but maybe not.
took me a minute to realize: these are the same girls from the Gal*Gun games!
Look at the title *G*rim *G*uardians *D*emon *P*urge, GG DP Gal*Gun Double Peace.
Was already in the wishlist and there it stays and will eventually get it (most likely on sale), seems like a fun Castlevania game!
I'm a little worried about this game maybe being too easy, at least seems like a good coop experience.
I usually consider the rating on Inti Creates games a bit lower on reviews compared to what I think that they deserve and end up enjoying almost everything that they release. That's just me though.
I played the game demo on steam festival, it's pretty good, but it's like castlevania (nes) rather than metroidvania.
Also, at first I though the machine gun will make the game too easy, but the gun isn't too powerfull and it must be reloaded after firing it, so the weapon balance is good.
I just played the first two levels and (while having no knowledge of the Gal Gun games myself) I had a bit of a blast with this one. The gameplay is quite fun and engaging, the level design is good, and the art style is quite charming. So far, I'm liking this more than Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon (decently good game) for being more fluent and modern without coming off as a "NES game mod" for one bit, in my opinion.
Grim Guardians: Demon Purge also gave me that "true sequel" that I wanted from Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, making Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 too "by the numbers" for me.
A search-action platformer with Mega Man style mechanics sounds good, even if the execution is flawed.
I'll hold out for the inevitable Limited Run Games release.
@CharlieGirl If you don't want to have to wait a year or more to get it, there is a Japanese physical that I believe has english language support as well.
There is also a physical version by Pqube that should be out in Spring according to their trailer.
Sounds pretty okay, although I remember from watching a trailer that the voices sounded really annoying. As this is an Inti Creates game, I'm sure it'll be worth playing, but with the volume down I guess.
And it does sound like descriptors can completely leave the 'Metroid' part out of it. This sounds like a Castlevania-inspired experience all the way and that's great. The term has its place, but not every search action game is like Metroid.
Charlotte ... Jonathan! Charlotte ... Jonathan! Charlotte ... Jonathan! Charlotte ... Jonathan!
@fenlix The veteran difficulty seems just right to me, but I did read that a higher difficulty option unlocks after beating the game once fwiw.
I look forward to playing this, but please mute the girl’s annoying voices at every attack.
Oh well may still pick this up during a sale but that physical edition will be first.
Uh, yeah, I'm into this. Shame about the voices, but things could be worse.
I’m surprised Portrait of Ruin was never mentioned once, which this game takes more inspiration from that compared to SOTN. Also if you played that game, the main characters were very talkative too, so I see that as a positive. Lol
This isn’t a Metroidvania, and you really need to update the review to reflect this. It’s a straight-up platform action game like Curse of the Moon. If you call it a Metroidvania, you’re setting up false expectations for your readers.
Its closer to something like the older castlevanias and curse of the moon rather than something like SOTN.
The game is level based though there are multiple paths through stages and beating the stage gives you a new subweapon which can open up new paths/secret areas leading to things like health or ammo upgrades (think megaman X series but with a more linear stage order)
Not a game I'm interested in but I didn't mind Azure Gunvolt collection (1&2 bought on a whim and it's a fine game of Megaman like experience I'd never had before as never played these types of games before and obviously Ekoro is in the spin-off) and Inti Creates has a fine line of old school modernised games so I know it's quality. Never played their others or care but their quality shows with Bloodstained, Blaster Master and Gunvolt for sure even if only ever really cared for GalGun.
Enjoy GalGun more so (even as someone not into rail shooters either) and like another commenter said why no GalGun mention they are core characters from that series? Just why? Did they not know the reviewer or want to distance from it? If didn't know I mean sure but it's a search away it's not hard.
It's kind of important even if the gameplay and other elements reflect other games I assume their characters may be different but still somewhat connected to the series 'they came from'.
@Dualmask @BrianJL @Ralizah @LastFootnote
The review states that in the text:
"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."
However, it's still closer to a Metroidvania than any traditional Castlevania: locked doors, very layered stages, backtracking through the university's earlier sections for power-ups, secret areas out of reach until certain properties are acquired are all present. But it's definitely on the 'lite' end of the spectrum, closer to Circle of the Moon.
Hands up! I had no idea these were the Gal Gun gals. I'm not that up on my ecchi fandoms even though I covered that game. The issue perhaps is that Inti Creates didn't state the relationship between this and Gal Gun anywhere in the press release, anywhere on their official website, and it isn't mentioned on the Nintendo eShop page. Strange but true. It's like they didn't want to mention the connection to Gal Gun at all. Make of that what you will.
It's a good point. I finished Portrait of Ruin on its initial release and should have mentioned it. But deadlines were tight and a lot of editing went in to whittle down the word count to just include the core details. Sometimes things don't always make it in, sadly.
What is a man? A miserable little pile of deadlines and word count limits!
@Ralizah thank you ! Sounds like something im not old enough for lol. Do appreciate it but will probably have to pass
Huh, well that's interesting to hear. Thanks for clearing that up.
@steely_pete No worries. Based on your info, I also think it's unusual they decided not to mention the Gal Gun link at all, so I can only assume they decided the product would be more saleable without acknowledging the connection.
"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."
I will not even try this game because of this. thanks for mentioning it in the review!
it was named that to reference the games Super Metroid and SOTN specifically, which for a time were fairly unique in the "brown polygons" era of gaming. I agree it's not a technically accurate term, but it was very useful at the time as a descriptor and everyone knew what you were talking about, and they still do. 👍
@Tom-Massey Makes sense. So I guess just likeness then character connection. Fair enough. Either way they know what their doing and how they want to market/present it and that's fair. Thanks for letting me know.
@SuntannedDuck2 No worries!
Curse of the moon 1 & 2 were great, and I can honestly see how this game is their spiritual successor. The weakest part of this game is the story. I understand that this was the team that worked on Gal Gun, but I think a darker more serious tone fits the setting of the game more. The fan service elements seem to detract from the over all feel of the game.
The game play is great however. Simple and provides a challenge. The player change gimmick is well executed. So much so that during boss fights you'll find yourself switching characters and sub weapons on the fly to meet a specific boss action.
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