Title: Grim Guardians: Demon Purge
Developer: Inti Creates
Release Date: February 23, 2023
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Inti Creates
Genre: Action, Platformer, Metroidvania
The double-take of seeing the cast of Gal Gun enter a gritty action Metroidvania has probably been emphasized enough, but following the announcement of Grim Guardians: Demon Purge, seeing love interests Shinobu and Maya as protagonists doesn’t get old. That said, I was skeptical about how these characters could exist in this genre, despite developer Inti Creates being at the helm, also known for the Blaster Master and Gunvolt franchises. Thankfully, Grim Guardians: Demon Purge is an entertaining clash of worlds that manages to work, even when taking a few limited systems into account.
As previously stated, Grim Guardians: Demon Purge features Shinobu and Maya from Gal Gun: Double Peace as the playable protagonists. On their way to school, the building transforms into an ominous castle that the sisters must traverse to hopefully get it back to its original state and rescue the students trapped within, including the Gal Gun: Double Peace protagonist, Houdai Kudoki. The premise is simple, and even when considering later developments in the plot that amplify the stakes and tension, it remembers its roots and never takes itself overly seriously.
Aside from the gameplay, the real draw here is the character interaction. Whenever entering a new area, finding and defeating a boss, and encountering later unexpected contexts, Shinobu and Maya frequently converse. For those unaware of who these characters were, the title does an excellent job of emphasizing and showcasing the genuineness of their relationship. Further, the rescued schoolgirls are all expectedly defined by tropes yet still manage to be endearing, adding further dynamic variety to several scenes. Granted, nothing throughout the narrative comes off as profound, but it does its job of establishing circumstances.
Throughout the castle, players explore various themed areas. After a boss is beaten, you’ll rescue a significant character, obtain new sub-weapons for Shinobu and Maya, and progress to a new part of the castle. That’s the general cycle for a while, but its predictability doesn’t hamper its effectiveness. Regarding its Metroidvania presentation, the castle’s areas are quite linear, and despite the multiple pathways, you’ll often just head in a singular direction with a few brief dead ends housing bonuses and girls to save. This makes it fall more in line with older Castlevania titles.
Admittedly, the sisters do gradually obtain sub-weapons that double as navigational tools, and the second half of the experience changes the structure somewhat, though the usage of these features is minimal and never long-lasting. Moreover, the game’s second half does pad itself out with re-traversing areas, but never overbearingly so. Basically, you’ll never have to think too hard about progression since the game not-so-subtly steers you in specific directions.
Unfortunately, many of the enemies you’ll encounter are forgettable both design and moveset-wise. They do their job of getting in the way, yet they’re overly fragile, even on Veteran mode, and only have one or two attacks at most. In fact, I often thought I was playing on the lower difficulty since the vast majority of these enemies fell with only a few hits. In a sense, this comes off as a way to quicken the pacing of exploration. And to a certain extent, I suppose it does; it’s just that, save for a few exceptions, they largely feel like minimal distractions that don’t require much skill.
Thankfully, the boss battles are excellent. Every one of these encounters boasts magnificent, varied appearances, and their movesets are enjoyable to learn. Additionally, they’re never overwhelming and should take the average player a few attempts at most to understand.
However, there is a certain design choice I’ve neglected to mention that makes facing them…odd, to say the least. So let’s sidebar for a second. One of the central gimmicks in Grim Guardians: Demon Purge is the ability to swap between Shinobu and Maya at will. Both characters have pros and cons; Shinobu uses a machine gun, making her ideal for ranged contexts, while Maya gets up close and personal with a blade.
Further, Maya’s smaller stature allows her to move while crouching, enabling access to otherwise inaccessible areas. Plus, the previously mentioned differing sub-weapons both sisters obtain clearly illustrate distinction across the toolkits. Honestly, the slight pause and emitted voice line when doing the character switch can become tiring, though that’s a pretty minor point.
With all this said, if you ever perish as the player-controlled sister, the game will send you back to your last checkpoint as the other sister without the one you died as. This is where the Continue system comes into play because players have the opportunity to reach the collapsed body of the fallen sister and resuscitate them via brief button mashing, putting them back in the fray.
On the off-chance you die as both sisters without enacting resuscitation, you lose a Continue, spawning you back to the previous checkpoint with both sisters. This mechanic crafts an undeniable semblance of gameplay tension since even falling into a pit results in a death, initiating the process I just described. It causes players to be highly cognizant of their movements, especially during platforming sections, where one mistake can ruin them. I should note that Continues are unlimited if playing on the easier mode, though.
I find the concept interesting, but my reception was mixed on its usage in boss battles. Dying as one sister will cause the other to spawn by themself right before the boss room. Then, you can revive the other sister while attempting the fight again, yet the boss retains a fraction of lost health depending on how much damage was dealt beforehand. While this can be seen as helpful, I found it to mitigate the challenge since if you were particularly close to defeating a boss but died while a few health points were remaining, you’d retry with a significant amount of the boss’ health depleted.
It takes away from the strife of each attempt, ultimately making it all too easy. And personally, being sent out after only one sister dies just felt needless in these scenarios as it came off as an overly kind gesture. Adding to the lacking difficulty is the resource for Maya and Shinobu’s special attack dropping far too often. Thankfully, the replayability presented after beating the game can grant players more of a challenge; I wish it was available from the start, though. Further, the option to play as 2 players provides varied ways to take on these encounters, but it may require some sense of teamwork.
Sadly, the story scenes aren’t voice-acted, with only the battle quotes and other one-liners receiving that treatment. Although the English dub is great, as the actresses fittingly embody their characters. Still, you’ll hear Shinobu’s and Maya’s battle lines a little too much. Alternatively, Japanese audio is selectable for those who prefer it, and while I didn’t stick with it, it appears as if the whole main story is voiced here.
The soundtrack here didn’t quite do it for me, as aside from providing a fitting ambiance, they’re mostly forgettable. The standard enemy design fits that same mold, too, though a few of the later areas and bosses are beautifully standout. The pixel animation is gorgeous, as well.
One final point I should discuss is how prior to release, I was confused as to how this connected to Gal Gun, since, based on the demo, it felt disconnected from the overly sexualized series. Yet, these fears were unfounded in the later hours. I won’t detail how, but this definitely has Gal Gun elements at its heart.
Grim Guardians: Demon Purge is an enjoyable Metroidvania containing all the necessary ingredients for an action-packed adventure. Its smooth movements and animations, variety of combative approaches, and well-designed bosses, alongside its captivating character designs and interaction, make this a journey many will find delight in, regardless of their Gal Gun familiarity.
The faults I’ve mentioned, such as the oddly implemented revival mechanic and the overt ease on a first playthrough, can hinder the experience but, at least in my case, never significantly so. I never thought I’d say this, but I would not mind another Gal Gun-esque entry in this vein. There are multiple types of arousal, after all, and variety, as they say, is the spice of life.
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