As one of the most defining genres in gaming, you'd think that it's all been done before when it comes to shmups. Gryphon Knight Epic plays as you would expect yet a few twists allow it to stand out. Saddle up your gryphon, let's go for a ride!
Gryphon Knight Epic stars a fellow named Sir Oliver who discovers a treasure room with his closest chums. Everyone managed to snag a weapon except for him but he did get his hands on a mysterious artifact. It turns out that the weapons were all cursed so it's up to Oliver to rescue his pals from the grips of evil. Luckily, the artifact that he recovered has the ability to turn his friends back into their former selves. It's a simple and delightful story and the visuals match this charming tale perfectly. Every character, environment, and enemy is rendered with pixel-perfect detail and it all adds up to one great-looking adventure. I love how the backgrounds have many layers that implement parallax scrolling to give the illusion of depth. It made me wish I could play it on my 3D TV. Anyway, we're off to a good start so I'll move on to discuss how the gameplay holds up.
The basic controls are what you'd expect as you fly around the screen and shoot. However, one aspect sets Gryphon Knight Epic apart from the standard shoot 'em up formula. Occasionally, you'll come across split paths where you decide where to go next and you can even backtrack. This is very cool because being able to reverse direction and experience horizontal, vertical, and even diagonal scrolling adds an exploration element into the mix. There are many different enemies, too, and they can get quite overwhelming at times. That being said, it never felt unfair because overcoming hordes of foes with projectiles spraying everywhere always depends on your skills and ability to think on your feet. Overall, the simple gameplay mixes with exploration and satisfying challenges to create one enjoyable shmup.
The main campaign consists of a tutorial stage, six stages that correspond to each of Sir Oliver's friends, and a final stage. Defeating a friend unlocks their weapon that you can equip on the fly (just like Mega Man). Upon selecting a stage, you can choose which difficulty to play it on and whether to start at the halfway point or not (if you've already reached it during a previous attempt). Harder difficulties allow you to receive more gold so pushing yourself can be very rewarding. You use this gold to purchase various items and upgrades from shops. It's surprising how much stuff Oliver can fit on his Gryphon. You'll end up accumulating a wealth of potions, familiars, weapons, and runes. Weapons and runes are upgradable, too, so you're looking at a huge price tag if you want to buy everything.
Gryphon Knight Epic is fun for sure, but it does have some hard to ignore flaws. Although I love the visual style, I must admit that the animations are way too choppy and disjointed at times. If they doubled the amount of frames and smoothed out some rough transitions then it would have made a world of difference. Also, many sound effects will get on your nerves. Some enemies perish and let out a noise that doesn't match their appearance at all while others emit repetitive poor quality shrieks. Finally, the campaign doesn't take that long to complete and once you do, you'll probably be satisfied enough to stop playing altogether. Besides collecting the hidden runes, there really isn't all that much to do. Tediously amassing a fortune of gold is far from enjoyable and with virtually no content besides the short campaign, it's difficult to push yourself to keep playing. Even though it may be brief, it's still fun while it lasts.
Gryphon Knight Epic is a pretty cool and memorable shoot 'em up. Although it has its shortcomings and doesn't offer a very lengthy experience, fans of the genre will get a kick out of riding a gryphon in its wonderful pixel-filled world.
- + Charming story and equally delightful pixel art
- + Simple yet challenging gameplay is very fun
- + Rewarding character growth with a weapon system similar to Mega Man's
- - Animations are too choppy and disjointed
- - Some sound effects are downright grating
- - After completing the short campaign, it feels contrived to keep playing