You know, sometimes there are games you end up getting that you hope are really good based on what you see, but then you are reminded of a harsh reality. That is that looks can be very deceiving, and, unfortunately, Gryphon Knight Epic is an example of this.
In Gryphon Knight Epic you play as Sir Oliver, a knight who uses a crossbow named the “Crossbuster” and rides his trusty pet Gryphon, Aquila. That combination earned Sir Oliver the title of “The Gryphon Knight”.
The games plot basically can be summed up like this. Sir Oliver and his band of brothers (not literally) are all given special weapons to fight the evil in the land, however–surprise–the weapons are actually cursed, and the curse brings out the latent darkness in the user’s heart and makes them evil. Sir Oliver is spared from this fate due to a special crystal necklace, which expelled the evil in his heart, but it creates an evil version of himself that you have to fight later on in the game. It’s up to Sir Oliver to expel the evil in his friends’ hearts, and destroy the evil once and for all.
When I sum it up like that, it sounds interesting, right? But in reality, the way the game presents its story is very, very dull. The characters ultimately are not very interesting, the dialogue is very dull and too long for it’s own good and not very interesting, and the story is not very inspired or unique. And while in most indie arcade style games, I would ignore such an element, the game believes it’s plot is more important than it actually is. If you want a good example of how story like this could be done well in short arcade/retro-inspired games, look no further than Shovel Knight. That game’s story is brief and is written in a more humorous fashion, making you laugh with it, while also being a joke on “good guy needs to beat bad guy to save the girl” plot lines in usually shorter retro games. Gryphon Knight Epic, on the other hand, is way too long-winded and too serious in its delivery for me to even consider reading through the amount of needless exposition–which could’ve been excised from the cutting room floor.
The Gameplay unfortunately has some pretty bad problems. For starters, as a side-scrolling shooter, it’s pace is very slow, and while the game works, it’s not very exciting. It’s a challenge to stay with the game and not get bored to tears.
Shooting enemies doesn’t feel too satisfying. The way the shooting feels, and how enemies die, make the combat of the game very dull. While it does its job, it’s not very fun or exciting to shoot enemies. The game does give you extra weapons, which are given to you after you beat each boss of the game, so there is variety of weapons, but it doesn’t make gameplay any less dull unfortunately.
Also, some of the gameplay design makes me wonder what the developers were thinking. One element of the gameplay is the ability to turn around and go backwards throughout the stage, which seems interesting, until you realize that there is barely a point to doing this at all, other than re-killing enemies for more diamonds to purchase upgrades and usable items, (which I’ll talk about in a bit), to find secrets in the stages, which are few and far between in the stages to make the ability worthwhile, or to turn around in some parts of the stage that involves going straight upward or downward and turn and face the enemies on both sides, which is interesting when done right, but most of the time it goes unused way too much. In fact, there were several times where I went through some secret areas of the game, came out on the other side, and found I was going in that direction for no reason but to retread old ground. I ended up only dying, and losing progress.
Upgrades and usable items can be purchased in the game to make the game more easier during your playthrough, and while they do serve their purpose, there are things in it that make me scratch my head. During my time playing the game for this review, I didn’t end up buying most of the available items, other than the health potions, which are the most useful potion in my opinion, and the cheapest. And I also bought the squires, which help during combat like the Dragon Squire, which shoots fireballs that increase in number as you kill more enemies. But even then, I didn’t buy most of them either. Why? Because most of the items are useless.
For example, the energy potion is for making the energy bar recharge faster for eight seconds, which seems useful, but really, the recharge rate of the energy bar is plenty fast enough that it makes the potion seem redundant. The invulnerability potion seems very useful as well, but considering its cost, and the fact you can only carry five at a time, and that it only last for 10 seconds, makes the potion very worthless. The berserk potion makes you fire at twice the fire rate automatically for a few seconds, which seems handy, but considering the slow pace of the game, and that there aren’t too many enemies on the screen at all times, it’s worthless. You see where I’m going with this? I could go on about the items and the squires as well, but even they have that problem as well. Oh and before I forget, upgrading your weapons is at the very least useful, but not really that big a deal.
Boss fights are another can of worms as well. While the end stage boss fights are alright, I feel that they are a bit too easy, and lack a real sense of challenge with simple patterns and attacks. Mid-stage bosses, on the other hand, are awful! The mid-boss fights of each stage are not designed very well. For example: one encounter has you fighting a fire djinn, which creates fire pillars from the ground and shoots fireballs at you. This seems fine, until you realize that you can’t physically damage the djinn itself, but you have to instead shoot the fireballs he fires at you, but not just the fireballs, but the slow moving ones, because the faster ones will just hit you. And the worst part about the encounter is that the game doesn’t telegraph the fact that it’s the fireballs you need to shoot and not the genie, so if you didn’t know any better, you would think that the boss was just broken!
Or how about the Treestache boss, where it fires spores at you whenever you destroy a mushroom, uses a long screen-wide branch with spikes to hit you from above and below, and branches that burrows under ground and attacks in a repeated half-circle fashion, now normally the way this boss would be designed and the way you would have to beat him is to destroy a mushroom, avoid the spores, avoid the branch, and avoid the ground attack by going underneath the empty space given, and repeat, but, unfortunately the boss ends up being bad when you realize that you cant do that last step as going in-between that empty space actually hurts you! Breaking the pattern ensuring you will get hit! The only reason I beat the boss was because I maxed out on potions and saved them for the boss, which leads to another problem.
It seems that the game seems to want to force you to rely on items in order to progress through the stages, basically ensuring that you’ll purchase them from the shop to give the diamonds you earn more of a purpose but all this does is annoy me, and the reason is thus: The player should never be forced to have to upgrade or buy items just to be able to progress in a game, ever. Shovel Knight for example gave you the option to buy items, however it wasn’t required, except for two, so you could effectively beat the game without items. Gryphon Knight on the other hand wants you to do so, and whether it was by unintentional or intentional design, the game suffers because of it.
From the music to the art and character design, the game’s presentation just doesn’t stick in my mind in any way, even Sir Oliver is a good example of that. Sure he looks okay, but he’s no Super Mario or Rocket Knight that’s for sure, Mario is charming and has an appealing design, Rocket Knight is cute, and pretty unique for a character, anthropomorphic knight that uses a jetpack and a sword, uh heck yeah! A mustachioed knight with gray armor and a gryphon? Hmm, maybe if you gave Oliver a red and gold paint job, get rid of the ‘stache and have him fly a dragon, then maybe you got something. Unfortunately though his design and gray color palette does leave something to be desired.
With everything considered, the gameplay design flaws, near useless items, and overall dull presentation, is the game worth it? Well? I guess that depends on what you think a below average game is worth, but to me, this game is not worth that much.
If only the game was as epic as it sounded. If only, if only.