STAFF REVIEW of Gryphon Knight Epic (Xbox One)

Sunday, April 3, 2016.
by Adam Dileva

Gryphon Knight Epic Box art In today's world it seems that even if a game is successful with a Kickstarter campaign that it's not always a guarantee it will see the light of day or be what was initially promised. Cyber Rhino Studios, developer of Gryphon Knight Epic, asked for a modest amount of funds for their fundraising campaign, and they were successful, and they have also delivered on their promises, one of which now includes a console version of the game on Xbox One.

Given my age, I grew up on now-retro games and shoot 'em ups, or schmups as they are so fondly referred to, so mashing the two worlds together should be a no-brainer and gamers like me should enjoy it. Normally shmups have you piloting a spaceship or aircraft of some sorts, but Gryphon Knight Epic went in a completely different and unique direction. You play as Sir Oliver, not to be confused with his clearly inspired long lost cousin, Sir Arthur from Ghosts 'n Goblins, who rides upon his trusted Gryphon, Aquila. Essentially a medieval shmup, you're going to enjoy yourself if you're a Mega Man fan, as it pulls many design elements straight out of its' page.

I was honestly expecting a completely throwaway story that relied on the overused 'save the princess' trope, but I was pleasantly surprised when this wasn't the case. Gryphon Knight Epic begins with brave knight Sir Oliver and his friends defeating a monstrous dragon, saving the land, and taking home a massive haul of loot. Normally this is how most game narratives end, but Gryphon Knight Epic has a sense of humor, and as time passes, Sir Oliver begins to get bored of all of this peace and prosperity. He's even got a little husband-belly to show for how easy life has been since the dragon was defeated.

While all his friends looted fancy new weapons from the dragon horde, he was left with a simple amulet, but he was content with his takeaway as he got to go home to his loving princess. As it turns out, the weapons his friends took were cursed, turning them into evil versions of their normally good natured selves, and the only cure happens to be Sir Oliver's amulet. It's a straightforward and amusing little story that's a welcome backdrop for this type of adventure.

As mentioned above, Gryphon Knight Epic borrows design elements from the classic Mega Man titles, down to the choice of which world/boss you want to tackle in any order, and obtaining their weapon after besting the boss in combat. And just like the Mega Man games, having certain weapons for certain battles will make things much easier, but it is not necessary.

Each stage's setting is tied to the specific cursed friend you're trying to save, and you'll also find varied enemies, unique bosses, and multiple difficulty levels. The boss battles were easily the highlight as they usually filled the screen with their size and scope, and each one needs to be tackled in a completely different way. For example, one boss battle has you essentially solving a puzzle while dodging attacks before being able to damage the boss himself. The variety of the stages and bosses keeps the game fresh throughout, even post credits when you continue playing to grind for coins and upgrades.

Like any shmup, the core gameplay is classic 2D side-scrolling where you need to avoid enemies and projectiles at all costs. Luckily, Sir Oliver has armor and carries potions (if you remembered to purchase them), so you can take a few hits unlike most shmup one-hit-deaths. Enemies will come from many directions, even behind you, so you'll need to have some quick reflexes and utilize all the tools in your arsenal to survive, especially on the harder difficulties.

The stages auto scroll, moving at a particular speed, so you need to make sure you compensate accordingly and be alert. You're also able to freely turn around, facing either left or right, and shoot in said direction at enemies. The problem with this though is that it will also set the auto scrolling to go in the direction your facing. So instead of simply being able to 'turn around' and shoot something behind you, it will reverse the whole flow of the gameplay until you turn back around and go the other way. It's an interesting mechanic, but did cause me quite a few deaths due to the sudden jarring of momentum switch, even more so when you need to change directions many times in a short period.

Gryphon Knight Epic pushes you to master your reflexes and abilities quite quickly. There are a few stages and sections that spike in difficulty, but nothing that seems terribly unfair once you learn the patterns (except that elephant boss, I'll never play that level again). Earning the stage bosses weapons not only earns you a sweet new secondary weapon that essentially uses a refilling 'mana' bar to shoot, but it really varies the combat, making it somewhat strategic when choosing what weapon to use in which circumstance. You can change your weapons with a simple button press, along with what squire (essentially a sidekick that grants you a passive bonus such as extra shooting, shields, etc) on the fly, allowing you to change your strategy quite quickly.

You earn coins for defeating enemies, bosses, finding secrets, and more, and this currency is used to upgrade your weapons, upgrade your squires, buy potions and other items. The top upgrades for most items are extremely pricey and will take some serious grinding if you want to max out everything out. Luckily there are difficulty choices in each level to keep things challenging as you become more powerful.

The biggest complaint I have pertains to the issue of Sir Oliver's hitbox. The hitbox is essentially an invisible square around the player character, when it makes contact with an enemy or projectile this is and is what registers you as being 'hit'. The hitbox for Sir Oliver seems larger than it should, especially on his top half. If any part of him touches a projectile, even the very tip of his helmet, you'll take damage. He's quite a large character in relation to screen size already, and during hectic boss fights it's near impossible to not get damaged in some way because of this slight 'unfairness'.

The sprite based art style is very well done, and with each level varying drastically in scenery and backdrop, it contains a lot of small details that any retro fan, including myself, will appreciate. The same goes for the music, as it sets a tone and vibe that is fitting for the scenery, gameplay, and genre.

Speaking of gameplay, it is simple yet challenging as you want it to be based on what weapons you choose (if you even choose to use them). If you're in my age range, you'll no doubt enjoy its classic retro style as memories of Mega Man flood back. There are plenty of secrets to find, exploration to be had (which I can't remember a decent shmup having), and just enough humor to keep everything light hearted, even if the script isn't always the best.

For those that care, there's a healthy amount of achievements given just for progressing through the game, and even more to hunt that will take some time and challenge you greatly. Fans of retro style games and/or shmups should enjoy their time with Gryphon Knight Epic; I know I did.

Overall: 7.3 / 10
Gameplay: 7.5 / 10
Visuals: 7.5 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10



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