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Review: Grim Guardians: Demon Purge

Updated: Feb 27, 2023



You can never go wrong with an Inti Creates game. From Blaster Master Zero to Azure Striker Gunvolt to Bloodstained, the developers have proven themselves time and time again that they are more than capable of delivering high-quality 2D platformers. I honestly don’t think I’ve played an Inti Creates game I didn’t love; and the same holds true with their newest release, Grim Guardians: Demon Purge.


Story:


In Grim Guardians: Demon Purge, you play as sisters Shinobu and Maya Kamizono. They are both currently in high school, training to be what most high school girls dream of becoming – demon hunters. It’s a backstory that would make Buffy proud. The game picks up just as Kurona, a low-level demon, is seething over a recent loss to the aforementioned sisters. While roaming the halls of the demon world’s high school, she stumbles upon a giant mirror. Suddenly, an event is triggered through the mirror and the real world and the demon world merge, bringing the Kamizono sisters into a castle that looks awfully familiar to fans of a certain vampire-whipping video game.


Shinobu and Maya enter the castle and come to find out that their schoolmates have either gotten lost or kidnapped by the demons of this world. They then set forth to rescue their friends, find out why the two worlds merged, and put an end to the demon threat. Sounds like a typical day in the life of a demon hunter. The story unfolds via character dialogue at the beginning and ending of each stage. The conversations between characters are lighthearted and funny, while still keeping things intense. There’s one fourth-wall-breaking conversation in particular that really had me cracking up when the girls came across a giant plant boss. I won’t ruin exactly what is said, but trust me – you’ll get it.


I must say that I was a bit thrown off by the characters in Grim Guardians: Demon Purge. The way they interacted with each other without any kind of an introduction made me feel like I should know who they are. The opening sequence with Kurona especially had me thinking “Is there a deeper backstory that I am unaware of?” It wasn’t until I did a little research that I discovered that these characters are all part of the Gal Gun universe. I wasn’t familiar with that franchise, but that did help make sense of things. For characters that had such personalities, I would have preferred to see some exposition in order to get to know their backgrounds.





Gameplay


When I first saw the trailer for Grim Guardians: Demon Purge, I thought this was going to be a traditional Metroidvania. So if you’re like me and thought the same, let me set the record straight: Grim Guardians: Demon Purge is NOT a traditional Metroidvania game. Now, before you stop reading, please know that this is not a bad thing! The game is actually a pretty fresh take on the formula. I’d say it’s more of a mixture of Castlevania, Metroid, and Mega Man – a Megatroidvania, if you will.


Grim Guardians: Demon Purge is linear; that is, there are individual stages. Think of it like Castlevania III. You’ll start and end each stage at the same spot, but there are different paths that you can take. As you navigate each level, you’ll be fighting bad guys, rescuing your friends, and finding secrets (yes, there are breakable walls). At the end of each level is a boss; defeat the boss and you’ll be rewarded with a new weapon and ability. At the beginning of the next stage, you have the option to warp to a prior stage. You can then use your newfound abilities to reach previously-inaccessible areas and rescue more students.


The fresh gameplay element here is that you take control of either Shinobu or Maya, and can swap out at any time with the press of a button. Each sister has her own health bar, so it’s a good idea to switch to one when the other’s health is low, then switch back when you find some health. The sisters’ play styles are different, too. Shinobu is your long-range character. She totes a badass uzi with unlimited ammo – although you’ll need to reload the clip when it empties. This makes her best for taking out enemies from a distance. Maya, on the other hand, is all about getting up close and personal with her blade. She is significantly stronger than her sibling, but has a smaller health bar. You’ll really have to do some on-the-fly swapping depending on how you want to handle each enemy / boss.


The sisters also share a “purge” gauge. This is a large, purple bar that fills up as you collect the needed components throughout the game. Once full, the sisters can execute a massive attack that takes down almost any enemy in one huge, screen-filling move. In addition to this, each character earns a sub-weapon at the end of each level. Shinobu’s sub-weapons are related to attacks – she can throw a knife on an upward angle, toss grenades, and take down enemy armor with a grapple hook. Maya’s sub-weapons are more related to movement and accessing hard-to-reach areas. She has a parasol that allows her to float (and protect from downward attacks), a penguin that freezes enemies and water hazards, and a doll that runs forward, breaking any spikes in its path. These are just a few of the additions that can really shake things up beyond the two basic attacks.


Should one sister fall in battle, she is knocked out. You are then sent back to the prior checkpoint as the other sister, and must reach and resuscitate her by hitting the Y button (Xbox) repeatedly. She comes back to life, regains half her health, and you’re ready to keep going. If you lose both sisters, you lose a continue and must restart at the last checkpoint. Yes, in the basic game you do have lives, but you can choose to play a more casual difficulty with unlimited lives. There’s also a hardcore difficulty that unlocks after you beat the game. And even cooler, there’s actually a two-player local co-op mode, so you and a friend can each play as a sister at the same time!

Gameplay is rock-solid. Button presses are responsive, the game flows with no slowdown, and boss battles are both fun and challenging, without being unfair. I honestly had no concerns at all about how the game plays.




Aesthetics


Grim Guardians: Demon Purge is a pixel-art, 2D sidescrolling platformer. If you have played any of Inti Creates’ games in the past, you’ll know exactly what to expect. Characters are 16-bit-ish, backgrounds are detailed, and character close-ups during dialogue scenes are very well-drawn. The enemies are pretty basic, but it is pretty cool when they slice in half when Maya takes them out. Also, as Shinobu peppers them with bullets, their blood stains items in the background. It’s a subtle flair that really adds to the immersion of the game. Boss battles are amazing, and each boss is memorable in both size and personality. There’s also some cool visual throwbacks to the games that inspired Grim Guardians: Demon Purge. I chuckled at the first boss, who, let’s just say, was more than a “wink and a nod” to the 1986 classic NES game.


Animation is smooth and easy on the eyes. Sound effects are also respectable; I particularly enjoy the crisp metallic sound when Shinobu reloads her gun. However, not all is perfect in the sound department. While the voice actors for Maya and Shinobu do an amazing job, the frequency in which we hear them is a little too excessive. Every reload, every health power-up, and every time we switch characters, we’ll hear the same comment over and over. If you’ve ever played Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. It really would have been nice to decrease the frequency of hearing their voices, using High on Life’s option as a perfect example. Music is standard for this type of game; you’ll hear familiar gothic tones that that would make any fan of the genre proud.





Overall


Grim Guardians: Demon Purge is a fantastic game. It’s got challenging gameplay, gorgeous 2D pixel animation, and memorable characters. Controls are tight, the game isn’t overly difficult (unless you choose it to be), and it’s got a lot of personality. Characters are lively and well-voiced, and you are constantly forced to choose the right character for the situation and switch on the fly. The game itself is pretty short, with only seven levels, but it extends this by encouraging players to go back to each level and find the missing schoolmates. Those of you expecting a true Metroidvania may be let down, but honestly – give it a chance. Sure, it’s not what you were hoping for, but you’ll be plenty satisfied with what you’ll get.


Final Score: A

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