2D, sidescrolling shooters are not as easy to come by as they used to be, and finding a good one is even harder. So when I got the chance to play a demo version of Gryphon Knight Epic a year ago, I was pleasantly surprised by the game's tight gameplay, great level design, and wonderful aesthetic. And I'm pleased to report that the game is still just as good as it was in 2014.
Gryphon Knight Epic follows Sir Oliver, one of eight animal-riding knights, and his trusty gryphon, Aquila. Long ago, Sir Oliver and his comrades slayed a dragon and saved the princess before looting the dragon's horde. Others took weapons and treasure, while all Oliver was left with was an amulet. Years later, the weapons began to corrupt his fellow knights, and Oliver was pulled out of retirement to not only battle his evil self but use the amulet to restore his friends to their normal state. Simple, but the ending still managed to hit me right in the heart
Gryphon Knight Epic works with a Megaman style map where you are given multiple other knights to battle, although some of them are locked until you beat the first two. The levels themselves are very varied, ranging from deserts to the frozen north. Each of them look great and have unique enemies, such as kobolds riding pterodactyls in the jungles and harpoon-wielding fishmen in the ocean. Plus, levels have branching paths and aren't always linear, sometimes requiring you to backtrack to find secrets.
Speaking of looks, the entire presentation is fantastic. Areas are lusciously detailed, with colorful backgrounds and foregrounds to marvel at. However, it's not a good idea to get too distracted, as enemies come in punishing waves that will make quick work of you if you aren't careful. Every level also has a boss and mid-boss, which play very differently. A midboss is your standard shooter boss, a giant wall that fires off pattern-based projectiles, while the level bosses are one on one duels with fellow animal-mounted knights.
Once you defeat a knight, you take their weapon with you, which can dramatically change the way you play. While you'll always have your trusty crossbow, you'll also get weapons like lances and longbows. Obviously, they don't all work like the crossbow, so it's fun to switch between weapons to suit different situations. However, they run on energy that depletes with every shot and recharges over time, so it's wise to use them only in dire situations.
The game has three difficulty modes, which boil down to easy, normal, and hard. The higher the difficulty level is, the more loot is gained, so its not all for bragging rights. At normal difficulty, the game is perfectly fine, albiet a bit frustrating with the lives mechanic. However, I suppose if the lives get too grating, you can always go down to easy mode, where they're completely absent and everything is fine and dandy ... except for the still hair-pullingly annoying bosses.
All in all, Gryphon Knight Epic is a fun game. That's really one of the only descriptors I can give it. It's not particularly deep, the music is memorable but not masterful, and the gameplay is basically just Gradius meets Shovel Knight. Do I mind at all? No! I just had such a good time with the game that part of me was hoping when all the knights fell and the final boss was slain, there would be more game to explore. But, as it stands, Gryphon Knight Epic is a short but sweet ride through several fantastical levels of shooting.
Gryphon Knight Epic was reviewed on the PC, with a key provided by the developers.