Title: Gryphon Knight Epic
Version Tested: PC
Available On: Windows, Mac, Linux
Developer: Cyber Rhino Studios
Publisher: Cyber Rhino Studios
Genre: Shoot ’em Up, Bullet Hell
Official Site: https://gryphonknightepic.com/
Release Date: August 20, 2015
Where to Buy: Steam
A knight rushing to rescue his friends aboard his trusty mount – a gryphon named Aquila? A retro-themed, side scrolling shoot ’em up? Mega Man style level selection, with unlockable weapons and three different difficulty selections? Gryphon Knight Epic checked all those boxes and found its funding through Kickstarter in August of 2014. While it does deliver on a lot of these ideas, Gryphon Knight Epic also suffers from a few major issues. It has infuriating difficulty spikes, some bizarre control options, and it just really brings nothing new to the table. Overall, Gryphon Knight Epic is a solid concept that stumbles in its execution.
Gryphon Knight Epic starts strong with an interesting story and tutorial section. You control Sir Oliver, who rescues and marries a princess from the clutches of an evil dragon at the beginning of the game. Now living a calm and subdued life, Oliver is pulled back into adventure by the consequences of that victory: each of his friends has been cursed by the loot obtained from that adventure, and only he can set things right. Mounting his trusty gryphon, Oliver must fight through a series of R-Type + Megaman levels, rescuing his friends and obtaining their weapons. The basic design choices are all there, and the retro graphics and music brought a smile to my face and instantly brought me back to my Super Nintendo days. Unfortunately, the sense of nostalgia wears off quickly and a few big issues present themselves.
Most side scrolling shoot ’em ups have a rough difficulty as a key draw. Players dive into these games knowing a challenge is imminent. In Gryphon Knight Epic, this difficulty is there for all the wrong reasons. The first is the radical difficulty spikes the game employs. There are three difficulties: way too easy, really hard, and nope. It is not even a matter of execution, either; Sir Oliver’s sprite is gigantic and sluggish. He fires rapidly but ultimately is unable to maneuver in such a way that makes it feel like you could survive even with some skillful execution. “Cheap” is not a good term to describe difficulty, and that’s exactly how this game feels. I rarely felt accomplished after completing a level; I more felt like a lucked out and pumped a bunch of money into healing potions.
One of the key selling points of Gryphon Knight Epic was that the player could tackle stages in multiple ways. Turn around and backtrack, go down multiple paths and explore new routes. Enemies can attack from all directions, and the player needs to react accordingly. This would be great, except for one huge execution flaw that significantly hampered the game: you can’t shoot behind you. You have to physically turn the sluggish Sir Oliver around with a button press to kill enemies behind you. This would be an ok issue to deal with, except that this button press also shifts the direction that the screen scrolls. This is a jarring gameplay mechanic that disrupts the flow of Gryphon Knight Epic to the point where I never wanted to turn around. Forget about it if I was moving diagonally; I’ll just start the stage over.
Even with some gameplay issues, Gryphon Knight Epic has some good elements to it. Occasionally I found myself hitting that zen moment, specifically in some fun boss battles. A few standouts included one battle with an archer and their pet gorilla, and another involved dodging laser blasts while trying to solve a puzzle that could bring down the enemy’s shield. The shop where you can upgrade your attacks and add a follower (such as a dragon that provides extra firepower or a shield guardian) allows you to customize your tactics to a specific style of gameplay. And Gryphon Knight Epic‘s obvious Megaman inspiration (right down to the screen where you obtain the new weapon) adds a tangible reward and sense of anticipation for completing each level.
Even though the graphics of Gryphon Knight Epic are bright and stand out well, there are some strange choices. Enemies are easy to spot and are fairly easy to assess, but sometimes the weird design choices bleed through again. In the desert level, Sir Oliver fights the guards from Aladdin, a giant fiery genie, and metroids. Why metroids? Why do I rescue a man with a jet pack from an evil wizard? It sounds like nitpicking, but nearly every level had, at least, one point where I thought, “Why did they put this in the game?”
Even with its interesting soundtrack and graphical style, the big failing of Gryphon Knight Epic was that it was boring too often. It fails to find that difficult-yet-fair level that makes you want to keep playing. It also brought almost no originality to the table. It tries to have humorous interaction between Sir Oliver and his friends that often falls flat. The level design is about as cliched as it comes. Desert, pirate, jungle? Check, check, check. Clocking in at only eight short levels, Gryphon Knight Epic needs to fire on all cylinders to make it worth your while. Generally, it just stumbles over too many things to make it a game to recommend.
Gryphon Knight Epic is a solid first effort from Cyber Rhino Studios, a tiny Brazilian team of only three people. Even though it never quite reaches the level of the games it emulates, this is a studio to keep an eye on. Strong concepts with some flawed execution might indicate some impressive releases in the future. Gryphon Knight Epic might be worth picking up if it goes on sale, but it is too bland and punishing to recommend otherwise.
- Gameplay: Old school side-scrolling shoot ’em up. Bizarre mechanics and clunky design make it more difficult than it should be.
- Graphics: Charming sprites and bright color palette hearken back to SNES days. Cheery but unoriginal.
- Sound: Again, soundtrack that sends you back to the old days. Practically non-existent sound.
- Presentation: Megaman meets R-Type. Strong inspirations, but nothing new or original. Is not as funny as it wants to be.
- Retro graphics, music, and gameplay
- Good combination of inspirations
- Strong concept
- Execution cannot match concept
- Insane difficulty spikes
- Sluggish controls and design choices add superfluous difficulty
- Boring and unoriginal