Initial release date: February 23, 2023
Platforms: PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Xbox Series X and Series S
Developer: Inti Creates
Publisher: Inti Creates
Genres: Platform game, Shooter game, Fighting game
"Review Copy Provided By Inti Creates"
Although I am not very familiar with the games that inspired Grim Guardians, particularly the GalGun series, I know that they focus on girls who are driven crazy with unnatural lust and must be calmed down by special bullets. Moreover, there is a recurring demonic trickster named Kurona. However, I did not initially see the connection between GalGun and Grim Guardians, except for the presence of demon-slaying sisters Shinobu and Maya. Nonetheless, after playing for nine hours, I now understand how Grim Guardians is related to the source material, and I appreciate how they subvert gamer expectations. Although it is for all intents and purposes the unofficial sequel to Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2, Grim Guardians is very much its own game.
The story of Grim Guardians begins with Kurona discovering a strange mirror in her lair, which causes the school attended by Shinobu and Maya to shift and twist, becoming overlaid with a demonic castle. Kurona has managed to merge her demonic dimension with the human world, and while the sisters are unsure of what is happening, they set out to investigate and defeat any monsters they encounter along the way.
The gameplay initially looks like it is a Metroidvania in the style of Symphony of the Night (the allure of the game is shooting for that and the GBA Vania games), it is ultimately more like classic Vania in its level structure while giving you room to explore and save the maidens trapped in the castle. The girls, Shinobu and Maya, control very fluidly albeit very differently from one another with Maya being your sword wielder who specializes in close quarters combat, while Shinobu utilizes a demon slaying machine gun to mow down enemies from afar. Each character has their strengths and weaknesses such as Maya being great for damaging enemies with her combo attacks yet also being a bit of a glass cannon as she cant take many hits and has a lower health bar than Shinobu. Shinobu is able to maintain a distance from enemies but her attacks are ultimately weaker than Maya’s and she will have to reload her machine gun after firing 100 bullets.
Being able to switch on the fly when playing single player reminds me of Castlevania Portrait of Ruin in many ways as that game had you switching between Jonathan and Charlotte on the fly to traverse and battle enemies. While this game definitely embraces that mechanic, even going so far as to allow you to stand on each other’s head to get to higher platforms, the game radically turns the genre on its head by allowing for 2-player coop and dividing the games mechanics between the 2 players. In many ways, you could say a lot of the coop mechanics and even in many ways the way Maya and Shinobu play is very similar to Inti Creates’s earlier release, Dragon Marked for Death, which was a modification on their earlier work on the Mega Man Zero/ZX series as well as the metroidvania formula (and is a game you should play!) allowing for up to 4 players simultaneously (locally and online).
While Grim Guardians is local coop only, it is still a blast to play with another player as I played through most of the game with my wife and we managed to make it through halfway of the game with her playing as Maya and me as Shinobu.
Grim Guardians: Demon Purge does an excellent job of introducing players to the game mechanics and allowing them to choose the difficulty level they prefer. As a fan of Castlevania, I selected the Veteran difficulty, which adds features such as knockback from enemy attacks and limited lives. Although this made some areas more challenging, I never found the game overwhelming, mainly due to the CPR mechanic. If one of the sisters dies, the other can revive them by quickly pressing a button, and they will come back with half health. However, taking damage while performing CPR will force the player to start over. Additionally, if both sisters are downed, a life must be spent to restart at the nearest checkpoint.
Each sister has a unique sub-weapon that provides additional exploration options. These sub-weapons do not require Weapon Points to use, and each one has alternate uses. For example, Maya can hover with an umbrella, while Shinobu can hang from walls with a grappling hook. The sub-weapons are complex and can be refilled by smashing objects to pick up more Weapon Points. Furthermore, some gated areas can only be accessed by using the appropriate sub-weapon to break through them. There are numerous hidden paths that can be discovered in this way, even though the game progression is relatively linear. Fortunately, players can use a pillar at the beginning of each stage to warp back to any previously completed location and explore further.
I found that Grim Guardians started off relatively simple for the first two hours, but things really started to pick up about five bosses in. Suddenly, all the side paths that I had noticed before were accessible, revealing many hidden secrets. I even stumbled upon some lost students from Shinobu and Maya’s school, who, when found, would heal my sisters a bit and help me unlock various achievements. The game is full of crafty hidden areas that lead to amazing items, and using the compass to find them was a big help, since there's no mini-map. For instance, I discovered bullets that increased the amount of ammo Shinobu could fire and an item that boosted the base health of both sisters. Despite wandering around quite a bit, I still didn't find all the goodies lying in wait in this demonic castle.
In my opinion, the boss fights are the true highlight of the game, as any Inti Creates fan would expect. Each boss tests my knowledge of each sister’s strengths and weaknesses and rewards me for acting accordingly. Rapid reflexes are also a must, especially on Veteran difficulty. I lost count of how many times I got knocked into bottomless pits during some of the boss battles. But once you learn their attack patterns, the CPR mechanic makes it manageable. There’s an excellent variety of bosses, some of which are clearly inspired by Castlevania, such as a giant bat composed of a swarm of tiny bats. One of my personal favorites is a clockwork angel, although there isn't a single boring boss. They all look fantastic and have wicked attack patterns.
When I first started playing Grim Guardians: Demon Purge, I was initially underwhelmed by how short it seemed. But as I progressed, the game's story took an interesting turn that reminded me of the classic game Ghouls 'n Ghosts. It opened up new paths that only became accessible during a second playthrough, and the bosses became even more challenging with new tricks up their sleeves. Even though I completed the game in around 9 hours, there's still plenty more to explore and multiple endings to discover.
For fans of Gal*Gun who might be worried about the game's tone, fear not! Grim Guardians is full of humor, with plenty of funny moments between the sisters Shinobu and Maya, as well as other characters. The voice acting and diverse language options also add to the overall experience.
As expected from Inti Creates, the visuals in Grim Guardians are breathtaking. The pixel art and hand-drawn portraits are impressive, and each area of the castle is visually unique, from Gothic hallways to underwater caves and a disturbing garden filled with blood sprinklers and angry plants. The boss battles are a true highlight, with some even referencing classic moments in gaming history. The music in Grim Guardians is mainly Gothic-inspired, which suits the game's atmosphere perfectly. I particularly enjoyed the use of classical instruments to enhance the action. Overall, Grim Guardians is a visually and acoustically stunning experience that I highly recommend.
In my opinion, Grim Guardians: Demon Purge is an excellent game, though there are a few minor issues that prevent it from being perfect. For the most part, the game runs smoothly, but during my second playthrough, I experienced some slowdown in the Library area. This was particularly noticeable in a sewer section with green slime pouring out of pipes, and the boss fight in that level was also affected. While the issue eventually resolved itself, it was frustrating at the time. Additionally, the fact that the game defaults to giving tips on how to beat bosses if you repeatedly fail may be indicative of a slight balance issue.
That being said, I still highly recommend Grim Guardians: Demon Purge. It is a testament to Inti Creates' ability to revive classic franchises with style and creativity. The combat system is intricate and varied, and the game's difficulty, while occasionally challenging, kept me engaged throughout my playthrough. Beating the game unlocks a new mode and difficulty, and playing with a friend in local co-op as both sisters is also an option. If you're a fan of platformers and are craving a new adventure with Castlevania-inspired elements, this game is definitely worth checking out.