One of my favorite classic games is Castlevania. There’s something so awesome about the gothic offering from all those years ago, that every generation seems to crave a revisit to this particular masterpiece. Saying this, this is going to be a really hard title to emulate without coming over as a bit of a poor rip-off. I’m saying this because I’m playing a game at the moment that I can’t help but compare to this storied franchise and amazingly it appears to be holding its own. Today’s title is Grim Guardians: Demon Purge and this new addition to the Switch library, (PC and a bunch of other consoles,) is in my book at least, a very welcome one.
Grim Guardians: Demon Purge follows the story of a pair of demon-fighting sisters. I’m not going into too much detail about the plot in this review for two reasons. The first of these is that I never do because I don’t like spoiling things for those of you that want to play and the second, a slightly more important reason is that the story is completely nuts. Let’s just say that going to school is killer. This is especially the case when the school in question has been merged with a hell dimension. You’ll have to work your way around the enemy-filled maze that’s been left while battling your way through all manner of infernal minions if you’re going to bring peace and order back to this place of learning.
There’s also one particular student who might cause you somewhat of a problem. She’s upset with you and she’s not entirely human, to begin with. When you think about the end result, “upset” for a demon is kind of similar results-wise to “upset” for a lot of teenagers so you can probably catch my drift. Also, if you happen to be a kid in Japan in virtually any video game DO NOT go to school! Really bad things always happen in those places, the truancy rates must be massive.
I think I was a little cruel when I said that Grim Guardians: Demon Purge was a Castlevania clone. It isn’t in the truest sense and I don’t just want to throw this game in the Metroidvania category because I feel like it’s a love letter to a lot of the things that made Castlevania truly magnificent and it feels more like an arcade action romp with a Metroidvania feel. Metroidvania is partly a genre but also a set of rules and tropes that a game has to follow to be classed as part of it. It’s not like other genres where it just comes down to subject matter and mechanics.
This title feels very much like Castlevania in its essence but unlike that game which has an ever-expanding map with lots of sub-areas, this one still has defined levels. You’re encouraged to backtrack, though, because there’ll be lots of areas you can’t reach until you’ve acquired some new abilities. As a basic example of this, you can only jump so high and there are loads of platforms that are just slightly out of reach. You’ll acquire the paper crane ability after the second boss though and this can be dropped to create an origami platform. Suddenly those platforms aren’t quite so out of reach and you can explore other areas in the zones you’ve already visited. You’ll get other forms of transport as you go, but I’ll let you discover those for yourselves.
In Grim Guardians: Demon Purge The sisters are different enough that you’ll want to try and use both of them to your advantage. Maya, the younger of the two sisters is a melee menace. Those demons that just want to get all up in your face aren’t going to be doing it for long because she carries a whopping big sword alongside a plethora of other shiny, pointy objects. If on the other hand, you just want to waste your foes before they have time to react, you’ll need Shinobu, the machinegun-wielding older sibling.
Shinobu is more interested in ripping the enemy apart in a hail of bullets and deploying heavy explosives than really getting her hands dirty. Why bother with grace and finesse when you have a metric fuck-ton of heavy artillery at your disposal? You’ll realize pretty quickly that you’ll need to master the skill set presented by both of the girls if you’re going to succeed. The great thing is that you can switch them out on the fly assuming they’re both still alive. As an additional note to this there’s a really cool ability to revive a fallen sibling if you can keep the remaining one breathing, so you won’t waste lives if you’re careful.
One thing I noticed remarkably quickly is that Grim Guardians: Demon Purge is not an easy game. You’ll be getting bombarded from all angles by a multitude of demons. The mix of enemies really keeps you on your toes and it’s incredibly easy to get blind-sided. Making this worse in my opinion is that it’s often difficult to dodge attacks coming toward you. Neither of the girls jumps very high and there’s been a number of times that I’ve thought I’ve cleared an obstacle only for it to kill me.
What makes this frustrating is that I don’t think that it’s my poor playing in this instance, it’s felt like something more out of my control. It’s like the hitboxes on the girls need to be made smaller because a wave of fire beneath their feet shouldn’t hit them and still does. You can’t resolve this by making them jump higher for understandable reasons because a big part of this game is that certain areas are inaccessible until you have the means to navigate to them. We don’t want to take away from the heart of the game, we just want to feel like we’re getting a fair chance.
Grim Guardians: Demon Purge is a brilliant take on the Castlevania trope and is different enough not to be selling out or copying the former series. This is a bright, colorful, and action-packed platformer with a difficulty curve that feels just right. This also applies to the bosses you’ll face along the way. These enemies feel significantly harder than anything else, (as they should,) and will give you a challenge deserving of their role.
What they won’t do is create an impassable roadblock that will only leave you frustrated. The difficulty is definitely there but it’s moderated and this is something that’s completely worth noting. This being said, the guitar-wielding demon bunny can bight my hairy behind. You will see what I mean when you play. Lastly, on the note of mitigating difficulty. You can choose to play through the entire game on a set number of continues or give yourself infinite ones. If it’s your first time playing a game like this or while you’re finding your feet with it, I’d recommend the second option. There’s no shame in giving yourself a fighting chance while you get the hang of things. You can adjust the difficult to the way it was intended when you’re comfy with everything.
All in all, if you love games that let you explore while giving you the sort of arcade challenge that I know a lot of platform fanatics love so dearly Grim Guardians: Demon Purge is absolutely worth your time. I’m not particularly a platform fan and I keep picking up my Switch and jumping back in, and I feel that this is a testament to just how good this game is. As a little side note, I noticed that on Steam this title is called Grim Gals, not Grim Guardians. Just type Demon Purge into the search and it should throw it up for you. Doesn’t affect this review but it’s still worth a mention.
So why isn’t this a 10 out of 10 game? Well, there are no glaring issues here, it’s going to come down to personal taste as it so often does. I think the controls could be a touch tighter and it feels a little bit easy to get hit sometimes. The graphics while nice aren’t groundbreaking and nothing about this game is earth-shattering, (again for me,) and those very high marks are reserved for titles falling into almost perfect territory. This game is not perfect but it’s bloody good fun and that should be more than enough to get you to have a bit more of a look if you like this style of play.
Grim Guardians: Demon Purge is a hell of a lot of fun. If you want to follow a slightly eccentric story while slaying all manner of hellspawn this is a really good way to go. Don’t expect an easy run and the controls can take a little getting used to. When you get everything nailed, though, this is the sort of game you’ll want to go back to until you’ve found everything there is to see.