Here’s the thing, Castlevania is one of my favorite series of all time. The series’ aesthetics, the music, and the 2D action platforming have always brought me great joy. Sadly, however, Castlevania as a game series has been slumbering deep for a while now. I was excited and a little confused when I discovered Inti Creates was working on a sprite-based Castlevania-like featuring the Gal Gun series. I’ll admit that I have little to no experience with Gal Gun as a series. I do have a good amount of experience with Inti Creates’ catalog. They’ve proven themselves a very strong studio when crafting 2D games and is one of the leaders in crafting Castlevania-likes with the Bloodstained series of games. Now, in the new Grim Guardians: Demon Purge, the Demon Hunting Sisters Shinobu and Maya have a new adventure. Can they save their school from the demons that have taken it over? Will my desire for more Castlevania-style goodness be fulfilled by a series I know almost nothing about?
Grim Guardians: Demon Purge’s story is straightforward. Kurona, a demon who our heroines deal with regularly, has somehow caused the sister’s school to transform into a castle. The sisters spring into action, discover their classmates trapped in the castle, and battle against the forces of evil. As the game progresses, you will fight monsters, perform a multitude of different kinds of platforming, rescue classmates, and solve the mystery of their school’s transformation. Grim Guardians’ story’s simplicity works mainly to the game’s benefit. In place of a complex story, we get snappy character interactions that do a fabulous job of endearing us to the main characters. There is no escaping the anime tropes, but at least I found none of them grating. Whether it’s Shinobu’s slightly ditzy moments or Maya’s commentary on the current moments, I got a few chuckles throughout. It makes the player feel they get to know the sisters more after completing the story.
Grim Guardians: Demon Purge’s overall presentation is outstanding. Inti Creates is well known for excellent sprite work and fantastic backgrounds. The amount of detail crammed into the character’s monsters and environments are incredible. I had a few “Oh, that’s rad!” moments throughout. The stages are old staples, like a demon-infested garden, a library laden with traps, and a clock tower. Of the seven stages you play through, the only one I thought was a bit dull was the underground cave. It lacks anything that would generally make it stand out more. I had two minor gripes about Grim Guardians: Demon Purge. The first of which is about the languages available. While there is an English voice option, it is limited to the in-game lines only. None of the dialogue for the story segments is voiced. They are fully voiced in the original Japanese voiceovers. This isn’t a deal breaker for me personally, but I can see it being at least disappointing to some. The other is in the overall soundtrack. I found it was thematically fitting, but here isn’t a song I can think of that I would listen to outside of gameplay.
Playing through Grim Guardians is a satisfying experience. Shinobu and Maya fit very different roles. Shinobu can attack at range and has more health but cannot hit smaller enemies. Maya has less health but can dish out much damage, reach smaller enemies, and crawl through tight spaces. The two establish an excellent balance of gameplay styles that keeps the combat flow consistent. When playing solo, you control one sister and can swap instantly to meet your needs. If one runs out of health, you are brought back to the last checkpoint, and one must return to where one died. You have a chance to revive the other sister and keep going. If both sisters fall, you lose a life. Lives can be earned by slaying monsters and finishing bosses without taking damage from their desperation attacks. If you fall during a boss battle, they retain a certain amount of the damage dealt to them, and you are sent back to the checkpoint just before the boss. I dislike this system because it can put you in some very rough situations. One sister may not be equipped to get through, such as platforming sections where the other sister is required to get through. This could cause boss battles to be stressful. In co-op, the fallen can be revived assuming they haven’t fallen down a pit, but they can revive at specific checkpoints. The only other major complaint I have regarding the gameplay is that some of the platforming feels a bit stiff because the lag jumps a bit off. That and knockback from damage makes it relatively easy to fall into pits.
While Grim Guardians: Demon Purge has some apparent flaws, I still found plenty to enjoy. Inti Creates a strong sense of style shown through not only the sprite work, but also in cool monster design, backgrounds, and menu elements. Apart from the jump timing taking some getting used to, I rarely struggled with control issues and each of the sisters has a distinct enough play style that my playthroughs never got stale. Playing the game solo and co-op are both really fun and there’s enough content here to come back to for future playthroughs. It’s well worth the price if you’re looking to fill that Castlevania void, even if you aren’t familiar with GalGun.