The classic schmup genre – it seems to have been around forever. We’ve seen countless games released over the years including classics such as ‘R-Type’, ‘Gradius’ and the bullet-hell experience that is ‘Ikaruga’. The simplistic appeal combined with the often infuriating difficulty has made sure that there’s still a place in today’s market for the genre. Of course, it’ll never be a triple-A genre or even really evolve any of its gameplay mechanics – that doesn’t stop developers bringing new schmups to the market though. It’s a good thing; whilst the previously mentioned titles are much loved classics it’s nice to see modern developers try something new with the genre. Gryphon Knight Epic is the latest schmup release, brought to us by Brazilian developer Cyber Rhino Studios.

Gryphon Knight Epic

Most schmups don’t really provide an in depth narrative to drive the player on in their adventure but Gryphon Knight Epic tries to buck the trend, without treading away from a few clichés along the way. You take on the role of Sir Oliver, a crossbow bearing knight who aims to slay the forces of evil with his faithful steed, the gryphon Aquila. Sir Oliver and six other heroes had previously saved a Princess from the clutches of an evil Dragon; whilst Oliver’s comrades took treasure and weapons as their rewards, Oliver settled for a mysterious amulet and the Princess’ hand in marriage. Time passed and life was peaceful for Oliver, but being the keen adventurer he was missed his glory seeking days. It’s almost fortunate then that the amulet was cursed, causing all the evil inside Oliver to manifest as a dark, corrupted version of himself – promising to wreak havoc and destroy all that is precious to Oliver. The game revolves around pursuing this evil version of Oliver and putting an end to its wicked ways.

Along the way you’ll come across your previous comrades who are also corrupted by the curse that has befallen you – fortunately though their evil side hasn’t manifested into a form of it’s own.

It’s a simple story but the developers manage to keep it entertaining with humorous dialogue between the characters along the way. You won’t be fully engrossed with the tale; as I said it’s riddled with clichés and doesn’t really go into a lot of depth, but it certainly does enough to keep the player entertained. It’s simple yet effective.

Anyone who has played a schmup before will be aware that they quite often feature a hellish difficulty, causing even the most experienced of gamers to either give in or smash their controllers in rage. Fortunately, whilst a challenging experience, Gryphon Knight Epic never had me furious with it’s difficulty. Sure, there were times when I had to constantly retry a level or boss battle but it’s something you remedy by being more aware of the enemy positions or learning their attack patterns. Those who are having a real difficult time with the game can lower the difficulty but I wouldn’t recommend it; a lot of the appeal of the game is through having a bit of a challenge so taking that away is like taking something away from the games essence – the only exception being the last stage which has you taking on each of the games bosses again before letting you take on the final boss, all in one life. I hated that.

Gryphon Knight Epic

The developers promised an exploration element to the game and that is offered through the ability to manoeuvre left and right throughout the levels. There’s even occasions where moving up and down the map is an option. The levels have sub-areas to explore and even branching paths along the way; whilst the sub-areas are optional (but normally contain much sought after gold) the branching paths offer a bit of flexibility to the player. I found some paths were easier to explore than others so naturally that will give gamers I bit of incentive to explore if their going to find the best ways to survive through a level.

The exploration is pretty minimal though; through the most part you simply keep going left until you reach your goal. The feature is there, it just could have been fleshed out a bit more.

The freedom with you movement has its flaws though. Enemies come at you from all directions, meaning you’re often required to turn around to shoot at them. This causes the camera to pan in the opposite direction though, often leaving you vulnerable to further oncoming enemies and their projectiles. It’sawkward more than anything. Sir Oliver’s movement speed is also quite slow, something that won’t bother you whilst you’re carefully picking your shots to take out your enemies but unfortunately noticeable whilst exploring or backtracking.

You’ll come across a wide variety of enemies on your adventure in Gryphon Knight Epic, each of the eight stages in the game offering plenty of enemies unique to that area. The enemies all have a variety of attacks too – some will be brave enough to try and attack you from close range though most of them will be shooting projectiles at you from afar. Whilst the game never reaches the bullet-hell levels of schmups like ‘Ikaruga’ that doesn’t mean the screen is barren of attacks; you need to be fully aware of your environment and constantly moving if you’re going to survive through the constant spears or magic projectiles homing in on you.

Gryphon Knight Epic

Each stage consists of two levels that feature a boss fight at the end. The boss battles are very entertaining and offer a lot more variety to the standard levels. You’ll be carefully learning the boss attack patterns; what it is going to do and when. They all have a few tricks up their sleeves and are out to get you – this is a challenging game after all. They are never unfair though; the only moments where I found myself swearing at the game was when I had a boss down to very low health and I got a little cocky, resulting in me trying to get those few extra hits in that resulted in my death. Though frustrating the only person to blame was myself – the game is never unfair in that respect.

You will be well armed on your journey though. Defeating the main boss of a stage will unlock their weapon, the game offering six weapons to unlock in total. It’s a system akin to the ‘Megaman’  series with each weapon offering you a new method of taking out your foes and often being useful for certain levels, though admittedly I did find myself only really using two throughout the game. That doesn’t mean the other weapons aren’t well designed or useful, it was more a case of preference; other players might find more success with a sling shot, the bow or what I can only describe as a firework cannon. Each weapon can be upgraded using the gold you find along the way; it’s well worth doing this as the upgrades are really beneficial, especially with some of the tougher bosses. You may find yourself short of gold though, considering you lose a percentage with each death. Health potions aren’t cheap either and you’ll find yourself needing them a LOT during the game. You can also purchase squires, little minions that provide you with assistance during the game be it an extra projectile, enhanced gold pick ups or even healing you. They’re useful but there’s not much of a variety to choose from and none stand out as truly unique.

Graphically Gryphon Knight Epic has an old school hand drawn 2D style. It’s well designed and you can see the developers put a lot of effort in – the backdrops of the levels are busy and unique, the game seeing you travelling across the seas as pirate battles rage on, soaring across perilous deserts and through snowy mountain ranges. Sure, it’s everything we’ve seen before in games but it doesn’t make the level design boring by any means. Whilst the aesthetics are certainly presentable the game won’t really stand out in a market full of games with beautiful 2D art.

Enemy designs are fantastic though; there is plenty of variety and each enemy is unique to that stage. With a wide range of enemies per stage you’ll appreciate the work that has gone into making sure there’s plenty of foes for you to slay.

The music in the game is pleasant and each tune fits in with the environment. Whilst nothing really stood out nothing had me wanting to turn the sound off either. Same goes for the sound effects, everything was just effective.

Gryphon Knight Epic

Overall Gryphon Knight Epic was a very pleasant surprise to me. I enjoy a schmup but it’s never been a genre I’ve been totally absorbed with; yet Gryphon Knight Epic had me engrossed from start to finish. It’s not the most stunning of games and there’s nothing memorable with the music, but the core gameplay is enjoyable, engaging and will keep you going until you finally reach the credits (something that I managed in just over four hours on the normal difficulty). It has its flaws and is far from perfect, but thankfully all its positives certainly outweigh the negatives. I’d recommend the game to anyone who likes an enjoyable challenge, something that will keep you entertained for a few hours or for anyone who likes a good old fashioned schmup.

Pros
– Fun, engaging gameplay
– Great enemy designs
– Plenty of weapon variety
– Enjoyable boss battles

Cons
– Movement can be clumsy
– Exploration is minimal
– Graphically doesn’t stand out compared to other 2D games
– That last stage battle against all the game’s bosses – grrrrrrr!

7-score
Format Reviewed: Windows (Alienware Alpha i7)