Gargoyle’s Quest is an early Game Boy platformer with RPG elements, and a spin-off of the Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins series. As one would expect from a game in that series, it’s difficult, but the difficulty is that of precision execution rather than rote memorization. It’s a game that stands out with some fun and interesting mechanics that are well-suited to the Game Boy.
The core innovation of Gargoyle’s Quest is that your character, a gargoyle named Firebrand, can fly to a limited extent. He cannot gain height, but his flight capability is fully restored immediately upon landing on the ground or a wall, most of which Firebrand can cling to. Combined with Firebrand’s relatively slow movement, the result is a thoughtful platformer that is as vertically-oriented as it is horizontally-oriented.
The game does an excellent job continually training your platforming skills. You have no way to engage enemies above you, and can only engage those below by losing altitude, so gaining height is key in many battles. In some ways the combat is reminiscent of Joust, though Firebrand actually attacks with projectiles. You gain more flight time and higher jumps as the game progresses, and the challenges ramp up to match. You’ll have to learn how to get every inch possible out of your flight distance, how to transition from walls to floors, and how to adjust your altitude multiple times between landings.
The boss fights are also platforming challenges, generally consisting of an arena with a series of platforms where your primary goal is to maneuver away from the boss and any projectiles it may be firing. This is very much a defensive game, as Firebrand can’t take many hits, resulting in a combat style where you’ll take potshots when you can but give priority to defense.
While Gargoyle’s Quest’s action sequences are generally great, you’ll also spend a lot of time in an RPG-like overworld. Nothing directly dangerous happens here, but the slow and stilted text crawl speed can make your adventures frustrating. The game seems to go out of its way to dole out the fun stuff as slowly as possible, which is too bad.
Gargoyle’s Quest is tough, but fair, and mastering it is quite satisfying. It’s a well-designed and well-contructed game, though as an early Game Boy title is it unsurprisingly quite short. It’s also much more generous than Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins, offering a password system that saves your built-up stock of lives and even a multiple-use healing item. The challenge here is mastering Firebrand’s controls, and the game focuses on that to its benefit.