Steam Greenlight has lingered so long past its supposed expiration date, it’s devolved into Valve’s openly sleazy red-light district, overflowing with shovelware and wannabe developers desperate to score a buck. It’s a real shame, because Greenlight is also responsible for gems like Gryphon Knight Epic. Developer Cyber Rhino Studios is about as independent as they come, the Brazilian-based trio of creatives even funded the project through Kickstarter. If you’re a fan of classics like Metal Slug, or pretty much any of the old school 2D shoot ‘em ups, then Gryphon Knight Epic is going to feel both nostalgically familiar and refreshingly unique. If mixing shoot‘em up action with exploration and duel-like boss battles sounds like an absolute blast, then spending a meager $11.99 isn’t much to ask for.
Gryphon Knight Epic isn’t the next Fez or Journey, but that sort of appraisal tends to be more reductive than telling. Cyber Rhino Studios makes no promises to revolutionize the indie scene. It’s a charming budget title designed for a niche audience that still embraces the beauty of 8-bit. Gryphon Knight Epic is a little on the short side, with only eight levels, but each has been meticulously designed and offers plenty of replay value to those willing to tackle a higher difficulty.
"If you’re a fan of classics like Metal Slug, or pretty much any of the old school 2D shoot ‘em ups, then Gryphon Knight Epic is going to feel both nostalgically familiar and refreshingly unique."
You play as Sir Oliver, a knight who has already defeated the big bad dragon, married his beloved princess and secured the kingdom from evil. Oliver’s peculiar story revolves around fighting adversaries that were once his friends, and figuring out why they have gone rogue. It’s a an engaging tale enveloped in gorgeous pixel graphics and a self-aware sense of humor that perfectly fits its quirky world.
Gryphon Knight Epic sets itself apart from other classic 2D shoot ’em ups by offering open and explorable levels. Shmups are typically linear and move gamers in one direction without the ability to backtrack and veer off the path. Gryphon Knight Epic plays more like a traditional metroidvania-inspired platformer, with paths opening in all directions and hidden collectibles enforcing exploration. The openness is a nice touch, and certainly gives levels more diversity, but the restrained execution reads as shallow. The various branching paths feel somewhat limited, and it doesn't take much to discover everything the levels have to offer. Since the game is so short, the sense of exploration and discovery feels like a tease, instead of a fully fleshed out idea.
"With an attractive price point and charming visuals, this is a fun adventure that’s sure to scratch that nostalgia itch for a weekend."
Fortunately, Gryphon Knight’s gameplay truly shines, particularly the punishing yet rewarding difficulty. Like the classics it takes inspiration from, Gryphon Knight Epic isn’t for those seeking a casual experience. Even on normal difficulty, the game’s enemies can quickly drain your health if you aren’t an expert at maneuvering erratically moving attack patterns from each side. The game’s open levels further add to the difficulty as the enemies reset each time you re-enter a scene. If you’re stuck backtracking to flip forgotten switches, and your energy levels are low, it’s pretty much game over.
Gameplay is snappy and responsive, and even the toughest levels feel fair due to perfect responsiveness and movement fluidity. Memorizing patterns and saving up special attacks for the toughest choke points is key to staying alive. Each one of the levels boasts a tough endboss that’s sure to cause some frustration, but defeating them is equally satisfying.
In an endless sea of greenlit gunk, Gryphon Knight Epic stands out as one of the finer offerings. With an attractive price point and charming visuals, this is a fun adventure that’s sure to scratch that nostalgia itch for a weekend. Hopefully, the developers can expand the open-level approach further if there’s ever to be a sequel, but until then, check out Gryphon Knight Epic if you’re feeling trigger happy.
Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: PC