As a huge Castlevania fan, I was ecstatic when Grim Guardians: Demon Purge was announced. Inti Creates already more than proved how capable and reverent it was of the series with the two Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon games. But seeing a new game using a 16-bit aesthetic to render the familiar, detailed castle corridors and series staples had me eagerly anticipating the title. However, I didn’t know it was a Gal*Gun spin-off at the time. Upon finding out, my heart sank a bit. But don’t let that fool you. This is a love letter to Castlevania and one of Inti Creates’s best games, even if some of the skeeviness that reared its head had me rolling my eyes.
Grim Guardians: Demon Purge kicks off with Gal*Gun‘s demonic antagonist, Kurona, somehow turning the series’ high school into a demon castle. The love interests from Gal*Gun: Double Peace, sisters Shinobu and Maya Kamizono, are demon hunters who set off to stop Kurona and turn the school back to normal.
Right out the gate
The game is fully voiced in Japanese, but the English dub has hardly any voice acting at all. Annoyingly, English is the default and the game’s menu has a bad habit of reverting to this when any changes to the resolution or screen mode are made.
This resulted in me playing through nearly the whole game wondering why there wasn’t any voice acting. The game can only be rendered up to 1080p as well, which is another blemish. But since it’s all pixel art, it’s hard to get too mad about this.
The story is as fluffy as you’d expect, and the first half is mostly devoid of any pervy shenanigans. The latter half shatters this, unfortunately, and tasks the sisters with collecting several pieces of women’s clothing for narrative reasons. I facepalmed when the game revealed that I could also collect underwear. I just wanted to do Castlevania things, Inti Creates.
In a move reminiscent of Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin, you control both Kamizono sisters. In single-player, you swap between the two with a press of a button, but there’s also a two-player mode where each player controls them individually. They both have completely different weapons and subweapons, so it’s a good idea to change them out regularly when playing solo. Shinobu fights with a gun and Maya uses melee weapons that appear to be made with spirit energy. Maya is the more enjoyable of the two, but she’s got significantly less health than Shinobu, so it’s typically safer to do most of your exploration as the latter.
Playing solo, if one sister runs out of health, the other sister respawns at the start of a previous screen and has to revive the other in the easy and normal modes. Easy mode has no knockback from enemy attacks and infinite lives, while normal has the opposite. Hard mode has it so you lose a life even if only one sister is incapacitated. On normal, running out of lives was never an issue. Getting another go as the character I wasn’t controlling was enough for me to keep going without both succumbing.
That isn’t to say that Grim Guardians: Demon Purge is easy. It can be fairly tough, and some of the bosses will kick your ass up and down the block if you’re not careful. The controls are pitch-perfect and the combat is similarly good, even if it can’t compare to the Mega Man Zero games. Shinobu and Maya can’t dash, but they’re not slow either. There’s a ton of platforming that rewards precision. As a Castlevania fan, I felt completely at home and this game softens the blow of that series not being around anymore.
Yes, but no, but yes
The big question when Grim Guardians: Demon Purge got announced was, “is it a Metroidvania?” The answer was a resounding, “no, it’s level-based.” This is true, but it’s honestly so close to a Metroidvania in spots that the lines are blurred. The game is made up of eight levels where you walk from the entrance to the boss. But these levels are packed with secrets and alternate pathways. Some secrets are surprisingly well hidden at that. And you can access many of these via abilities you acquire as you progress.
At first, Shinobu and Maya can only attack with their default weapons. But every time they beat a boss, they each gain a new subweapon. These subweapons work similarly to the ones in Castlevania, sure. Using most of them depletes your stock of pickups. But they’re not all combat-based; some of them don’t even use your pickups at all.
But there are also subweapons that are purely for navigation. Shinobu gets a grappling hook and Maya gets an umbrella that lets her fall slowly, but even these have combat uses. You go through the linear flow of the game’s first seven levels and then, in a nod to Ghosts N Goblins, you get kicked back to the start of the game. But you can teleport to any of the first six levels after clearing stage one again, and Shinobu and Maya gain even more new abilities that greatly enhance their capabilities. I was disappointed by this at first, but since the stages are built for replayability and exploration, it was hard to stay that way. Grim Guardians: Demon Purge definitely ticks those Metroidvania exploration boxes for me.
The game has more than one ending, although I’m not sure how to unlock any beyond the normal one. There are school students to rescue all over the levels and you then have to collect even more items after saving them all, so that’s likely related. I was expecting the game to only last a few hours, but you’ll probably have to put in a dozen or more to find everything without a guide. There’s also a boss rush mode that opens once you beat the game.
Having to redo the levels twice is disheartening and the fetch-questy nature of some of the game can be a bit annoying, but Grim Guardians: Demon Purge is an excellent time that more than satisfied my hunger for a new Castlevania. It’s got a surprising amount of content, awesome level design, terrific controls, and memorable boss fights, so everything comes together to make for a pretty fantastic game, even if I really wished it had a map.