Perhaps due to what seemed like an incredibly promising title, I began playing Gryphon Knight Epic feeling pretty excited. Less than an hour later, I had completed it, albeit mostly on the easiest difficulty level, and I was left feeling as if a decent opportunity had been missed.
Gryphon Knight Epic is a side-scrolling shoot-em-up featuring cute sprites set against pretty and varied backdrops. The unremarkable plot has our hero, Sir Oliver, piloting his trusty gryphon, Aquila, through eight stages of fairly generic enemies in order to save a bunch of his hero pals from an evil curse that was previously set upon them.
Here’s what I liked:
Looks all right — There isn’t much in Gryphon Knight Epic that warrants being called out as exceptional, but the art style is attractive. In general, I prefer lighthearted, cartoonish shooters, and this certainly qualifies as one of them, with characterful sprites and busy, colourful levels.
Tooled up — As Sir Oliver liberates each of his former friends from the curse that has befallen them, he gains access to their unique weapons for use in later levels. In addition, a store provides access to a range of squires, each of whom offers a different buff such as a shield or an additional attack. The special weapons can be equipped in conjunction with your main weapon, and the squires can gain access to additional levels of power that increase the bonus they provide. There’s nothing new here, and there’s no complex interplay between weapon choices or enemy types, but it’s fun to try out different combinations (of which there are many) and see how each works for you.
Big boss man — Although highlights are infrequent, some of the better bits in Gryphon Knight Epic are undoubtedly the boss battles. Each level features both a boss and sub-boss, and although some are infuriatingly cheap, others are really interesting and fun to play against.
Here’s what I didn’t like:
Unremarkable — Unfortunately, the main problem with Gryphon Knight Epic is that it is, simply put, pretty darn average. With only eight stages, it’s much shorter than the name suggests, and it just isn’t the kind of shooter that will have you returning again and again to chase down a higher score. The shooting element is improved by the weapon and squire combinations, but, to be honest, what you’re shooting at is a pretty dull bestiary of uninteresting drones.
Communication breakdown — The difficultly levels are incredibly hit and miss. The easiest is far too easy, and the hardest is far too hard, whilst the middle setting swings wildly between the two. Interestingly, once the first two levels have been completed, you can tackle the rest in any order, and, mercifully, the difficulty level can be changed at the outset of each stage, which means that if you find one particularly challenging or frustrating, you can always try again on easy or skip to another one.
Frustrating — For every boss I enjoyed fighting against, there was at least one other one that made me want to smash my pad through the TV in disgust. The best bosses in any game like this are tough but offer just enough of a tell to give the player a chance of defeating them. That’s not the case in Gryphon Knight Epic; some of the bosses have attack patterns that are almost completely unidentifiable. Elsewhere, Sir Oliver himself is very large and his hit-box is oddly shaped, meaning that dodging projectiles and other threats doesn’t have the natural, muscle memory associations that other games offer following prolonged play.
I went into Gryphon Knight Epic hoping (perhaps unfairly) to find an unexpected delight, however niche it might be. Sadly, what I got was a sometimes promising, often frustrating, always underwhelming and overly short shoot-em-up that fails to meet the expectations set by its own title. The art style is pleasant, and the weapon combinations are fun, but that’s not enough to drag this game out of mediocrity.
Score: Limited Appeal
Gryphon Knight Epic was developed and published by Cyber Rhino on Xbox One. It was released on March 30 2016 for $9.99. A copy was provided by Cyber Rhino for review purposes. Click here for information on XBLA Fans’ new scoring system.