Gryphon Knight, ain’t no doubt, we are here to party
After a successful Kickstarter campaign back in August 2014, Gryphon Knight Epic by Cyber Rhino Studios has arrived on PC, much to the delight of those who backed it and to those who know the central theme of the game. You’re a knight, riding a lion/eagle hybrid (or gryphon), and shooting everything in your path in a wide variety of beautifully rendered settings. It’s enough to make me visibly excited, and I’m British. We’re the least excitable people on Earth. You could show us a unicorn, sliding down a rainbow, singing Ave Maria, and we’d mumble that it’s slightly out of key.Gryphon Knight Epic is a 2D shoot-em-up set in a medieval world inhabited by dragons, pirates, Vikings and… Uh… Giant floating eyes. You play as Sir Oliver, a knight who previously, with the help of a select group of friends, defeated a dragon. Later, life’s a drag for the bored knight who finds peace isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Thankfully, the world manages to find itself in desperate peril before long.
‘Oliver Spectre’ (a spectre of Sir Oliver for the easily confused among you) arrives. We learn that each of Oliver’s friends looted a weapon from the dragon, and each weapon carries an awful curse, turning them into evil versions of themselves. Sir Oliver, who is just awful at this whole looting thing, picked up an amulet with the power to dissociate the good version from the evil version. Thus, our quest is clear. We must visit each friend and save them, before evil reigns supreme.
On to the gameplay, and right from the outset I should say that this is just good old-fashioned fun. I began playing and almost immediately had a smile on my face. First there’s the downright absurdity of it all. The Gryphon, the moustachioed knight with his big silly grin, the vast onslaught of weird and wonderful enemies. It’s hard to remember a time when I’ve been so quickly enamoured by any game.
Each level consists of two bosses: A mini-boss halfway through the level and your cursed friend at the end. Between each you’ll face waves of level-themed enemies as you make your way through the desert, sea or Lovecraftian village. If you play on medium, or ‘knight’, difficulty you’ll get a challenging experience with a reasonable checkpoint system. If, however, you’re one of the below-average gamers then you’ll give it a go as a knight, believe me you will, before trying your hand at the easy, or ‘Squire’, difficulty. And that’s fine. Play how you want to! And this, of course, is a thinly veiled attempt to excuse my need to lower the difficulty to complete certain levels. Please, leave me be.As you begin, you have just your crossbow equipped. You can increase your arsenal as you progress through levels, ‘defeating’ each of your friends and gaining their cursed weaponry for yourself. (The curse doesn’t work on Sir Oliver because of the amulet, or something. Look, it really doesn’t matter. More weapons!) There’s a nice weaponry range, with the ability to buy upgrades for each. My only gripe is that each newly acquired weapon is bound to an energy bar and therefore has limited uses. Not a massive drawback, but if you’re as forgetful as me you’ll often blitz through a level not even using any of the alternative weapons. You can also select a ‘squire’ for Sir Oliver – a tiny character that will circle around you. You can get a tiny knight to give you a bonus shield, or a tiny vampire to regen health when killing enemies, or a tiny dragon to shoot teeny tiny fireballs. Another word to describe Gryphon Knight Epic: Cute. So damn cute, if you’d like three.
The premise of having to defeat each acquaintance means that each level is distinct – from the glacial mountainous region where Asterion Hornedson has found a sudden penchant for warmongering, to the luscious green forest of Simiel Totec and his less-than-friendly gorilla. The aesthetic design is a triumph, with each area meticulously realised in great detail. It has all the polish of a game that far exceeded its Kickstarter goal, which is no mean feat considering they were only around a thousand bucks over. Right down to the intricate and free-flowing animations on our hero, the enemies and the scenery – it’s clear the developers were passionate about making the best game they could.
For all its polish, though, Gryphon Knight Epic isn’t a game without flaws. The story is perfectly serviceable, but the writing behind it could have gone through an extra round of proof-reading. It’s nothing too major, certainly nothing game-breaking, but you don’t expect typos appearing with as much regularity as they do here.Even putting typos aside: the dialogue, while sometimes cutesy and pretty funny, has a kind of B-movie vibe to it with awkward phrasings and weird non-sequiturs. It was never enough to put me off, but with better writing I feel the story could have held up on its own as opposed to simply feeling like a hastily-assembled string to tie all the levels together.
In terms of replay value, there are certain elements of exploration and a neat little bit of background lore that goes along with it. Early exploration also leads to the ability to enter previously inaccessible areas further into the game. However, with no elements of multiplayer or score leaderboards there’s bound to be a cut-off point. There’s definitely enough there to justify around a seven to eight hour playthrough, I’d say.
Overwhelmingly, I had an absolute blast with Gryphon Knight Epic, and I’d say it’s well worth the $13 price tag. Not only is it fun, it’s also horrendously cute. I mean, in the first level an enemy warrior threw a spear at me, it connected, and he jumped for joy shouting a delightfully high-pitched “woo-hoo”. Now, I’m pretty sure this is a personal first, but I was actively happy for the guy. An enemy successfully lobbed a large pointy stick into my chest, and I revelled in his victory. We’ve heard the stuff about video games making us rabid serial killers, but where’s the headlines about games making us actively want big pointy sticks in our chests, huh? Get it together tabloid editors.