By: Mike Chen
Chances are you’ve played a game like Gryphon Knight Epic before, but never one that quite fits this mold. Side-scrolling shooters used to be a dime a dozen, though one has never featured a knight riding a gryphon while firing a crossbow — nor has one featured the specific design issues that plague Gryphon Knight Epic.
You would think it’d be easy to get controls right for a side-scrolling shooter. There’s movement, shooting and power-ups. That’s generally the case here (shoot/charge, rapid shoot, item) except for one huge game-breaking difference: a button to change direction between left and right.
As a mechanic on its own, it’s not that big of a deal, but when combined with the game’s core mechanic it creates many playability issues.
Clearly inspired by the 16-bit era, Gryphon Knight Epic features large and colorful sprites that tell the tale of Sir Oliver as he battles a wide range of mythology-inspired bad guys. They’re detailed and large; if this had been a true Sega Genesis or SNES game, it would have been top of the line. Of course, this is modern hardware, so it’s merely a well-stylized aesthetic.
The game’s sound follows the same model and almost sounds as if the synthesized music was designed to emulate the SNES MIDI system. Compositions are effective without being particularly memorable, and sound effects are similarly retro. Note that there are no voiceovers despite the game’s narrative.
The aforementioned direction-change button was probably considered an innovative way to add a new gameplay dimension, allowing players to attack and be attacked from all sides. However, this creates two huge problems.
First, it’s cumbersome, even on a PS4 that allows you to use the trigger buttons as well. Second, the screen scrolls based on your direction, meaning you’ll run out of room really quick when you’re switching directions.
What would have worked much better is if they turned this into a twin-stick shooter or simply had movement dictate shooting direction.
It doesn’t help that Gryphon Knight Epic is one hard game. Sir Oliver is a huge sprite, which means that he gets hit really easily. Weapon power-ups are available for purchase based on collected coins, but they’re expensive and require extensive grinding to afford them.
Bonuses are acquired at the end of each stage, which can be played in an order you choose ala Mega Man. However, to get through these, you’ll have to slog through many, many deaths and a significant amount of starting levels from scratch.
Cute artwork and a unique premise (A knight! On a gryphon! With a crossbow!) don’t overcome extreme difficulty and clunky design choices, making Gryphon Knight Epic only suitable for those who are gluttons for SNES-style punishment.