Inti Creates have earned themselves a reputation in recent years, through titles like Blaster Master Zero and the Azure Striker Gunvolt series, of creating visually-intricate and technical 2D platformers. Their games scratch the nostalgic itch while not reverting to the technical problems and gameplay hurdles that we’ve long since moved beyond. Part of what makes Gunvolt appealing is that it refines and expands upon a formula we see in the Mega Man X series, and it’s a similar intent that defines the company’s approach to their latest project, Grim Guardians: Demon Purge.
It’s best to look on this project as the team’s take on Castlevania, with their trademark twist on the formula. We have characters from the Gal*Gun series lifted and transported to a more Dracula-esque fantasy world, and the game certainly plays like a blend of these two franchises. Announced just days before the recent Bitsummit event in Kyoto, Japan, and with the developers admitting it was touch-and-go whether the game would be ready to be showcased with a public-facing demo, Demon Purge turns out to be undeniably familiar yet refined food for fans of metroidvanias.
Admittedly, at a glance the game struggles to differentiate itself much from its Castlevania inspirations beyond the lead characters. With their school turned into a demon’s castle, Shinobu and Maya go to investigate the cause of this bizarre transformation. Enemies that they face on their journey look like ghouls and skeletons and fantastical creatures of stone that are somewhat reminiscent of monsters in Konami’s well-loved franchise, albeit with some unique attacks. It’s perhaps not helped by Shinobu’s attack patterns, which mix long-ranged rapid-fire and diagonal shooting that feels like Belmont’s dagger. Maya, on the other hand, uses a short-to-mid range rapier that gives more differentiation.
While this may sound somewhat negative, there’s more to be said about Demon Purge than making a (at times close) comparison to the games that inspired it. Movement is clean and enemies are varied even in the early stages of the game I got to try in-person in Kyoto, while the ability to switch between the characters in single-player, with their different attacks being better for certain enemies over others, gives some much-needed variety to proceedings.
It’s the co-op potential these two characters unlock that’s perhaps most exciting in this metroidvania template. Two players can pick up a controller and be let loose in the level at the same time, opening up new possibilities for traversal. You can ride on your friend's head, and jump off them to progress past problematic moments. You can even turn into the masks each character wears and float alongside your partner if an area is giving you trouble. If one of you falls, it’s possible to revive the other using CPR, which makes it possible to bring even those less-experienced with the genre into the fold.
Hidden areas, and the potential for new abilities and additional excitement offered by co-op, makes Grim Guardians an intriguing proposition. How exploration and traversal plays a factor in the game will be key to its success, something the vertical slice at Bitsummit didn't really provide, yet the mix of difficulty and accessibility make for a vibrant, challenging game that’s still open to newcomers and veterans alike. With the game still early in development, and no release window currently announced, we’ll need to wait and see how everything comes together, but Inti Creates also have the track record to make this a rather exciting adventure.