Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!



#47 – Gargoyle’s Quest II

Every Gargoyle deserves an adventure.

The dark, foreboding music fits perfectly!

To Beat: Reach the Ending
Played: 3/9/17 – 3/17/17
Difficulty: 6/10
My Difficulty: 3/10
Video: Gargoyle’s Quest II Longplay

The concept of a spin-off in media makes a lot of sense. A spin-off can take a supporting character from an existing TV show or movie and give them their own story while giving the storytellers an already established base to work from. Spin-offs have naturally made their way into video games too. One notable example is the Wario Land series which started as a spin-off of the Game Boy game Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins. Wario was the villain of that game but became the protagonist in his own adventure. On the NES, there aren’t very many examples of spin-offs, but today I am going to cover one. The annoying “red devil” enemy from Ghosts ‘N Goblins gets not only an actual name, but also his own adventure in Gargoyle’s Quest II.

The Gargoyle’s Quest series originated on the Game Boy. All games in the series were developed and published by Capcom. Gargoyle’s Quest was initially released in Japan in May 1990. The US would get the game shortly thereafter in July 1990, and it also saw release in the UK in 1991. The game was popular enough to warrant a sequel that jumped platforms to the NES and Famicom. Gargoyle’s Quest II was named Red Arremer II in Japan, seeing release in July 1992. The US received Gargoyle’s Quest II in October 1992, and the European release was in June 1993. The NES game was also ported to the Game Boy in 1993 under the name Makaimura Gaiden: The Demon Darkness, though only in Japan. The third and final game in the series was named Demon’s Crest in both the US and Europe and Demon Blazer in Japan. This Super Famicom and SNES game was nearly released simultaneously in Japan and the US, coming in late October 1994 in Japan and early November 1994 in the US. The European release was also released last, launching in March 1995.

Gargoyle’s Quest II is a hybrid between a platformer and a top-down RPG. You play as the red devil Firebrand, who upon returning from training, finds his home has been wiped out by the mysterious Black Light. Firebrand sets off on a journey to solve this mystery and save the Ghoul Realm. The game initially looks and feels like an RPG. In this top-down view, you can explore towns, enter buildings, collect items, and talk to other ghouls to gain valuable information for your adventure. These towns and other areas in the game are all connected via a large overworld. However, all the action scenes take place in a side-scrolling view. Here you control Firebrand as you jump and fight your way through various stages of action gameplay.

The overworld ties the action sequences together.

During exploration, you can use the D-pad to travel in four directions. You’ll notice right away that Firebrand moves around very quickly in this view. He goes much quicker than the slow, plodding movement in other NES RPGs around this period. Use the A button to talk to other ghouls and interact with some objects. You will also use A to advance the text when talking. The Start button brings up the menu where you can choose from a few options. The Level menu item lets you view your current status. The Tool option lets you look at and choose certain quest items you will find. The Magic option lets you view and choose which attack you can use during the action sequences.

In the side-scrolling sections, use the Left and Right on the D-pad to walk around. Contrary to the other view, Firebrand moves slowly and deliberately. Press the A button to jump. If you press A again while in the air, Firebrand will flap his wings and hover for a short while. While hovering you can move left and right, allowing you to fly and cover much greater distances than just jumping alone. Press B to attack by spewing a small projectile. The Start button both pauses the action and brings up a sub-menu at the bottom of the screen where you can switch between attacks.

There are two mechanics in the side-scrolling areas that complement each other and form the basis for Firebrand’s movement. First is the hover ability briefly mentioned above. In the game, it is referred to as Wing Level. There is a large bar on screen that indicates how long Firebrand can hover in place, and it depletes quickly. When it runs out, Firebrand will fall, or you can choose to fall before it runs out by pressing A again. This wing stamina will restore to full strength as soon as Firebrand lands on solid ground or clings to the wall. This brings me to the second mechanic which is wall climbing. The Wing Level gives Firebrand extended horizontal movement while wall climbing gives him vertical movement. Thus, the levels extend in all directions to accommodate all his movement capabilities, as well as involving spikes and other such hazards in many places to keep Firebrand on course.

Climbing around spike-laden walls is required often.

There are a few items Firebrand can find during the side-scrolling levels. Hearts restore some of Firebrand’s health. There is a life meter on the status bar indicated by small hearts that show how many hits Firebrand can take. There are also red jars called vials that act as the game’s currency. Every now and then you can find a light-colored jar that will expand the maximum number of hearts.

Firebrand can expand his capabilities by items he acquires on the overworld. These are generally given to Firebrand after completion of certain stages or by talking to creatures. They are pretty weird items that slot into a few different categories. There are nail items that increase his Jump Level so that he can jump higher. There are wing items that increase his Wing Level which lets Firebrand hover for a longer time. There are armor items that increase Firebrand’s Life Level which gives him more hearts on his life meter. There are magic items that provide him new attacks. Finally, there are tools which are passive items that are needed to interact with certain characters to advance the story.

The magic items are the most interesting as they both give Firebrand new attacks as well as expand his capabilities in interesting ways. Firebrand starts with the Fire attack that launches a small projectile for attacking enemies. Next is the Buster attack that is a bit stronger than Fire but also can break blocks. The Tornado attack generates a small temporary platform that Firebrand can land on and restore his wing stamina. The Claw attack can form a protective surface against a wall of spikes, giving Firebrand a way to cling to them temporarily. There is also a final magic ability that is useful at the end of the game.

Creating your own platforms sure comes in handy!

I mentioned the vials earlier as the currency in the game. It turns out they are only used for one thing. There are certain creatures throughout the game that will allow you to exchange your vials for the Power of Maelstrom. It is the game’s fancy way of saying an extra life! They do come in handy for tricky areas. However, they get more expensive later in the game.

One more optional item you can find in the game is the Essence of Soulstream. To get it, you have to find two different items in the world and bring them to a person who can combine them into the Soulstream. This item can be used in the platforming levels from the menu. It can only be used once but it lets you restore your health all the way to the maximum. The best place it comes in handy is during one the boss fights that occurs at the end of some stages.

There are some ghouls on the overworld that will provide you with a password if you talk to them. Not only do you get the password, but you also set a checkpoint here that you will return to if you lose all your lives. The passwords are 16-digits, all 0-9, with a mandatory dash in the middle for readability. The passwords have just the right amount of complexity to save all your items and vials, yet they are not unwieldy to use.

Gargoyle’s Quest II has fun boss fights, including this difficult one.

I have played all the way through Gargoyle’s Quest II a few times before this run. Like many late NES Capcom games, it is pretty expensive at around $75 or so. This was one game I bought long before the prices skyrocketed. I had learned of this game in college and I decided to search it out on eBay. It may well be the game that got me to create my eBay account in the first place, I’m not sure. I found a copy for $6, and I even remember the seller was only 30 minutes away from me. I played through the game when I got it and I went back to it periodically over the years.

I’m not incredibly familiar with the game but I was able to work through it without a lot of trouble. The game takes several hours to play through the first time, and I can get through it in around two hours. I played it over three separate nights just due to time constraints. There was only one spot in the game where I lost all my lives and had to restart, but otherwise I think I played well. This is the kind of game where I normally would not record an entire longplay, but I was good enough at the game that I captured one this time. So, if you would like to see the game in its entirety, you may!

Gargoyle’s Quest II is a quality platformer that is fun to play. When you see the Capcom logo on an NES game, chances are it’s a good one and this game is no exception. It has detailed graphics, sprawling stages with good platforming, a haunting soundtrack, and a large overworld that ties it all together. There are only a few things I don’t like about the game. The overworld can be dull to traverse, and there is a bit of a difficulty spike early in the game where you need to cross over a fiery river. There is also some slowdown when many enemies are on the screen. Frankly those are minor complaints. The game is solid and I find it fun to play through every now and again. I’m glad I had the good sense to seek out this game many years ago!

#47 – Gargoyle’s Quest II


New Walkthrough: Ghoul School

I suppose I am all about starting up completely new categories on this blog!

I decided that I wanted to try my hand at writing up my very first game walkthrough. I had teased this idea in my Ghoul School blog post and today I made it a reality. I had mentioned this in that same article, but for my first playthrough of Ghoul School I meticulously mapped out each new room that I entered so that I could more coherently explore the school to complete the game. A walkthrough really makes sense as the next logical step to consolidate all of the information I collected while I played. This would be a good resource for someone who either got stuck in the game or for someone who wants to just cut to the chase and take the most straightforward way through Ghoul School.

Ghoul School Walkthrough

In addition to the walkthrough, I edited the Ghoul School blog post with a link to the walkthrough, and I also added a link to it in the Game List. That should give it enough visibility!

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Ghoul School Box Cover

#23 – Ghoul School

I’m willing to bet the name of the game was thought of first.

A nicely detailed title screen!

A nicely detailed title screen!

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 4/16/16 – 4/22/16
Difficulty: 4/10
My Difficulty: 4/10

With a game library as big as the NES has there are sure to be several interesting games hidden away. Well, interesting is a word that can certainly be used to describe Ghoul School but I’m not sure it’s the best one. There is absolutely an intriguing game here that is pretty creative but ultimately it falls flat in a number of ways. However, just like several other games I’ve covered, it has grown on me and I’m glad to get to share it with you.

Ghoul School was released on the NES in March 1992 and it is exclusive to North America. It was developed by Imagineering and published by Electro Brain. I was surprised to learn that Imagineering developed several games for the NES but having looked at various lists online most if not all of their games are not regarded very well. Their best known games are the three Bart Simpson games on the NES. Electro Brain published six games on the NES and all of them are ones that could be consider obscure.

Ghoul School is a side-scrolling platformer. You play as a high school student Spike who finds a mysterious skull and brings it to school which ends up causing all sorts of nefarious creatures to take over the place. It’s up to you to both rid the school of evil and save the head cheerleader. You start off in the main hallway of the school armed with only a baseball bat, but you can explore the school freely searching for more weapons and items that will help you explore the school. It is very reminiscent of Metroid in this way. Each room is individually numbered and displayed at the top of the screen to help keep track of where you are in the school.

The ghouls look much more terrifying than they actually are.

The ghouls look much more terrifying than they actually are.

There are several weapons to find in the school and you can switch to any collected weapon you want. Everything has unlimited use so fire away. One of the first weapons you will find is the towel which has better range and is also somehow more powerful than the bat. There are also a number of guns that let you attack from a distance though they generally deal less damage. Some weapons fire downward to help you attack enemies on the ground. There is usually one weapon best suited for a particular situation so there will be lots of switching weapons around.

There are also a couple of different pairs of shoes you can equip. You start off with basic sneakers but you will also need to find the spring shoes and suction cup shoes. The spring shoes cause you to jump higher and they also make you taller. These are needed to pass by tall obstacles in order to explore further in the school. The suction cup shoes let you walk along the ceiling provided the ceiling is low enough to reach with a jump.

You will also find apples that restore your health. Green apples restore a quarter of your health and red apples fully restore your health. The best of all is the golden apple. There’s only one of these in the game but it is a permanent upgrade that cuts your damage received by half. Enemies don’t drop any health pickups so you will have to seek out these items as you explore the school. If you play the game for a little while you’ll figure out where you can generally find the healing items.

The school map contains a lot of areas that you would expect to find in a school. There’s a gymnasium, cafeteria, office, library, and so on. These one-off locations are the areas you want to search out because they contain the weapons and shoes you need to progress onward. These areas also feature unique ghouls that are tougher than the standard enemies and they often require specific weapons to take them out. Think of them like bosses. There are several of these unique enemies which is a nice touch.

Other than the deep void of darkness in the background, this does resemble a weight room.

Other than the deep void of darkness in the background, this does resemble a weight room.

Now all of this so far may sound pretty good, but there are a number of things that really hurt the game and make it hard to play. The biggest sticking point is the physics of the character. Spike feels very heavy to control. He takes some time to build momentum and takes even more time to slide to a stop. The jumping is very stiff and doesn’t seem to respect gravity. He falls down just as fast as he jumps, and this makes it very hard to make long-distance jumps. These movement problems are really evident early in the game when you have barely any attack range with the bat. You have to get really close to deal damage and more often than not you will run right into the enemy until you get used to the controls. Some of the early enemies attack really quickly as well leaving you with a small window to get in and hurt them.

The other physics related complication is that colliding with the enemy gives you really severe knockback. Trying to fight enemies with short range attacks is so frustrating in Ghoul School. Either you don’t get close enough to deal any damage or you get too close and get thrown backwards. Now for some reason the developers decided to place enemies right at the entrance to some of the hallways. What happens is that you try to get close enough to attack and if you accidentally touch the enemy then you get thrown back into the previous hallway. Now you have to start all over and try fighting the enemy again. This happens in several locations and it only provides unnecessary frustration. The only solace here is that once an enemy is killed it remains dead. It will only respawn after you travel many rooms away.

I'm pretty sure most of the classrooms are for teaching history.

I’m pretty sure most of the classrooms are for teaching history.

Along the same lines, there are some enemies that are too low for you to properly attack. One little recurring nuisance of an enemy is called Blinky. They scurry around at ankle level and they run super fast. You can’t duck in this game and the majority of the weapons attack too high for you to deal with these critters. The weapons that do reach down don’t shoot downward quickly enough to be effective. For example, the first weapon you will come across that can reach tiny ground enemies is called the Digestaray. It shoots a straight shot that curves toward the ground. To use it against Blinky, you need to have it already equipped and start firing off shots the moment you see it running on screen. If you wait too long you will shoot right over its head and now you have no chance of killing it. Blinky will never leave the screen instead opting to run around you just outside of attack range and it will bounce you all over the place with the knockback. They don’t do much damage at all, but they make it really tough to make any kind of forward progress in the room.

The whole game really boils down to exploring one giant maze. A large portion of the game map consists of similar looking hallways and similar looking classrooms that for the most part don’t hold anything of interest in advancing your quest. The hallways often have doors that lead to isolated classrooms, and the hallways link together via walkways and stairways at the end of the hall. Each end of the hallway can have up to three exits: Forwards, upstairs, or downstairs. Many of the hallways are just empty dead ends. It is very confusing to make sense of the layout. Having every single room in the game numbered is about the only thing that makes rooms distinguishable.

You will see your health bar on the top of the screen as well as the health bar of the enemy you are fighting. There’s also a scoring system that doesn’t really mean anything since there’s no high score keeping. It doesn’t show up during game play, but Spike has five lives in all and you see how many lives are remaining in between lives. There are no extra lives in this game. It’s not obvious but you do continue when you start over. You start back at the school entrance with all of your collected items intact. There’s no saving in this game and no passwords so you will have to beat it all in one shot.

As expected, the science experiment went wrong!

As expected, the science experiment went wrong!

The graphics in this game are more than adequate. It very clearly looks like a school. There are several interesting setpieces that are unique to the areas they are found in. For instance, the weight room has a huge, detailed exercise machine right in the middle. You can walk behind the bookshelves in the library and see yourself peeking behind the gaps in the books. The graphics may not be super great but they are interesting to look at. The character designs are really strange and creepy. Many of the enemy types look like people and they are generally drawn very tall and lanky. Spike changes visibly when switching weapons and shoes for a nice touch. The music isn’t too bad. Perhaps it might be grating to some but I didn’t really mind it.

I bought my copy of Ghoul School on eBay for $10 a couple of years ago. It was selling for around $15 at the time so it was a nice deal, but I missed that the fold on the label was completely torn off so that the end label and front label are split in two. It’s not awful but I’ll want to upgrade it at some point if I ever run into another copy. My local store had one for $10 for a long time but the end label was faded really badly so I kept passing on it. It eventually got bumped up to $18 and since then someone bought it. It’s not a game I’ve seen around much so I’m not surprised someone else snagged it.

Certainly this is punishment for severe misconduct!

Certainly this is punishment for severe misconduct!

This was my first time beating Ghoul School. I had only tried it when I got the cart and I pretty much dismissed the game as weird right away. When I started out this time, I wandered around and almost instantly got lost. I have a good sense of direction overall but this game made me at least question it a little bit! I realized the only way I was going to make sense of this school was to go old school and draw a map. The art of video game map making goes back a very long way but I believe this is the first time I have ever drawn a map for a game. It turned out to be a very good decision since I only had to hit the unnecessary portions of the map once. Each time I played I got a little bit further and it didn’t take that many attempts to complete the game.

Without spoiling a lot of the game, there’s not much more for me to say about Ghoul School. What I will say is that I found the game got more interesting the farther I went. The last quarter of the game in particular did a few things that I thought were really kind of neat. I believe I have almost all of the game mapped out in my notes. After I finished the game I combed over my map and tried to find all the rooms by number and there were some I did not account for. I’m not sure if these are rooms that I missed or rooms that were not used in the game at all. I think I developed a pretty good route through the school and now I can finish the game relatively quickly. I’m toying with the idea of writing up a more thorough walkthrough. If I ever do that, I’ll host it on the blog and link it here. I’ve peeked at a few walkthroughs online and I’m sure I could do a better job.

UPDATE 7/18/16: Indeed, I did create a Ghoul School Walkthrough. Check it out!

It’s hard for me to recommend playing Ghoul School, but after wading through the control difficulties and getting a handle on the map I really enjoyed this game. Metroid-styled platformers are one of my favorite types of games and so now I have a soft spot for this weird little NES adventure. One final thought: It’s too bad that this game didn’t emerge on my list around Halloween as that would have been most fitting.

#23 - Ghoul School

#23 – Ghoul School