Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!

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JUL
21
2017
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#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

 
DEC
02
2016
0
Archon Box Cover

#31 – Archon

Let’s kick the board game format up a notch with Archon.

Dueling dragons!

Dueling dragons!

To Beat: Win a match
To Complete: Win as both the Light team and Dark team
What I Did: Completed the game
Difficulty: 3/10
My Difficulty: 3/10
Video: Archon Longplay

Today is a big day for Take On The NES Library! I am finally incorporating game play videos for some games going forward, and we are kicking off this momentous occasion by talking about the first strategy game covered on this site.

Archon: The Light and the Dark was originally released in 1983 for Atari 8-bit computers. It was developed by Free Fall Associates and published by Electronic Arts. The game is notable both for being among the first titles published by EA and a huge hit for Free Fall Associates. The game was so popular that EA wanted a sequel quickly, so the developers released Archon II: Adept the following year in 1984. The original Archon was ported to many home computer systems and was a success on pretty much every one. The NES would receive a port of this game all the way in December 1989 published by Activision and Bullet-Proof Software.

Archon can be adequately summarized as an action chess game. There are two sides, light and dark, composed of fantasy creatures that duke it out for control of a 9×9 grid. Each side takes turns moving a creature from one space to another. If a character is placed on a square occupied by a member of the opposite team, the gameplay switches to the combat arena. Here you take direct control of your creature as you attempt to defeat the opponent by thumping or shooting them enough to deplete their life bar. Defeated creatures are removed from the board and the winner occupies the square. There are also five power spots on the board: One in the middle of each of the four edges of the board and one in the center. You can win by either destroying all of the enemy creatures on the other team or by occupying all five power spots at the same time.

One strategy is to try and hold the power points.

One strategy is to try and hold the power points.

The game board consists of light squares, dark squares, and shifting squares called Lumina squares. Light squares and dark squares always stay the same, but the Lumina squares change color throughout the game after every other turn. There are five different shades of Lumina square: light, light blue, blue, dark blue, and dark. All the Lumina squares start off blue and shift toward dark, then reverse and shift toward light. This cycle repeats through the course of the game. The color of these squares is important because light characters are stronger on lighter squares and dark characters are stronger on darker squares. It is to your advantage to engage in combat on those squares when they match your color.

There are several types of creatures in the game and they can be separated into two groups. There are ground creatures and flying creatures. Ground creatures cannot move through squares occupied by other characters and must have a direct walking path to the desired square. Flying creatures can go over units and land on any square within flying range. Each character has a range of squares they are allowed to travel during a move ranging from three squares to five. If a ground character can walk four squares, then it gets a combination of four horizontal or vertical steps and that’s all for that turn. If a flying character can move four squares, then it gets up to four squares of horizontal movement and up to four squares of vertical movement. As a result, flying creatures can cover significantly more ground per turn than ground creatures.

Ground characters on each side match up against each other on the board for the most part. The leaders are the light Wizard and dark Sorceress. They are the only characters capable of spell casting which I will get to in a little bit, and they also move via teleporting which evidently is exactly the same as flying but with a different animation. The light Knights and dark Goblins are the pawns of this game with short range attacks and weak stamina. The light Unicorns and dark Basilisks are quick and reasonably strong. The light Archers and dark Manticores are a tad on the weaker side but have long range attacks. The light Golems and dark Trolls are very slow but very strong.

The starting lineup!

The starting lineup!

The remaining matchups demonstrate the differences between the two teams. The light Valkyrie is a bit stronger than the similar Archer. On the other side, the dark Banshee has a scream attack that drains the enemy health when in close range, and it is the only attack in the game that allows the character to move while the attack is in action. The light Djinni is the best light attacker though only a little better than the Valkyrie. Opposite it, the dark Shapeshifter turns into whichever enemy opposes it in combat, matching its stats exactly. The light Phoenix can explode dealing massive damage when touching an opponent while doubling as a defensive move that nulls any attack during the move’s duration. The dark Dragon has both the strongest long-range attack in the game as well as the most health.

Combat is pretty straightforward. The arena contains the two combatants and a seemingly random arrangement of objects. You can move in eight directions and attack with the A button. When you or an opponent fires off an attack, there is a delay before the next attack is allowed. This recharge time varies per character. A noise will sound whenever the next attack is ready to go. The tone is a higher pitch for the light character and a lower pitch for the dark character so you can easily distinguish the two. The objects in the arena are stationary but shift state frequently enough that there’s no real way to determine how those spaces will behave. Sometimes attacks will go right through them and sometimes they get blocked. Character movement through these obstacles may or may not be permitted or it might be allowed at a slow, plodding pace. It adds enough randomness to the battles so that combat is tense and exciting.

Both the Wizard and Sorceress have access to the same complement of spells. Each spell may only be used once per game, and the spell may not target a character stationed on one of the power spots. If the Wizard or Sorceress is defeated then no spells may be cast by that side. Another interesting wrinkle is that using a spell drains a bit of health from the spellcaster. To use a spell, press A when selecting the caster and a spell dialog will appear at the bottom of the screen. You may cycle through the spells with Up and Down and cast the spell by pressing A. You can also select the Cancel option if you don’t want to use a spell.

Attack from afar with an elemental if you want!

Attack from afar with an elemental if you want!

There are seven spells in Archon. The Teleport spell moves any character on your team to any square not already occupied by another team member. You can move a character onto an opponent to engage them in battle directly. The Heal spell restores the health of any one of your characters. The Shift Time spell reverses the flow of the Lumina squares. The Exchange spell swaps any two creatures on the board no matter which team they belong. The Summon Elemental spell calls a temporary elemental to attack any opponent on the board. It could be an earth, air, water, or fire elemental that is chosen at random and each has different characteristics in combat. Either win or lose, the elemental is removed from play after the battle is over. The Revive spell brings a defeated creature back into play. The revived character must be placed on a square adjacent to the spellcaster. The Imprison spell can be cast on any creature locking them to the board. The affected creature is not able to move on the board until the Lumina squares match the team color, though opponents may engage an imprisoned creature in battle at any time.

One more interesting thing to mention is that there is the possibility of a tie game. If there are few characters remaining on each side and no combat or spellcasting occurs in a set number of turns, the game will be called a draw. This was implemented to encourage combat. The other more straightforward stalemate happens when the last two characters on the board kill each other at the same time.

Combat is a balance of staying out of danger while finding an open line of fire when you can.

Combat is a balance of staying out of danger while finding an open line of fire when you can.

This was my first time playing Archon but I had great success for a beginner. I started playing as the Light team and I got beat down pretty quickly. I was losing characters left and right as I got used to the combat and characters. About halfway through the match the game clicked with me and I started mounting a comeback, but despite that it started to look like it was too little to late. The best character I had remaining was my Wizard and I decide to go for broke and try to take out the Sorceress. She had not moved the entire game and her square is always dark, but despite the disadvantage I managed to win that fight. After that I picked off all the remaining enemies for a win by brute force.

Since it didn’t take me very long to win the game and the dark team plays differently from the light team, I wanted to get a win from the other side. This was the run I recorded for YouTube. It did not start out particularly well but I ended up winning in half the moves required for my first victory. I also won the match by occupying all five of the power spots instead of defeating all the enemies.

Archon is a fun, short game that might be worth a look if you are interested in chess or light strategy games. The graphics and music are adequate and don’t get in the way of the action at all, but the gameplay is solid and that’s what’s important in a game like this. I didn’t even mention yet that the game has a 2-player mode that is sure to be a lot of fun once both players get a few matches under their belt. For myself, I enjoyed playing the game but unless I get another player involved I don’t see myself playing very much more Archon in the future.

Archon Ending Screen

#31 – Archon