Grimm Guardians: Demon Purge is a competent and gorgeous Castlevania-lite with satisfying action and a great two-player mode. It’s also got its tongue firmly in cheek, and I had a fun time blasting through gigantic bosses and exploring this world. I just wish it offered a little more variety in gameplay and had a little more of what makes the Castlevania series so fun to explore. Maybe in the sequel…
At this point in the Switch’s life cycle, I’m pretty sure if you close your eyes while scrolling the eShop and plop your finger down on a game, you have a 50% chance to land on a Metroidvania. Fine by me. I absolutely love them, and both of the series on either end of the infamous portmanteau. But if you want broader appeal, it’s time to start shaking things up.
Inti Creates is the studio responsible for the fantastic 8-bit Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon titles, the Azure Striker Gunvolt series, the Gal Gun games, and even the classic Mega Man Zero releases for Game Boy Advance. Safe to say the company can knock out action titles in its sleep, and Grimm Guardians: Demon Purge feels like a nice balance of the action side of things with a Castlevania flair.
If you want a true Metroidvania experience like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, this isn’t it. Grimm Guardians is short, linear, has no leveling up or real collectables, and outside of a few weapon upgrades, there isn’t all that much to find. But it’s a blast to play through during its five-six hour runtime, and it’s a knowing pastiche that occasionally borders on the absurd.
You play as the two schoolgirl siblings, Shinobu and Maya Kazimono. For reasons, their school currently appears as a demonic castle, and the two young girls are on a mission to defeat the many enemies and bosses within to save their many lost classmates and return the school to normal. The fun twist, however, is that you can swap between the two girls instantly and utilise two unique movesets.
Much like Johnathan and Charlotte from Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin, the key to saving the school is to use the movements and attacks of either sibling effectively. Shinobu is a ranged attacker with a pistol, while Maya uses close-up melee attacks to deal serious damage. Each sister also has unique secondary attacks like a knife and magical origami projectiles, with both sisters capable of learning six secondary attacks in total that occasionally also serve as traversal mechanics.
Fairly crucially, playing as the two sisters, even with base attacks, feels great. This is an Inti Creates game after all, and the immediate action feels snappy and satisfying, and I love slicing through hordes of demons. Swapping between them is a quick tap of the ZR button, and they each have their own health bar to keep track of.
If one sister runs low on health, just quickly snap back to the other, and try to find a health item somewhere. If one of the sisters dies, then the other sister restarts the room and must find the unconscious body of the other and then attempt to resurrect them without a hell beast clobbering them. If both sisters die, then it’s back to the start of the level with you. It’s a fun mechanic, and I keep having plenty of close calls while trying to resuscitate Maya or Shinobu while avoiding projectiles and demon teeth.
The sisters also have a super attack which they recharge through collectable resources. Landing this fills the screen with a dimension-tearing cutscene, seriously damaging anything in the vicinity. Sadly, the items of Grimms Guardians only amount to health, ammo for the secondary weapons, and items that refill the ‘purge gauge’ for the special attack. It’s a bit disappointing, as finding secrets is half the fun, and Grimm Guardians gives you little reason to poke around.
There is also the option to play in two-player co-operative, with either player controlling one sister independently, and this is a really nice touch. It feels great and everything runs smoothly, though the experience feels a bit more like a beat-em-up akin to Streets of Rage 2 than anything else.
I’ve already mentioned this is a linear game, so there’s no backtracking for secrets here, but I can’t overstate that there’s a set path on display in Grimm Guardians. Instead of thinking of more modern Castlevania games, this seems to ape titles like Super Castlevania IV, but with the modern aesthetic of titles like Symphony of the Night placed on top. Thankfully, the pixel art and style is gorgeous, doing a fantastic job of aping the classic gothic architecture and gnarled demon faces of the genre.
There’s a nice variety of enemies, and the screen-filling bosses especially have some fantastic and gruesome designs, which make it a tad less frustrating on the sixth or seventh attempt. Grimm Guardians has the option for a classic or a veteran mode, with the classic variant offering infinite lives and turning off knockback. Veteran mode tests players, but it’s fun to have an authentic option in a title so clearly inspired by others.
Similarly, while the level design is fairly straightforward, some puzzles are ready to stump you. Each boss drops new secondary weapons when you defeat them, so your arsenal grows with new ways to attack and travel. Sometimes I find myself stuck while trying to discover secret rooms and save every schoolgirl, but it’s often satisfying instead of infuriating.
It’s hard to judge Grimm Guardians for what it isn’t. This is a short but sweet adventure title that looks and feels great, with plenty of fun enemies, bosses, and levels to tear through. But the simplicity also means that I rarely feel enthusiastic when playing it. The sub-weapons are fun, but Inti Creates doesn’t mix up the gameplay and level design enough to actually offer anything outside of the (admittedly satisfying) basic action gameplay loop.
Don’t get me mistaken though, I had a great time playing Grimm Guardians, and I hope to see more in the series. The pedigree of Inti Creates is evident as the title feels great, with a knowledge and understanding of satisfying combat that few smaller games master. It just feels somewhat unambitious. If you go in ready for a tight and altogether lighter experience, you’ll have a blast, especially when you play with a pal, but just don’t expect the next Symphony of the Night.