Gargoyle’s Quest possesses several of the quintessential qualities you often find in games from the 1990s: firstly, it was at heart a platformer; secondly, it had a wonderfully generic storyline – evil Destroyers (they’re actually called that) have come from another universe and are going to destroy the world! OH NOES – and lastly, the game itself was frigging hard. So hard in fact that one magazine actually asked if any of its readers could write a walkthrough of the game, since none of the magazine’s staff could hack it.
The difficulty is perhaps the main criticism you could level at Gargoyle’s Quest (it’s just as well the original Gameboy was a sturdy bit of kit; mine was hurled across the room numerous times in a fit of thirteen-year-old rage). Instead of a health bar, you had hit points (literally – for each hit you took, you’d lose a single point). Which doesn’t sound like so much of a problem, save for the fact that early on you have just two, so you’re operating on a strict two-hits-and-you’re-dog-chum policy.
Combine this with a lack of restart points (quite often you’d have to start a level over if you died), and some evil level design, and you had the perfect recipe for rage soup.
Fortunately, Gargoyle’s Quest also did a lot right.
For a start, it was visually attractive, milking the Gameboy’s graphical capabilities (hopelessly antiquated by today’s standards) for all they were worth (not much), and the result was an attractive, atmospheric world. The visuals were complimented nicely by a haunting soundtrack (which again made full use of the Gameboy’s tinny speakers).
Most importantly though, Gargoyle’s Quest was – despite the rage-inducing difficulty – a lot of fun, and struck a fine balance between sideways-scrolling platformer and a top-down world map.
In the fashion of many 90s RPGs, you got to travel around acquiring all kinds of weird and wonderful items (the Fingernail of the Spectre) and unleash your embarrassingly-useless-at-first-but-better-later-on-if-you-actually-managed-to-get-that-far special powers on a whole host of baddies.
Best of all, you got to go toe-to-toe (wing-to-wing?) with some pretty badass end-of-level bosses, many of whom had gloriously ridiculous names (like the giant demonic fish boss, who for some inexplicable reason was called Zundo Druer, which sounds like a vacuum cleaner or something).
Unlike many games of the 1990s, Gargoyle’s Quest actually had a good end-game sequence, which was just as well given the blood, sweat and tears (and tantrums) you’d put into actually beating the damned thing. In fact, I liked the ending so much that I’d regularly play through the final part of the game (at least an hour’s play) just to hear the triumphant music that played over the end scenes.
Just as well we’ve got Youtube for that these days.