Review: Gal Guardians: Demon Purge

What I want to know is, how come Inti Creates' whole deal seems to orbit around Gal Gun. I'm not complaining! There's nothing I enjoy more than a good crossover, and I had a great time with Gal Gunvolt. But coming to Grim Guardians: Demon Purge (now known as Gal Guardians due to a fairly frivolous-seeming legal action from a gacha game), I was a little antsy about the association with Inti's "love-'em-up" series. Thankfully, I needn't have held any concern whatsoever, because Gal Guardians is another reminder of why I enjoy Inti's action games so much, continuing something of a hot streak from the outstanding Azure Striker Gunvolt 3.

Did you enjoy the Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon duology? I did! And Gal Guardians pretty much feels like another one of those, if obviously with more 16-bit adjacent visuals and a pared-down play style. That is to say, rather than controlling three characters, you're stuck with just two here - Gal Gun's very own Shinobu and Maya Kamizono, each of which have their own distinct attacks and manouevres. To boil it down to its bare essentials, Shinobu is your long range character, armed with a MAC-10 submachinegun. Maya is your repository for close quarters tactics, slashing demons into pieces with weapons made out of magical origami. As you proceed through the levels, you'll collect new sub-weapons for each character that creatively expand your abilities and allow access to new areas - for example, you'll be able to freeze enemies and use them as platforms, or utilise a paper crane to make your way across hazardous surfaces.

The game actively encourages exploration thanks to a myriad of routes through each of the stages, each tending to house a different collectable, or captured high school student to rescue. In fact, the game's structure is almost identical to that of Curse of the Moon, with linear start-to-finish stages that branch out in various directions, locked out areas becoming accessible on revisits with new equipment. It's definitely formulaic, but it's a compelling formula. Level design is as brilliant as ever - certain areas can be very frustrating if you're not sufficiently experimental with your sub-weapons, leading to something of a puzzle-solving feel at times as you realise the combination of special powers you need to use in order to trivialise a formerly difficult section.

Boss battles, too, are a lot of fun - often multi-phase but never unfair. If you die, you're able to revive your fallen sister quite easily, but failing to do this and taking another fall will cost you a life. At least, it will in the game's "veteran" mode, taken from Curse of the Moon once again and adhering the game to the old-school limited lives and more rigid difficulty. This is optional, however, and the game can be played in a more casual mode for those with a busy, bustling existence.

It's fantastic to me that 2D games like this continue to be made and continue to somehow throw in new ideas - there's a section in the Courtyard stage where spilling enemy blood near certain background plants causes them to freak out, lashing a demonic tongue in search of the dripping claret. A clever and creative notion that elevates Gal Guardians to a higher level, a game that's both comfortingly familiar and genuinely creative. The sheer amount of choice you have as your arsenal increases is a brilliant touch and it's all rendered with the tremendous pixel art you'd expect, not to mention the hugely enjoyable soundtrack. Even replaying levels is fun and friendly, due to the compass that will show you the locations of items and damsels in distress. You can even quit stages once you've found said treasures; no need to re-complete the level to lock them in.

If I sound like I'm very big on this game, you'd be right. It's precisely my cup of tea. However! I cannot in good conscience avoid relating a very distasteful sequence at the end of the Courtyard stage in which a character explicitly identified as a "third year" (based on cursory research, 14 or 15 years old) is molested by some plant tentacles in a self-aware sequence that is played for laughs. The meta-ness of the gag does dampen its unpleasantness a little, but it's still a boss fight throughout which this ensnared child moans and groans, wailing that the tentacles are "digging in deeper". I don't understand why stuff like this routinely gets a pass, particularly when the dialogue identifying the poor girl as a third year could easily have been changed. In Gal Guardians, the scene appeared to come out of nowhere in an otherwise reasonably pleasant experience, though the dialogue implies it may be a recurring "joke" from previous games in the series. I don't want to call for censorship, I don't want to dump on the developers or the localisation, I just hate seeing this kind of stuff and I don't understand what possible appeal it has.

Still - on every level, and in every level, Gal Guardians delivers exactly what you'd expect from what is essentially Curse of the Moon 3 - Inti Creates' level design artisans delivering possibly their best work yet, absolutely outstanding pixel art, tremendous boss fights and an overall satisfying degree of challenge that never goes overboard and loses focus. It's extremely good at what it does, with tight controls and a reasonable amount of care and thought required to prevail. It is, by default, the best Gal Gun game, and Inti Creates here have continued to impress as their 2D platformers go from strength to strength. Keep 'em coming, guys, but maybe chill out with the tentacle stuff.