The debut game from Brazilian indie studio Cyber Rhino Studios goes by the name of Gryphon Knight Epic. A 2D side-scrolling shoot-em-up that takes place in the medieval kingdom of Valiantskies, Gryphon Knight Epic was originally released on Steam in 2015 and has now made its way into Xbox One through the [email protected] program.

In Gryphon Knight Epic you take control of Sir Oliver and his trustworthy gryphon, Aquila. Sir Oliver has rescued and married a princess who has then been kidnapped by an evil dragon. After defeating said dragon, he and his friends loot the lair with each of them taking a special item each. Sir Oliver takes a magic necklace and his friend a magic weapon. Everything was going well until one day Sir Oliver was sent to get some groceries, gets attacked by an evil spectre of himself that was set loose due to the magic powers of the necklace he looted and tells him that he will spread ruin across the kingdom. Sir Oliver soon realises that he will need the help of his friends to defeat this evil specter. The only problem is that his friends have also been corrupted by the magic weapons that each of them looted and so it’s now up to Sir Oliver to battle against them in order to save, not only his friends, but also the kingdom.

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One of the main features of most side-scrolling shoot-em-up games out there is the tough difficulty presented to the player. Usually, the gamer already knows that the challenge is imminent and sometimes ruthless, making you spend countless hours in order to fully beat them. In Gryphon Knight Epic this difficulty level is there but unfortunately, it comes with some problems attached. The biggest issue by far is the abrupt difficulty spikes present in the game. Divided in the three usual ways, Easy, Normal and Hard difficulty, or as they are called in the game, Squire, Knight and Epic, these could quite easily be renamed as “Way to Easy”, “Hard as hell” and “Almost impossible”, since this is how they really play out.

That can obviously be a bit frustrating for some players out there, and the rewards between each of them aren’t exactly appealing since the main differences sees the Squire difficulty shower you with infinite lives and weaker enemies but a lower level of earned money. Knight difficulty balances those aspects, and the enemies will take considerably more hits to be killed, with some of them hitting you with more intent whilst the Epic mode will give you reduced lives, even tougher enemies but a whole load of coins. The problem in all this is the fact that Sir Oliver’s behaviour is always the same regarding which difficulty you choose. That can put the time to beat the game from about 5 to 6 hours on the lowest difficulty up to 12/13 hours at its hardest. Another aspect that doesn’t really help are the lack of any kind of checkpoints aside from starting the level, and immediately before starting the boss fights. Something which will turn away many gamers.

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Another feature that Gryphon Knight Epic has is the fact that you don’t need to follow a specific level completion order. Although four of them are accessible after you beat the tutorial and the first two levels, from there you are free to choose which level you want to beat first. The stages themselves are also divided into two parts, and on each of them you will find a boss fight, with the first one pitting you up against a minion from your corrupted friend, with the final one against the friend in question. After you beat the entire level you can replay them and select which part you want to play.

Gryphon Knight Epic features what can only be called as a new approach to the side-scrolling shoot-em-up genre, giving you the chance to turn around and backtrack your progress in order to explore new routes. With this, you will face enemies that can appear from any direction and you will need to react accordingly to their attacks. This could have been a great feature if it wasn’t for the complete and utter lack of consistency in it. Firstly, you can’t attack any enemies who aren’t in the line of sight of Sir Oliver, which isn’t exactly bad since you can turn the character to any direction just by hitting the correspondent trigger button. This is however where a real problem lies. Each time you flip your character, the screen will start scrolling in that direction disrupting the entire flow of the game.

Graphically Gryphon Knight Epic is actually quite reasonable, giving you that retro-nostalgic feeling with its NES inspired art-style.  Again though there are some issues like the enemies being too difficult to spot or some characters seemingly misplaced to the environment they are in. On one such occasion I found a random man with a jet pack trapped on the screen without any relation to the story what so ever. They might have been there for a humorous reaction but even so it feels strange to see something so totally out of place. As for the soundtrack, Gryphon Knight Epic doesn’t really stand out besides the fact that after a while you will totally forget it whilst playing through the game with or without sound makes little difference.

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The big failure of Gryphon Knight Epic however is that things become too boring, too often. Not only is this due to its lack of consistency in terms of difficulty levels, making it either super easy or super hard to play but it also fails to bring any originality to the game genre. It’s noticeable that the team behind it tried to inject some much needed humour to the game, especially through the dialogues between Sir Oliver and his friends, but unfortunately it doesn’t quite work well.

Gryphon Knight Epic isn’t a bad game but unfortunately it doesn’t exactly stand out. That in itself is sad because with some extra work around the base idea the developing team could have created a rather good game. Since Gryphon Knight Epic was developed by a tiny Brazilian studio, one made up of only three people, it is definitely something that deserves some credit and if you are a side-scrolling shoot-em-up fan and want a game to challenge you then Gryphon Knight Epic delivers that in its hardest setting. But other then that, don’t expect much from it.

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