Cameroon timber

by
Evan Norris
, posted on 20 October 2023 / 3,118 Views

The 16-bit generation saw a veritable parade of 2D side-scrolling action-platformers based on Disney properties. Across SNES, Genesis, and other contemporary platforms, Disney licensed games based on Aladdin, The Lion King, The Jungle Book, TaleSpin, and Goof Troop, to name just a few. While a handful of these titles — Aladdin and The Lion King especially — retain loyal followings, some exist nowadays with little fanfare. One such game is 1995’s Gargoyles, based on the animated TV series of the same name. Nearly 30 years after its launch on Genesis, Gargoyles is back in a newly remastered version with a few bells and whistles, courtesy of Empty Clip Studios. Does the remaster elevate Gargoyles to the same status as Aladdin and The Lion King, or does it firmly establish the game as something best left in the 1990s?

Gargoyles Remastered, like the original game from 1995, loosely follows the plot points of the short-lived, underrated cartoon. Things start in medieval Scotland, where Vikings assault Castle Wyvern. Goliath, the leader of the gargoyles, spends the first two stages defending the castle and nearby rookery before he is magically turned to stone. One thousand years later, atop a skyscraper in downtown Manhattan, the spell is broken and Goliath lives again.

Narrative is unimportant in Gargoyles Remastered. Each level has a brief intro and outro, along with summary text and a static image, but nothing else in the way of storytelling, character development, or world-building. 

This would be absolutely fine, if the gameplay in Gargoyles Remastered delivered the goods. Unfortunately, it’s something of a mess. From the very beginning of the game, as you’re dropped on the front lines outside Castle Wyvern and asked to dispatch a flail-wielding barbarian, the mechanical issues are obvious. Combat is awkward and unfulfilling, thanks to imprecise hit-boxes and clumsy controls. Platforming, with its painful insistence on perfectly-timed and choreographed leaps — interrupted frequently by fireballs and flitting enemies — might be even worse. Each level ends with a climactic fight versus a boss, but every encounter is tedious, punishing, or a combination of the two. In terms of gameplay, Gargoyles Remastered is sub-par, even in the world of licensed platformers.

Regrettably, Empty Clip Studios’ remaster has done nothing to alter this core gameplay loop. While there is something very honorable in preserving the original experience from 1995, there is also something counterproductive in leaving all the mechanical flaws untouched. That said, the studio has added two important items that make the overly difficult game more palatable: rewind functionality and save states.

The studio has also added enhanced visuals, animations, and special effects based on the cartoon. These graphical adjustments are welcome in some areas, but detrimental in others. On the plus side, the game’s breakable and interactive objects — formerly disguised by the environment — are more obvious here, leading to less confusion on where to go next. On the minus side, the new graphics actually diminish attack feedback and make enemy hit-boxes harder to read. I found myself constantly toggling to the original graphics to make progress through the game; the Genesis version, after all these years, is simply easier to manage.

In fact, you could argue the 16-bit graphics are superior to the new hand-drawn aesthetic, even if the latter is more in touch, spiritually, with the TV show. Disney Software might have missed the mark with mechanics, level layouts, and difficulty scaling back in 1995, but it delivered some amazing pixel graphics.

It also delivered a relatively short experience, which is retained in this re-release. Gargoyles Remastered features only five stages, which could, in theory, be beaten in a single sitting. The game is so taxing, however — even on the easiest difficulty setting — that it requires multiple hours of trial and error to complete. It’s here where rewind functionality earns its keep.

Unlike some other licensed Disney games from the 90s, Gargoyles doesn’t stand the test of time. It’s clumsy, frustrating, and unduly difficult. While this modern remaster adds a safety net in the way of rewind and save states that ultimately makes the game more beatable, it does nothing to soften its rough edges. Furthermore, its biggest change, updated graphics, might be considered a downgrade. It’s admirable that Disney has elected to preserve Gargoyles for future generations, but the game, like Goliath himself, belongs in the past.

This review is based on a digital copy of Gargoyles Remastered for the NS, provided by the publisher.

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