Review – Gargoyles Remastered
It’s well documented to the point of being a meme that licensed games from the 90s were their own special kind of hell. As fondly as we look back at The Lion King, Aladdin or even Chip and Dale: Rescue Rangers, we can easily now find evidence that we were subjecting ourselves to a diluted version of our favorite IPs. These games, usually from Disney sources, took vague outlines of characters we loved and hyper condensed the plot to create a mediocre game, usually platform/adventure based, to trick parents into buying a game for a holiday.
When I saw that Gargoyles was getting a remaster for the Nintendo Switch, I was cautiously optimistic. For one, I never played the original Sega Genesis game: mine was a Nintendo household and I would have to sleep on the porch if I even mentioned Sonic the Hedgehog. For two, Gargoyles is probably the best Western cartoon I ever saw. Rife with canon, mythology and tons of plot twists, it’s the only kids show I know of that got an episode banned because a police officer got shot. I LOVED the incredibly convoluted storyline that included time traveling boats, a baby who had Puck as a nanny and a maniac millionaire who moved a castle above the clouds because why the hell not.
Gargoyles Remastered is the gorgeously redone version of the original five stage action/platforming game. Playing only as Goliath, you must track down the powerful relic known as the Eye of Odin across time, starting in the Viking era from which you sprang and then awakening, surprisingly, in modern day Manhattan. The Eye of Odin apparently lands in the hands of Demona, Goliath’s former lover and also creator of many a crossed wires in youngers of the 90s. Using his raw strength, double jump and ability to heal by eating gold (I think that’s what’s happening), Goliath will track down the Eye, defeat Demona to free it from her grasp (or maybe the other way around?) and then the credits roll because that’s all the plot and story you need for one of these games back in the day.
Five stages arguably doesn’t sound like much, so the original developers at Disney Software fixed this limitation by making the game controller-smashingly hard. Goliath has a limited number of lives and health, and drops are frequent but not necessarily helpful. While almost every enemy drops heal items, it only recovers a fraction of your HP, while the incessant onslaught of throwing axes, lasers and just getting mauled can take its toll. Goliath has the ability to travel in multiple directions, including climbing on walls and ceilings and glide jumping with his wings. We use these maneuvers as an excuse to make levels where you need to be on pinpoint precision to make it to the other side alive. Oh, and there’s no continues, so if all your lives run out you’re completely doomed to start from the beginning.
Now, before we totally tear into Gargoyles Remastered, I appreciate what Empty Clip Studios baked in to make it a bit easier. First, there is the rewind feature that is essential for new players and veterans alike. Since extra lives are few and far between and you will die a thousand deaths your first play, scrubbing the tape back and trying again is amazingly helpful. You can save and load at any point, so, when you feel the rage threatening the sanctity of your console, it helps to be able to know you can walk away without sacrificing your time. Well, for the most part: you still need to get your heart rate under control.
Also, Gargoyles Remastered is stunningly beautiful. The creation of this remaster is clearly from the ground up, with the original pixelated sprites serving as a fantastic blueprint for the new version. Goliath, Xanatos, and Demona all look like their TV show equivalents, only better because I’m not using a CRT TV in my parent’s basement. The settings, from the ancient castles to the weird industrial factory that all these games seem to possess positively explode with color and design. You can toggle, at any point, seamlessly between the original Mega Drive version and the current one. It’s a sight to behold and really makes you appreciate the work that went into this creation.
This upgrade to the graphics does provide a better vision as well. There are moments that were clearly supposed to be cinematic in the original game but simply couldn’t deliver due to the limited graphics chip. Now, when Goliath fights his way out of an apartment building, beset by three robots, and you can only view the brawl through the windows, it’s an incredibly cool and exciting fight. Having him bust out of the wall of the building afterwards or slam through the skylight gives you that feeling the developers were clearly going for. In that sense, this remaster makes dreams come true for the designers and fans alike, and I love that.
The same goes for the soundtrack. While I’m sure Disney did their best with the sound chip available at the time, the full orchestrated version on Gargoyles Remastered sends a chill up my spine. Not only does it capture the epic fantasy score that made the television show famous, it creates an atmosphere that puts you in a determined, powerful mindset. Even as you have to brutalize your way through monsters, robots and absolute B.S., you feel like a mighty, mythical being. Even if you’re doing it without a single voice to support you.
Keith David, Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis are all very much alive and working, and they love their respective fan bases. I know that making new cutscenes or licensing in clips from the show would have been an expensive hell to slog through. But I cannot imagine why we didn’t at least ask Keith David to read the exposition between chapters or drop in some random sound clips. Xanatos is in ONE damn part of the game, but it would have delighted my soul to hear him command the robotic gargoyles to attack Goliath. And for Demona to actually say something or maybe shriek during battle instead of everything being so damn quiet…it’s weird. And it’s only weirder because it doesn’t LOOK like it should be silent.
The gorgeous upgrade, however, causes several issues for Gargoyles Remastered. It completely throws off the hitboxes for many things, including bosses and swinging spots. While the original Mega Drive graphics are ugly, they at least give you a good idea of where an enemy is. With the new graphics, there’s a clear discrepancy between where things look and where they are. The throw button, a cool fighting ability, almost never works because you’re never in the right spot to execute it. This means getting stuck in prolonged battles with enemies who seem to have a reach advantage, missing crucial spots for puzzle platforming and having the second boss fight be the most ridiculous thing I’ve played on a game in forever. In fact, more than a few battles are just that: get into a lucky niche spot and smash the punch button until the game is over.
These pretty graphics also do nothing for the bizarre choices the game makes for moving forward. When you need to bust through a wall that isn’t patently clear, or create a massive swinging sequence in order to advance, it’s equally confusing in both heavily detailed art and pixel mush. A boss midway through the game asks you to do a sort of fake out death jump to force it to extend its arm, which you can then strike and destroy. You would never know this without amazing amounts of trial and error, which would have taken hours if not days of your life without the rewind and quick save/load feature. This is to say nothing of Demona’s final boss attack, which involves pinballing around the room and asking you to calculate, on the fly, her trajectory. Ah yes, what I always loved in my video games: geometry tests.
Additionally, it highlights how empty the game is overall. When you take another Disney title like Lion King or Aladdin, you get to hit all the story beats from start to finish, even if they are truncated and weirdly complicated (goddamn ostrich racing). With Gargoyles Remastered, they had to mash together a plot where Demona, the antihero, is the villain, Xanathos is just sort of a dude who’s there and maybe a boss once, and the entire pantheon of other characters are absent. Even Simba got to see Timon and Pumbaa, but Lexington is nowhere to be found. You’re on a castle, you’re on a building, you’re in a factory, the game is over. You can literally watch two episodes of the show and get more story and potentially more action.
I sincerely appreciate what went into bringing this to modern consoles, and I feel that Empty Clip Studios did a fantastic job with Gargoyles Remastered. It looks and sounds magnificent, and the quality of life additions make the game actually playable, though with the feeling of a Prince of Persia throughline as a result. However, the bare bones game, the lack of any voicework and the emptiness of accomplishment at the end creates a hollow feeling. This really does feel like eating cotton candy: sweet and visually pleasing, but it just will not fill you up. Get it, love it, appreciate it, but don’t over anticipate what’s inside. This is, at its core, another Disney 16-bit port.
Could not ask for this to look better. It feels like I captured an animator and made him hand draw a game I came up with as a kid. From animation to detailed backgrounds, it’s perfect. Bonus points for showing the original to really see how far we’ve come.
Action platforming is decent but skewed difficulty in maneuvering is a total s***show. I had it on the lowest difficulty and constantly needed to scrub back to save my hide. Oblong hitboxes, strange ledge placement, and obtuse forward movement left me more frustrated than motivated.
The full soundscape of the Gargoyles world is something to behold, and the orchestral music and symphonic score work wonders. Sadly, without any voice acting to really sell the magic, it’s great, but it’s not wonderful.
When this game hits, it hits hard. There are moments of genuine power and action and excitement that sell the Gargoyles experience. The other 75% of the game is purposely ornery choices to anger and motivate(?) the player. Should not be picked up as a first game by anyone.
Final Verdict: 6.5
Gargoyles Remastered is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC, and Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of Gargoyles Remastered was provided by the publisher.