DEMON'S CREST / Capcom / SNES
Demon's Crest cuts pretty much all the stuff that bogged down the previous Gargoyle's Quest games, and emphasizes the things that worked, leading to one of the best underlooked action-platformers on the SNES.
The game bears more of a resemblance to the Ghosts N' Goblins series than the previous two did, though fortunately it doesn't have the insane controller-hucking difficulty. It is a pretty stiff challenge, but the game makes life easy on you with infinite continues, and if you die fighting a boss you usually continue either right before them or only one level segment before them.
You can see a slew of other influences here, most of them very good ones to have - Super Metroid in the ambience, graphical style and boss fights, Castlevania 2 in the game's sole town, Super Castlevania in general in the background ambience and music, and even a touch of Mega Man X (the gameplay feels a little similar, and the bouncing between levels that you do to pick up previously hidden health containers and items is more reminiscent of MMX than a Metroid/Castlevania type game.) The gameplay hews pretty close to the previous games, though, but Firebrand can now hover and fly indefinitely, and as he progresses through the game he'll get different gargoyle forms to change into that have differing powers.
Gone are the "RPG elements" for the most part - Firebrand now flys around his little world in Mode 7 airship style, and there's only a few pre-set locations he can land at. There's some kind of demon hobo in town to chat with and a few shopkeepers to buy spells and potions from (once you find empty flasks and blank scraps of parchment), but the game is otherwise free of useless zombie NPCs and the idiotic plots of the previous games. There is some sort of ongoing story, but the game doesn't really elaborate on it too much, and it seems to totally dismiss the previous games (where those games stated at the outset they took place in a "time before humans", the world of Demon's Crest seems to be post-human. I like to imagine Firebrand and his buds successfully wiped out Sir Arthur's world in some massive invasion.)
What's kept, and greatly improved, is the dark gothic (architectural, not Denny's coffee drinkers) style. The graphics are gorgeous, and the music is pretty fantastic as well.
While some of the bosses can be a butt, the levels aren't nearly as bad as those of GQII, and the infinite continues (and ability to just duck out of a level when you die to search for further powerups) makes the whole experience well on the tolerable side in terms of difficulty.
Only real downside is that for whatever reason, the game uses some lengthy password system instead of a battery, and the passwords often seem to not record all the optional items and gold that you have accrued. On an emulator with save states its obviously no big deal but with the actual cartridge it can be a pain.
* Gameplay Video