Chances are, if you have gaming friends that have been playing for a while, you have heard the name Guardian Heroes mentioned; probably more than once. This classic side-scrolling beat ’em up is definitely one of the most respected and treasured titles released for Sega’s ill-fated Saturn. Fast forward to the generation that is becoming known for bringing back classics in HD, and we get a second chance to enjoy Treasure’s masterpiece. Truly, if you have never played the original, or have fond memories of how great it truly was, do yourself a favor and pick up Sega’s latest XBLA title. It is more than worth the price of admission.
Guardian Heroes is a mash-up of several genres that simply go well together. On the surface, it looks and feels much like any other beat ’em up with left-to-right movement and plenty of button mashing to mow down endless onslaughts of baddies. Dig a little deeper, and you will discover that the combat actually shares more in common with fighting games using quarter-circle motions to perform more advanced tactics and a combo list that puts most games like this to shame. Finally, the RPG elements arrive with levels and skill points that you can assign to your character. Any way you slice it, Guardian Heroes attempts to appease all three types of gamer, and succeeds admirably.
The core gameplay is mostly reminiscent of classic side-scrolling beat ’em ups with a minor twist. The game works on three lanes that you can hop between at will by tapping a button. Enemies will also switch between these lanes, making multi-foe encounters even more dynamic. The game also implements plenty of air and juggle combos that advanced players will enjoy mastering. There really has never been anything like Guardian Heroes, and amazingly, the beloved formula has yet to be copied over the years.
The story in the game is decent for its time, but what makes it special is the amount of ways it can be told. You have several characters to choose from at the outset. Each one dictates a branch of the story. Along the way, you can also choose different paths that ultimately lead to different endings and outcomes. Your karma will also play a role in determining which story you get. It can all feel overwhelming at first, but the game does have a gallery where you can view everything you have unlocked, including your endings. The game isn’t terribly long to begin with, so seeing every path is entirely plausible without getting tired of the game.
Now, the one area where Guardian Heroes does fall a little flat is the extras. Online co-op and versus mode are here, along with the remixed visuals and a brand new Arcade mode, and that is about it. The core experience remains mostly untouched, which is definitely not a bad thing. The Arcade mode allows you to pick any character you have encountered in single player and fight off hordes of enemies in a timed event. This is novel and cool, but nothing that will keep you playing for hours. The versus mode allows you to square off against friends in a crazy battle royal complete with plenty of chaos.
The remixed visuals are hit and miss. While I appreciate the widescreen presentation, the new penciled look really doesn’t do the game justice. I recommend switching back to those mid-90s pixels from the original game. The nostalgia alone is worth it. If you never played the game, the new mode might not bother you as much, but for fans it will feel out of place. The sound remains untouched, and I love the classic effects. The soundtrack takes me back to a special time when composition was important.
Guardian Heroes is a classic that most people have never had the pleasure of experiencing. That seems to be the case with most Treasure games, but alas, at least now they are getting a second chance at being appreciated. This is definitely worth picking up at its price tag, for both newcomers and classic fans such as myself. The game is just so original and fun to play that you would be hard-pressed to not enjoy it. If you even remotely like games like Final Fight and Streets of Rage, then Guardian Heroes should be in your collection. Don’t let this classic slip into obscurity for a second time.
Review copy provided by publisher.