For those of you who weren’t fortunate enough to own a Sega Saturn back in its heyday, you’re in luck, because one of the system’s gems has recently arrived on Xbox Live Arcade. The moment you see Guardian Heroes for the first time, you will have a rush of memories from all the 2D beat ’em ups you have probably played throughout the 90’s. If you haven’t, I suggest you go and experience something that you have sorely missed. However, even with all the remakes and re-releases of these 90’s games that are downloadable, it’s just not the same. Too many of these games now allow unlimited continues and it ends up losing something very important: Challenge. Thankfully, that’s not the case for Guardian Heroes.
Guardian Heroes will threaten to end your game if you’re not careful enough. That means if you lose all your lives, be ready to see a Game Over screen instead of “Continue?” Simple controls are present here, but there is also a deeper level of gameplay that will put novice players to shame. You can sort of get by with pressing the same button over and over, but learning combos and specific button inputs will make you a much more effective player. This game is a perfect example of easy to learn, but difficult to master.
Like I sort of mentioned earlier, at first glance, Guardian Heroes looks like a lot of the other side-scrolling beat ’em ups, such as Final Fight or Streets of Rage. That, however, is not entirely the case with Guardian Heroes. Going past the looks, there are more than a few differences that sets Guardian Heroes far apart from the rest. The first big difference is in its storytelling. Instead of only having an opening and ending sequence, Guardian Heroes must have at least a 50 page script, and that does not include branching paths. I have to admit that it bothered me a little to be reading so much, but those into drawn out and detailed stories may download this game before they even finish reading this sentence.
The story stems from a battle that began long ago between the Sky Spirits and Earth Spirits. It’s very magical and it involves princesses, weapons, powers and evil people. It’s all very cheesy and dated if I’m to be brutally honest, but it does bring about some charm that comes along with being such a clear cut embodiment of coming from the era that it did.
Another mechanic that I personally have never seen before that makes Guardian Heroes unique is the three layers of depth the game uses. You have the front, middle and back, and you move from layer to layer with the use of the shoulder buttons. There is a pro and a con to this mechanic that makes it neither a better or worse thing for me. Most games that are 2D side-scrollers have depth where you can move freely from the front to the back. These games also suffer from not exactly knowing where an enemy or object is in relation with the character you’re controlling. Therefore, having the screen divided the way Guardian Heroes has helps avoid any of that completely. The negative to this style of gameplay is that it’s not as intuitive for the player to move from the front to the back, and this leads to a longer time to get used to the game and another set of buttons to remember in the heat of battle. Not a very low point, I know, but could be for some.
The progression in this game is also much more satisfying than your the generic beat ’em up. After clearing areas and stages, all the leveling you did allows you to add to a list of your attributes to help strengthen your character. This always leaves an indecisive guy like me to really sit there and decide if I want to be more defensive or offensive, or more magical or quick. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels like this, but at least there’s this leveling system to keep you invested in your character. This not only feel more attached to your character because he’s customized to your liking, but also the fact that you will lose him the moment that Game Over screen appears. This makes you really watch out for dying too many times.
Online and offline multiplayer and co-op is present here with a few new additions. Playing through the story with a friend is always a fun experience, especially with a beat ’em up game like Guardian Heroes. Versus is back from the Saturn version, but now can be compatible for up to 12 players! That’s a huge leap from the original’s 6, but I fear that, in a month or two, gathering 12 players at once may be a challenge. If it’s not a Call of Duty game, people just ain’t going to be around playing a game like this 2 months after launch, and that’s always a sad thing. Overall, I feel that the multiplayer is a worthwhile experience, except for when you’re getting your face beat in by somebody who’s way too good.
Guardian Heroes has come to satisfy those who have been looking for a good beat ’em up, and chances are they have not played this one before. A lengthy narrative, leveling up system and a plethora multiplayer options will keep many interested in this title for a while. For others, frustration will set in once the difficulty, semi-deep gameplay and somewhat weak plot become too much to handle. In short, this game is a hardcore gamers’ dream beat ’em up, but may be too involved for casual gamers’ to enjoy. Don’t be surprised when you have a hard time convincing your friend who’s not as big of a gamer as you to play co-op.