These days it seems like just about every retro title is making a comeback as developers are looking for a quick way to earn a buck. Aside from a heavy dose of nostalgia, these games generally come with a few flaws, outdated gameplay designs, graphics that may not always hold up when adjusted for new fancy HD resolutions, or core mechanics that have long been surpassed. Some games however, hold up to the test of time in ways we may not really expect. Guardian Heroes is one of those rare gems that has not only aged well, but also has a thing or two to teach modern developers.
Just like any other side scrolling action game, Guardian Heroes contains a few key elements. Characters chosen each have their own move lists, signature weapons and attacks, and play styles that go hand-in-hand alongside playing with a friend. Once players select a character they're thrust into a fairly generic story that features an evil wizard, corruption of some sort, and demons/angels. It's all standard fare for a JRPG of any kind let alone a sidescrolling title. The key differences that make Guardian Heroes such a gem aren't in the story nuances, but rather what it does different to most other beat em' ups developed then and since.
The first major difference is that players are treated to an ally who helps fight off foes. Regardless of how many players are participating in the battle there's only ever a set amount of allies, but having someone else to take the hits and dish out damage is more than welcome. Bosses and special enemies still seem to target the player zealously, but the helpers always provide that extra relief that isn't often found in similar titles that demand you jump back and forth pushing the kick button to exploit some strange attack frames.
Adding to the experience is the fact that players level up as they deal damage to foes, which provides experience points that can be used after major boss fights and when travelling to another zone. Players get to select from several basic stats that correspond with each character, and though the best strategy seems to be to pour everything into one specialization, at least having the option to select elsewhere is nice.
In a single player campaign levelling generally means killing everything that much faster, but once you toss in a few friends levels become things to fight and earn. As hitting an opponent slowly accumulates experience it becomes clear that whomever does the most damage earns the most XP, so balancing doing as much damage as possible with basic survival becomes the very core of entertainment. If it was boiled down to simply hitting a monster over and over with a friend until it was dead this may be where the game falls apart, but the last major piece of the puzzle comes in the form of unique moves and special attacks.
Each character has their own special moves, which are input very similar to a fighting game setup. Using each button combo will set up different moves, chain attacks, area of effect spells or powerful charge moves that can be used to turn the tide of the battle. As the levels are broken down into a foreground, mid-stage, and background players can jump between three 'tiers' of the screen to hit enemies that may be otherwise attacking from a distance, or to sneak around bosses that may be focused on another player. Mastering individual moves and preparing the right spell/attack for the situation is what sets Guardian Heroes apart from the rest of its genre. Where most games are satisfied with simply having players use the same punches and kicks Guardian Heroes actually has a move list that can be used to deliver a fairly punishing amount of damage depending on the necessity of the situation.Equally satisfying is that the game's difficulty is never truly easy, nor needlessly punishing. Players going through the Arcade mode all share lives, so dying needlessly should definitely be avoided, but there should be plenty of challenge on the game's normal mode to entertain before even having to consider any of the other options. For those that tire of the story, Versus mode offers a fairly amusing chance to fight other players/NPCs with a much wider selection of characters to choose from (every single NPC in the game is available once you've encountered them in story mode).
It's an interesting chance to replicate some of the chaos that happens in-game with a few extra friends, but it loses its lustre after the realization hits that picking a civilian child doesn't give you super moves or special attacks. There's really a lot of potential there.
The audio isn't anything exceptional, but it is worth mentioning that the game has been retextured for its brand new HD release, and offers players the chance to experience the game in its original format or redrawn. Naturally this means that one version has the characters pixelated and intentionally left 8-bit, but this extends into the special attacks and spells as well, whereas the new cleaner version of the characters offers a cell shaded pencil sketch look. Neither holds anything over the other, but there's nothing wrong with having a few options to toss around.
The only real glaring disappointment behind Guardian Heroes is that it feels like the fun ride is over far too fast after a few solid playthroughs. There's certainly a lot to be said about any game that offers multiple endings and story paths, but only of those plotlines are really relevant. Here the plot is really just an excuse to get to the next part of the game and kill some more enemies, so it would have been nice to have a little more extension to the length of the title. As it stands a competent player could likely beat the game alone after just a few hours of play, and two people doing co-op only require a couple hours are most to clear one branch of the main story. To some extent going through each path and unlocking all of the characters to see all of the possible outcomes has its own draw for some, but as a whole there's really nothing that encourages the player to come back and try again. It's a shame, because the game really is a great experience, but as it's left so shallow it really feels like there should be more added on after all these years.
When it comes to turning the concept of the sidescrolling action game, only Castle Crashers has managed to keep things interesting, and even that game is dull in comparison to the depth that is offered in Guardian Heroes. It's a rare treat when a game is brought back from the grave and actually succeeds in offering an experience that surpasses most equivalent modern day releases. What it lacks in length it most certainly makes up for in entertainment value, and should certainly be downloaded by anyone looking for a good party game to run through with friends. It may only take up an evening or two in the long run, but Guardian Heroes is definitely a title that modern gamers shouldn't look past.
|Experience system is very well implemented.|
|It's great to have different move combinations.|
|Plenty of fun with friends.|
|The game lacks any real length.|
|The story isn't that great.|
|Audio could have been improved for this version.|