Review: Guardian Heroes for XBLA

Sections: 2D, Action, Adventure, Consoles, Features, Genres, Reviews, Xbox-360

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Guardian Heroes logo

Title: Guardian Heroes
Price: 800 Microsoft Points ($10)
System(s): Xbox 360
Release Date: October 12, 2011
Publisher (Developer): Sega (Treasure)
ESRB Rating: “Teen” for Blood and Violence
Pros: HD resolution is clean and crisp, multiple plot decisions, character progression through leveling, smooth combat animation, multiple special moves
Cons: Nine lives isn’t enough on normal difficulty, skill point allocation is not saved, character unlocks restricted, versus mode is too hectic for 12 players, some input lag
Overall Score: One thumb up, one thumb sideways, 85, B *** 1/2 out of 5

I have a confession. Whenever I hear that an older game is getting re-released in high definition, I usually let out a sigh that’s fueled by disinterest. These things seem like cash grabs to me most of the time. Granted, there are some genuinely good remakes, but others are hardly better than the original. When I started playing the HD remake of Guardian Heroes, I was pleasantly surprised to discover this particular Sega Saturn remake has aged well and looks even better.

I never played the first Guardian Heroes, so I didn’t have anything to compare the remake to. That was a good thing because I didn’t have to worry about battling feelings of nostalgia while reviewing this game. Based on what I’ve played in this 2011 re-release, Guardian Heroes definitely has what it takes to be worthy of your money.

Ahead of Its Time

Guardian Heroes combat

On the surface, Guardian Heroes looks like a typical 2D side-scrolling brawler. It’s actually much deeper than that. Guardian Heroes borrows elements from RPGs and fighting games. For example, Guardian Heroes has a leveling system in which you can attribute points towards your character after every stage. Depending on how long you survive, you feel good knowing you’ve somewhat customized your fighter. Also, the game lets you decide which path you’re going to take. For example, do you venture into the forest or do you head into town? The story will change based on the decisions you make. This is rare to see in a 2D brawler these days, let alone 15 years ago.

You have your choice of four characters in the campaign. They all have distinct combat styles as well. You have Randy the mage, Ginjirou the quick fighter, Nicole the support character and Han who doesn’t do much magic, but is good with a sword. You can team with a friend to assemble a well-balanced force, but you’re never alone no matter what. In single-player, you’ll be accompanied by a female knight named Serena or the Undead Hero. These non-playable characters cannot die and depending on the difficulty setting, can become useful as damage shields.

When it comes to combat, Guardian Heroes goes beyond the player constantly mashing a couple buttons to pull off the same combos. Instead, the game has special moves that can be pulled off with a combination of button presses. The muscle memory you’ve acquired from playing games such as Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat comes in handy here. There are almost two full pages of special moves to perform. You can get through the game without paying too much attention to these special attacks, but the combat looks so much better when you’re knocking guys into the air and forcing them back to Earth with your sword.

The combat is smooth most of the time, but I noticed a strange lag when trying to perform magic. You can choose to memorize the specific button combinations to pull off a spell, but you can also choose what you want to do from an in-game menu. However, you’re vulnerable while doing this since you can’t move. Chances are you will get interrupted when trying to navigate through the spell list. This problem wouldn’t be as annoying if I didn’t have to keep flicking the analog stick in an attempt to select a spell. Sometimes, the game just wouldn’t respond fast enough.

Guardian Heroes takes place on three plains – the foreground, middle ground and background. You can jump into these plains by tapping the bumpers on the controller. While this may have seemed like a nice addition in the past, I don’t see the usefulness of this feature. You can theoretically jump into the background to avoid attacks, but it’s just not practical. I think this feature was included to fit more enemies on the screen at once without them literally being side by side.

Difficulty Gets in the Way

Guardian Heroes castle

Make no mistake, Guardian Heroes is challenging on the normal difficulty. Fighting starts off at a tolerable pace, but you’ll soon be faced with hordes of bad guys who love to juggle you in a corner. You’re only given nine lives to start and no continues. If you lose those lives, it’s all over. You can also forget about all the points you assigned to your character from leveling up. You lose everything once you die. This is one aspect I didn’t like about Guardian Heroes. I would have liked to save my character’s progress so I could go back through the game and make different path decisions.

Moving the difficulty down gives you a whopping 99 lives, which is more than enough to get through the game. However, you can’t unlock more characters this way.

When the Campaign is Done

Guardian Heroes arena

When you’re not playing the campaign, Guardian Heroes offers a versus mode and an arcade mode. Versus mode puts up to 12 characters against each other via Xbox Live. The result is a mess. There is just too much going on at once when that many people are involved.

The arcade mode is more enjoyable. You can select from a ton of characters that you unlock in the campaign including bad guys. You’re thrown into an arena and forced to fight for your life. Again, there’s a lot going on, but since the enemies are all bunched together, I found it more enjoyable than fighting real people online.

If you didn’t tell me Guardian Heroes was a remake, I wouldn’t have guessed it. I like the smoothed out colors and improved resolution. The original version of the game is also included if the HD version doesn’t work out for you. This is how remakes should be created. Other developers should take note.

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