[gameinfo title=”Game Info” game_name=”” developers=”Treasure” publishers=”SEGA” platforms=”” genres=”” release_date=”October 12, 2011″]
The Sega Saturn classic from 1996, Guardian Heroes, has been remastered and released on Xbox Live Arcade. Developed by Treasure (best known for classics Gunstar Heroes & Ikaruga) and published by Sega, Guardian Heroes mixes a medieval style side scrolling beat ‘em up with a “choose your own adventure” story. This mishmash is considered by many to be one of Treasure’s best works and the highpoint of the beat ‘em up genre. Does the gameplay hold up after 15 years or is this title relegated to the libraries of the nostalgic?
The XBLA version has been upgraded from 32 bit graphics to HD in the new remix mode. If one has to go old school, original graphics and gameplay are available in original mode. Besides changes to graphics, remix mode offers up new dialog translation, balanced gameplay, and a couple new moves. Remix graphics can be combined with original gameplay and vice versa.
The main story lets you choose between four characters that are the clichéd archetypes consisting of a Han (warrior), Ginjirou (monk), Randy (black mage), and Nicole (white mage). An unlockable 5th character Serena is a mix between melee and magic. The starting characters find a strange sword before stopping at the inn for the night. They are awoken by Serena, who informs them that guards are coming to kill them and take the sword. As levels are completed, several dialog options are presented that will take the player to a different level per option. With 7 possible endings and multiple paths to each ending, each playthrough is potentially a different story for the characters.
The gameplay follows the 2D beat ‘em up route of yesteryear’s titles like Streets of Rage and Gunstar Heroes. Besides magic spells, Guardian Heroes does something a bit weird to progress the genre; instead of being able to move up and down on the screen, the player shifts rows. As video games progress, gamers expect controls to get better. We all remember how frustrating some of the old NES games were. So the row shifting is a bit weird since it is a downgrade in the movement that was in place in the genre since the early days. It is amazing how counter intuitive the row shifting is.
Guardian Heroes gives the impression that it is trying to include some RPG elements in it. The player gain experience and levels based on combat, and at the end of stages points can be placed in attributes. Unfortunately there is no real way to get creative with character builds. If you don’t place points in melee for melee characters or magic for magic characters then those characters are going to play horribly. An interesting twist on the genre would be a Diablo-esque progression system with beat ‘em up gameplay but that is not what Guardian Heroes gives us.
The game also comes with modes beyond story. Training mode allows you to practice moves one on one with a training dummy. Versus mode can only be described as a local multiplayer free for all brawl of 12 characters. Arcade mode is similar to versus mode but it’s just the player versus a huge army of enemies. All of these modes can be played with characters outside of the story playable ones. When you beat a character in story it becomes available to play in these modes. Versus and Story can be played online over Xbox Live. Co-op really makes this game shine even if it is the traditional fair from the beat ‘em up genre.
The achievements require multiple playthroughs to get, essentially covering every path through the storyline on medium or higher difficulty. Mixed in are a couple of online achievements and hardest difficulty achievement making this game a long 200 gamerscore but relatively easy completion.
This game holds up and is a decent beat ‘em up without nostalgia factored in. The remastered package gives players more than the original. Original design choices in the game such as row shifting and the RPG elements bring the score down a bit, but don’t let that fool you. This game is still a treat to play.