SEGA has been on a roll recently, re-releasing a series of their classic games to PSN and XBLA. One of those recent games (only XBLA! Sorry guys), Guardian Heroes, is perhaps their best new-old-release yet. The original game came out in 1996 and in the ensuing years much has happened. Computers and consoles both have changed drastically, as have the games that grace them, but I feel like some things have remained the same – people’s love for one of those good classics. Guardian Heroes definitely felt like one of those good memories that has come back, and thankfully with a few touch-ups too.
The main point of the game is the extensive story mode, one of the first ever to incorporate branching story arcs that led to different paths and endings. You play as one of four characters initially – a large brutish man named Han with a large sword, a small sorcerer named Randy, a girl with barrier creation abilities named Nicole, and a lightning fast ninja-like character named Ginjirou. Pick between any of those starters and off you go into a world suppressed and controlled – swords, guns, and robots rule the day. However, there is a dangerous plot to bring magic back to the world, and shortly into the game you’ll be joined by a legendary knight who’s been dead many years. Together the group is swept up into this plot and depending on conversational and directional choices it’s possible the game can go very distinct ways each time. Given this, you can end up playing through the game multiple times and not taking the same path twice.
Gameplay in Guardian Heroes consists of the classic side scrolling beat-‘em-up that was very popular back in the 90’s (the slew of games that use this mechanic is astounding – Turtles in Time, Double Dragon, Final Fight, etc), except Guardian Heroes changes it up with a set of 3 distinct planes on the screen. Players can find themselves in the front, the middle, or the far back on the screen, simply switching by hitting a button to jump back and forth. I will say I never understood the point of having the multiple planes, but I can say it add an interesting challenge to the game. Enemies can jump back and forth just like you, but you can use it to give yourself a second or two of breathing room while you figure out what to do. I ended up using the planes as a trap – enemies who were in the process of jumping make for easy fodder as they landed in front of my sword.
Beyond the expansive story mode, there are a number of other modes that players can jump into for fun. The other modes are more or less just brawls however though, and have zero to do with the actual story itself (other than using characters). Versus is much like it sounds, where you can take on either an AI controlled opponent or your buddy; Training which helps you learn some of the combo moves and what buttons do what without risking life and limb; lastly the Arcade mode is essentially just you (and a friend) going up against hordes and hordes of enemies. All three modes are essentially the same at the core of their gameplay, but that’s not to say they’re bad – there just isn’t a ton you can do with them. You can toggle around with the leveling, the damage ratios, and some others to have some good fun. Your stats during gameplay (both these extra modes and the story mode) are also tracked and there are leaderboards for the game through Live, so you can also compete against your friends in other ways than trying to bash their 2D skulls in with a 2D sword.
For this re-release of this classic, SEGA went back and retooled the game giving it a remix like many other classics are receiving. As a bonus they included the original graphics of the game as well, but I highly recommend everyone just stick with the remixed version and looks. It’s not necessarily spectacular by any means, but they definitely look nice on the 360. It’s a nice, colorful set of graphics with well touched up characters. Some of the backgrounds still look a little blocky, but it’s a vivid look regardless. Switching back to the original look made me feel as though the game were attempting to pierce my eyes with sharp daggers of 90’s polygons. I can’t exactly say they’re terrible as back in the day I loved those graphics, but the old version just shows so much age.
I do however love the music: It’s fun, it’s upbeat, it’s catchy, and it’s very 90’s. It’s sometimes a little repetitive, especially if you are sitting at a menu for too long, but it never bothered me during the actual game. The menu music grated a bit, but when I was playing it was always great to hear while I was whupping up on some robots and bad guys.
The game is fun, no doubt there. There’s enough to experience with all of the branching storylines that give it a ton of replay for the story mode (be it alone or with a friend), and the other modes provide a lot of extra gameplay as well. Combining that with the online and couch cooperative features, the fun beat-em-up style gameplay, and the hours it’ll take to really get through everything, I’d say SEGA has a solid re-release here with Guardian Heroes.Note: Guardian Heroes was reviewed on Xbox 360. A digital copy of the game was provided by the publisher/developer.