Guardian Heroes: Keep fighting, even if you’re a bunny

October 12, 2011

The new Guardian Heroes doesn’t make the best first impression. You may have already heard preview grumblings from players and fans deriding the new visual filters, and even when you run the game for the first time, the interface is a mess, the combat’s a bit strange and the game doesn’t help you figure out either one. You’ll feel compelled to turn off the game and never play it again.

Fight that compulsion.

You see, beneath the rough exterior is a beat-em-up with surprising combat depth, a large amount of replayability and a versus mode that actually works.

First, a history lesson. Most don’t remember the original Guardian Heroes, released 15 years ago for the Sega Saturn. Like all Treasure games, it was visually charming, featured some innovative gameplay mechanics and was, at times, just a bit too busy for its own good. Instead of operating with depth of field, you play on three 2D planes, switching back and forth between them to take on different levels of enemies. You can still finish a session of the game’s story mode in an hour or so, as any beat-em-up should be, but that didn’t mean you played all of it. The branching paths meant that most playthroughs only hit about ten of the game’s 30 levels, and the moment-to-moment experiences changed with which character you used.

With this new release, it wasn’t just a visual overhaul. (In fact, it wasn’t really that at all.) Sure, there’s a filter over everything. It’s a bit weird at first, but you can get used to it. The lines are all smoothed out, and there’s this strange sketch look Paired with the re-drawn character portraits, it was still worth not using the option to revert to the Saturn’s big pixels.

No, there are two reasons to play the new Guardian Heroes. First: the new ways to play. The story mode can be played online with a friend, and you can take on the versus mode with friends. Most beat-em-ups don’t translate well to player-vs.-player modes, but Guardian Heroes is basically a fighter already. Each of the game’s characters has different special moves and customizable stats. The game even has a training mode to learn to control characters, which seems out-of-place until you try it and realize the nuances of each. There’s also a new Arcade mode, which just throws hordes of enemies at you at once and keeps leaderboards of how many kills players can get with each character before dying.

The second reason? What was already there has been tweaked and streamlined just a little bit. The controls have not only been simplified due to the 360’s controller actually having enough buttons to handle the original design, but also changed a bit to make things a bit more forgiving. (Don’t worry, purists: the old way’s still an option.) Gone is the “mental distress” paralysis for trying to cast magic with no MP. Added is a new form of counter that is more powerful but uses up a lot of energy. Spells are easier to cast, and so is using the backstep move. The game still has its challenge, but less comes from pure frustration.

Of course, Guardian Heroes sometimes just gets too crazy. Six-team, 12-character versus mode? Facing waves of enemies as a bunny? A little kid? How about a final boss? You can do all of these things. (Heck, there’s a leaderboard for that bunny too, so some will take that challenge seriously.) There are modes for more reasonable pursuits, too.

There are a few nice extras for fans thrown in for good measure, too. There’s the original intro video from the Saturn version (though, for some reason, it’s tiny on the screen), a gallery of all 12 colors of each character (and a sound test for each one) and a look at the Story Mode’s stages (and which choices lead to which paths).

Ultimately, Guardian Heroes is a game you need to invest some time into to really enjoy. But do it. You’ll be glad you did.

Pros: Combat is deep and fun, characters are numerous and varied
Cons: Interface needs polish, system takes some getting used to

Score: 4/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.