Saving the world, one ridiculous juggle at a time
If I had my way, the entirety of my review of Guardian Heroes HD would consist of this:
“Guardian Heroes is awesome. You should buy it. The end.”
I wasn’t sure that that was going to be how I’d feel at first. In fact, I almost didn’t want to boot up my Xbox 360 or launch this re-worked version of the Saturn classic. Really, I was afraid—afraid that my rose-tinted memories would have failed me, and I’d find out that Guardian Heroes was nowhere near as amazing of a game as I remembered it being.
That’s really one of the biggest pitfalls of these gaming remakes. We recall treasured games of our childhood, tell each other, “Man, it would be awesome if that game came back,” and enough of us say that often enough for companies to consider it as a realistic money-making opportunity. We play the remastered and reconfigured new versions of the game, bathe in nostalgia for ten minutes or so, and then sorrowfully realize that we’re long past the point of being entertained by such a piece of entertainment.
With that in mind, I am then pleased to tell you this: In no way, shape, or form is that the case with Guardian Heroes HD.
For a game that is now over 15 years old, it is a testament to Japanese development house Treasure how fresh and fun Guardian Heroes still feels when playing it today. I’ve gone back to so many games similar to this one—games based around fast action or the beat-em-up concept popularized by titles such as Double Dragon or Final Fight—only to find gameplay that now feels out-of-date and antiquated. At it’s time, one of the things that made Guardian Heroes special was its deep, almost fighting game-esque battle system. Each of the game’s main characters had a variety of melee and special attacks at their disposal, and the game allowed for players to chain together these maneuvers into ridiculously long combos and air juggles.
It’s that same gameplay engine that makes Guardian Heroes HD as relevant today as its original Saturn release was so many years ago. Having only finally played Bayonetta around half a year or so ago, I could name you other similar action titles based around extensive amounts of combat that came nowhere near the enjoyable depth that Platinum’s wily witch offered. Playing Guardian Heroes HD, it reminded me of Bayonetta—we’re offered that similar feeling of pure, simple satisfaction in every battle no matter how big or small. And—also like Bayonetta—it easily outshines a number of today’s other releases in those terms. For a game that was developed over 15 years ago, that’s a heck of an accomplishment.
Another of Guardian Heroes’ stand-out traits was its branching storyline system. At regular intervals during gameplay, the player is asked to make a decision from among a number of options, with the choices made determining which locations will be visited and how deep into the game’s story the players will delve. This had two direct effects on the game: It gave it more of an RPG-esque feel than even Capcom’s series of arcade Dungeons & Dragons beat-em-up releases, and kept Guardian Heroes feeling fresh over multiple play-throughs.
So how do you take a game like Guardian Heroes—a game fans have begged for ports of ever since the Saturn faded into history—and bring it into 2011? Graphically, stages have been expanded to make use of widescreen televisions, and Treasure gives us one of two visual options: the original graphics from the Saturn release, and a new set of filtered sprites given a sketch effect reminiscent of Photoshop’s “Graphic Pen” plug-in. Playing Guardian Heroes HD online with fellow EGM staffer Brady Fiechter, he mentioned how impressed he was with the remixed graphics the game is sporting. Personally—while I appreciated the chosen style over what most other classic game remakes typically provide—I wasn’t really a fan of the final effect. Instead, I found myself surprised with how wonderful the original Saturn graphics looked on my HDTV—then again, I’ve always been a fan of sharp, chunky pixel-based sprites, so hey.
The selection between Original and Remixed modes isn’t just a question of visuals; it also provides one of two control schemes. Original mode, obviously, retains the same buttons and techniques the Saturn version first provided. Remixed, meanwhile, contains all of the control options of Original mode, but then adds a few new options like back-steps, additional dashes, and the inclusion of a medium attack.
There’s one other major side to Guardian Heroes HD, and it’s unfortunately one I don’t feel comfortable enough to cover in this review at this point: the game’s multiplayer mode. Guardian Heroes wasn’t just a fantastic single-player or multiplayer co-op storyline—it also included a versus mode that offered up frantic, chaotic action for up to six players. It was outrageously fun not just because of how crazy it got with six characters flying all over the place beating the crap out of one another, but because Treasure had the brilliant notion to allow any character in the game to be unlockable in this mode. This meant that you could have one person playing a major boss with a wide roster of attacks, while another player choses a simple peasant girl who could do nothing but slap her opponents.
Given that I’ve been playing Guardian Heroes HD before its official release date, this is a mode I’ve had little ability to experience properly under real-world conditions. However, seeing as Treasure has bumped the player count for Guardian Heroes HD’s competitive mode from six to twelve, and has provided an extensive amount or customizable rule sets for setting up exactly the kind of battle players want, I can certainly make an educated guess—the game’s competitive multiplayer mode could become a hugely beloved portion of the game and a must-play experience.
Guardian Heroes HD contains within it a thoroughly enjoyable classic beat-em-up that is still as good today as it was 15 years ago; a greatly expanded and enhanced versus multiplayer mode; and a few other additions such as a new “survive as long as you can” Arcade mode based around online leaderboards. (I have a feeling this mode—which initially comes off very nondescript and low key—could be the sleeper hit of the release.) At at time when more and more Xbox Live Arcade games are coming in at higher price points, at $10 Guardian Heroes HD is the easiest recommendation I could make of any XBLA release this year.
SUMMARY: Though it may be just one of a long list of classic games to be dusted off and re-released with various tweaks and additions, Guardian Heroes HD is far and away one of the best choices to come from that trend.
- THE GOOD: A fantastic Treasure game saved from being lost to time
- THE BAD: Not everybody will be able to appreciate either of the graphic modes
- THE UGLY: How much some people paid for Saturn copies of Guardian Heroes