- Original release year: 1996
- Consoles: Sega Saturn (later: Xbox 360)
I remember before I owned a Saturn and before I knew a lot about Guardian Heroes, I always thought it was a spiritual sequel to Treasure’s other classic game, Gunstar Heroes. I don’t know why. I had seen screenshots and it clearly looked different, but I guess the fact it had a similar title threw me off. Guardian Heroes is a different beast altogether, with the only similarity to Gunstar being that it is also one of the best games of all time.
Guardian Heroes is essentially the game that revolutionised and innovated the 2D side-scrolling beat-em-up genre for the 32-bit era of video games. There are basically four areas that I think really makes the game stand out and excel beyond that of many other games released at the time.
Guardian Heroes introduced something that a lot of beat-em-ups lack: An in depth plot. Sure, a beat-em-up doesn’t really need plot, but in this case, it also adds depth to the gameplay, allowing branching paths and multiple endings and, as a result, increasing the longevity and replayability of the game.
Something else that adds depth to the game, is the RPG elements. The more you fight, the more you level up, the more experience points you earn. Then, at the end of the level, you can use your points to level up your character’s skills.
In addition to controlling your own character, you can also issue commands to the mysterious warrior you find. And if you’re a fan of magic, you can also use magic attacks to take down your enemies.
The final gameplay mechanic I want to talk about, are the three planes of battle. You can jump between the back, middle and front of the level with a press of a shoulder button, allowing for evasive actions and tactical gameplay.
As a 2D juggernaut, Guardian Heroes has aged incredibly well. The large 2D hand drawn sprites were just beautiful for their time (and they look phenomenal in the 360’s HD remaster), although they’re a bit pixelated now, by today’s standards. Otherwise though, the graphics and animation is fluid and very smooth.
In terms of its gameplay, thanks to the RPG mechanics, branching paths and other innovative gameplay mechanics, Guardian Heroes is a very special game, possessing far more depth than other traditional beat-em-ups. You can play the story mode with 2 players, or there’s even a battle mode that allows for up to 6 players. Guardian Heroes is one of the best games to be developed by Treasure and, in addition, is also one of the best Sega Saturn games. It’s a little pricey these days, but there’s always the Xbox 360 version which is relatively inexpensive. If you haven’t played this gem before, I can’t recommend it enough.