Whenever people talk about the Sega Saturn, you’ll hear the same game names come up in conversation eventually, and Guardian Heroes is almost always going to be somewhere in that list. There’s a reason for that: while the GBA sequel was generally regarded somewhat coolly by fans, due to a number of factors, the original was basically about as good as side-scrolling beat-em-ups get, between the great controls, the RPG elements, the branching pathways, and the lively presentation. Well, Treasure has apparently found a number that they were willing to take and Microsoft and/or was willing to match to get their games re-released, because Guardian Heroes is coming to XBLA exclusively, and it’s pretty much as intact as it’s going to get.
1.) So the first and most obvious point to make here is that the game is essentially fully intact in its transition to the XBLA platform, which the Sega rep noted was because they got lucky, since Treasure apparently still had the code needed to convert the game over. This is apparently a bigger issue than you’d think, for the record, since A.) the Sega Saturn used an ancient and not friendly coding architecture that makes converting games difficult, or so explained the Sega rep, and B.) this is the reason most people give for why Princess Crown will never come stateside, as Vanillaware apparently lost this code at some point. Anyway, the point is that the game will offer the full single player experience, the full versus experience, and multiplayer action online and off, so for those who want to get their game on, you’ll have options.
2.) On the subject of the remixed visuals, they’re fine. I’m not going to say that they’re fantastic or anything; they’re clean and generally well animated enough, but it’s not like someone was paid to re-draw the sprites or anything. The sprites are just stylized with black lines across them to give them a somewhat comic feel, and while it’s not the ideal solution, it works well enough that you won’t have any significant issues looking at the visuals or anything.
3.) As it turns out, however, the game also does offer you the option to use the original visuals if you’d rather, and while they haven’t aged particularly well, purists will appreciate the option at the very least. They’re still incredibly pixilated, mind you, and don’t hold up well in HD, but they’re fine otherwise, and if you’d rather, at least they’re in the game. The soundtrack appears to be intact as well, and THANK GOD for that, because Guardian Heroes has one of the best soundtracks ever composed.
4.) So, having spent the first couple points explaining stuff to existing fans, let’s assume for a moment that you’ve either never played the game but have heard about it a lot or have somehow never heard of it at all. Guardian Heroes, as I noted, is a fully functional side-scrolling beat-em-up set in a medieval world where the main characters discover a magical sword that turns out to be magical in a different way from what they expected. On the run from a corrupt government with an undead knight that was summoned by the sword, the team essentially needs to figure out what the hell is going on and put a stop to it. So, yes, there’s actually a pretty involved story in the game, and it’s actually pretty solid, even by today’s standards.
5.) It also helps that the mechanics of the game have held up very well, especially when compared to some of the more lacking modern beat-em-ups that have come out in the past few years. Your characters have light, medium, and heavy attacks that can be chained together for combos and big damage, but they also have special moves and spells that can be unleashed with fighting game-style commands, so you can whip out a fireball motion and an attack to unleash big pain on enemies. Each of the characters you can play as has their own different moves available to them, depending on the character and their skillset, and the characters are variable enough that you don’t feel like you’re playing as the same character every time you play if you switch it up.
6.) The game also offers an RPG stat system, where your characters can gain levels by smiting enemies and earn points that can be dumped into their stats. Your characters are already outfitted in a way that befits their skills, of course, so dumping points into Strength when playing as Randy the mage is… kind of silly, but if you want to do it, hey, more power to you. The branching pathways in the story that allow you to go in different directions along the plot are also pretty neat and diverse, and add to the experience even more.
7.) As noted, the versus mode from the original game is also still on board, which allows you to play as any of the playable characters as well as a bunch of the NPC’s and bosses from the game in one-on-one combat. As modes go, it’s not fantastic, if only because beat-em-up games don’t often lend well to versus play, but there are so many characters to play as that it’s a neat mode to have all the same, if only to goof around as characters you otherwise can’t play as.
8.) I spent a few missions with the game to test it out on the Xbox 360, and for the most part, the game seems to have made the transition to the console just fine. The controls feel fine all around, and there’s no significantly obvious sacrifice from the Saturn controls to the 360 controls, though the fighting game input commands can be touchy on the D-Pad at times. There are no obvious technical issues to speak of whatsoever, and as such the game feels smooth in motion and generally faithful to the original. In short: there are no significant technical shortcomings to be concerned about that should dissuade you from playing the game on the XBLA if you’re a fan and don’t have the Saturn version (or want to play with friends online).
9.) Okay, so we’ve talked about the game and what it brings to the table, for the most part, so let’s hash out the important parts that everyone’s wondering about. First, the game will be XBLA only at this point, but one presumes that unless there’s an exclusivity contract involved it might make its way to PSN eventually. Second, the game will sell for eight hundred points, or about ten bucks, and considering the game goes for between fifty to one hundred bucks online, well, that’s a damn steal. Third, the game will support two players in the story mode on and offline, and will allow for four players offline and twelve players online in versus mode, which might well liven the experience up enough to make it worth the time spent playing it.
10.) Look, Guardian Heroes is a classic gaming experience and, if the demo version available to play is a good indication, the XBLA release seems like a perfect port of said game. All of the features and options that made the original game great are intact, and online play and remixed visuals have been added to give the game some added value. Assuming the demo is indicative of the final product (in other words, assuming something doesn’t completely fail somewhere along the way and ruin the game), this is pretty much going to be a game everyone needs to own on principle and it’ll be totally worth it. Keep your fingers crossed, folks, because assuming the coding doesn’t completely crash and burn along the way, this will be a must have later this year.