Guardian Heroes (Sega Saturn 1996)

I just came back from Japan and i picked up a Sega Saturn and a BUNCH of games! One of those games was Guardian Heroes, a co-op side-scrolling beat em’ up by Treasure that was received very favorably when it was first released and is still to this day a loved title in the retro game community.
This is the first time we cover a Sega Saturn game thus marking the start of Cousin Gaming going 32-bit! Look forward for some more Saturn and Play Station content in the future!
Guardian Heroes is an old school beat em’ up similar to games such as Final Fight, King of Dragons or Knights of the Round with a few big differences. Guardian Heroes has 3 lanes you can walk on vertically. You changes lanes with a press of a button so you cannot move on the Y-axis. You cannot attack enemies outside you lane and enemies cannot attack you unless some kind of a special move is used. This can be used to your advantage, but it can also be a pain to get to lane jumping enemies.

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You have an initial choice of 4 characters who all differ widely in gameplay. You get one Brute force guy, one speedy ninja, a black mage and a white mage. When you beat the game on normal you unlock the 5th character who is kind of a warrior/black mage hybrid. Some of these characters have a bit of a learning curve but that is only because the gameplay is that deep so you cannot just jump in and expect to know all the ropes just yet. The brute is easy to play and the 5th character is also pretty straight forward but the others are more steep so in a co-op game one of you is gonna have a bit of a tougher time at first at least.

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Your Guardian Heroes! The undead warrior is not playable he just kinda follows you around and attacks automatically

Yes the gameplay is deep. Your characters use moves more similar to maybe Street Fighter rather than Final Fight. You can just button mash but it is not likely to get you very far. With strong attacks, weak attacks, magic and a dedicated block button there are plenty of moves for you to master.

The most peculiar thing about this game is the undead warrior that follows you around all game. He is really strong and he is under your command. He can protect you, attack normally or you can make him go nuts and get him to do a lot of AoE damage if he gets some time to pull of the super move. This is totally new in this kind of games and it brings some more strategy to the table but personally i would rather just do the beating up myself. You get XP for hitting and killing enemies so you don’t want to use the undead warrior too much. That XP will go into categories that benefit your character such as strength, vitality, intelligence and the usual stuff. I have always found rpg elements a great topping on beat ’em up games. It is fun to feel your improvement and added customization is always a welcome addition to beat em’ ups.
One thing about games from Treasure is that they are not afraid of taking chances or trying something new.

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Vs. mode. This guy decided to fight 5 undead warriors as Kanon

The game is plenty long. it has a total of 30 stages but in each play-through you only go through maybe 10. This is because the game offers branching paths which really adds to the game’s longevity. The game is also pretty challenging in the normal setting so you can go through the game again in a different difficulty setting and go a totally different path from when you did before. It probably took us like 6 or 7 tries to clear the game on normal and most of them felt pretty fresh until we starting purposefully picking the easiest path.

Guardian Heroes has a vs. mode where you can pick almost any character you meet in the game along with the playable 5 characters. This vs. mode is fantastic and it kinda reminds me of Fatal Fury/Street Fighter that has been thrown in a blender with Super Smash Bros. Nowadays the vs. mode is pretty obsolete but in 1996 i can imagine playing this to death with my pals with a 5 player multitap.

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Welcome to lag city, population.. You!

One thing that brings this game down a bunch is slowdown. When the warrior goes nuts or when the screen gets smack full of enemies the game lags to a near unplayable level. This is so weird because the game is not even an arcade port. If they really tested the game then they should have known this, so why not lower the number of enemies a bit? Nothing fun about having 12 enemies on screen especially if it makes the game lag down to hell.

Another thing is the story. While I think its admirable for them to include the cool anime visuals and a story, the story just gets in the way of the gameplay. There is too much unskippable dialogue in the game, and when you are playing through the game for the 5th or 6th time you can get really frustrated. The music always changes when the dialogue starts and that tune has pieced my brain so deep I could never forget it. So annoying.

Still, the music in this game is overall very good. Whatever happened to saxophones in video game music?  Nice jazzy Japanese anime/game music that really reminded me of  the early 90s. Really awesome, unique stuff. Check out the tune in the link above!
The graphics are also really slick. Hand-drawn anime style 2d sprites and backgrounds with real character. The game has a fun sense of humor that really adds to that character.

Check out this longplay:

In the end Guardian Heroes is a pretty advanced beat em’ up and clearly a level up from its 16-bit predecessors when it comes to complexity. The controls are tight and the gameplay is fun but the learning curve is pretty steep and the game laaaags a lot(in co-op at least). That lag and the constant stopping of the flow of the game with boring dialogue that you have to read about a 100 times pulls this game down quite a bit for us.
However, Guardian Heroes makes it up with character variety, rpg features, move variety and the branching paths. It is overall very fun, exciting and unique.

The game was also released on the Xbox 360 with enhanced graphics so try that version if you cannot get your hands on a Sega Saturn.

Gameplay 8
Visuals 8
Music 8
Lasting appeal 8
Is it fun? 8

Overall 8 a very good game

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