As a concept, Guardian Legend is awesome. A girl with a laser sword and blaster who can transform into a space ship attempts to destroy a planet populated by hostile aliens that’s on a crash course with Earth. Every eight year old boy on the planet just cheered. It’s a game I always wanted to play as a kid, but never got around to. It didn’t help that none of my friends owned it.
I came into this playthrough knowing that Guardian Legend is pretty well regarded, and even has a following. I expected to become part of that following after my experience, but I came away from Guardian Legend having not had one iota of fun.
Guardian Legend isn’t a bad game. I can’t point to a single technical aspect or gameplay element that’s deficient. In fact, if I tell you why I don’t like the game, you’re going to call me crazy. Let’s talk about the game itself before I share anymore opinions.
Guardian Legend has two gameplay modes: classic shoot ’em up and exploration. Shoot ’em up resembles classic shooters of the NES era like Gradius and Lifeforce.
The flying sections are simple, and serve as a segue between the game’s regions. Players must pilot the Guardian down each “corrider,” blasting enemy defenders, while avoiding return fire and environmental hazards. This mode is liberal with your life, which is good, because no matter how many times I played, I still took a lot of what seemed like mandatory damage.
Reaching the end of a corridor nets you the honor of facing a boss in order to advance to the next level.
The exploration mode is more in the vein of Zelda or Blaster Master. In this mode, the Guardian transforms back into human form, hunting for upgrades, weapons, and the exit to the next corridor.
Controls are simple, but precise. The B button fires your main blaster, the A button your special weapon. You can move and fire in eight directions, which is saying something for the Nintendo’s dated control pad. Start pauses, and Select brings up a world map and weapon select screen.
You’ll notice “chips” by the Guardian’s life bar. Chips, dropped when you defeat an enemy, serve as currency to purchase secondary weapons from vendors, and power to use those weapons a la hearts in Castlevania.
That’s pretty much it. Your goal is to fly, shoot, and explore your way to the heart of the planet. It’s a pretty, technically solid game with a killer premise. So how come I don’t dig it?
The Guardian Legend feels desolate and alien to me. “But isn’t that the point?” You are infiltrating a weaponized alien planet after all.
Maybe that is the point, but I’m not sold. I’m too used to modern games that make you sit through a two hour tutorial before you begin playing, but with Guardian Legend, I was lost from the start.
Take Metroid for example. It had a very similar sense of desolation. But it taught you what to do and where to go in less than a minute of playing time. Go right. Can’t go right? Go left. Find item that let’s you go right. Proceed. The feeling of desolation came the deeper into planet Zebes you traveled. It wasn’t there from the start like in Guardian Legend.
I call this the “Blaster Master” effect. Blaster Master is a great game that doesn’t get enough credit for advancing the Metroidvania genre. But I hated starting a game because I always felt like it was an uphill battle. There wasn’t really a safe zone for you to regroup. Just a plateau to roll off of. The best exploration based games all have a hub, whether you realize it or not. Zelda has a safe zone. So does Dragon Warrior. But in Guardian Legend, no place feels safe. It doesn’t help that the only thing keeping you from losing your progress forever is a 32 character password that’s just straight up annoying.
Hostile, alien world aside, Guardian Legend is a solid NES title. If you like Blaster Master, Crystalis, or Metroid, you’ll find a lot to love. Not my cup of tea, but it’s a cut above many slapdash NES games of the 80s.