Also available on Xbox 360
Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 12/13/2021 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night
I’ve had Guardian Heroes downloaded on my Xbox 360 for a while. I’d played a little bit of the original Saturn release in the past, and I just finished one playthrough on Xbox 360 with my friend Colin, so I’m going to be doing a bit of a comparison between the original release and the remaster here. It’s a rather unique game that often feels like it doesn’t know exactly what it wants to be, but somehow that plays into making an extremely enjoyable co-op experience.
So the game starts out with a group of mercenaries who have just found some ancient magic sword after being hired by a group rebelling against an evil kingdom. The kingdom immediately attacks, and as the mercenaries are trying to escape, the magic sword summons a giant golden skeleton warrior who, despite looking like a super hard boss, ends up being a commendable ally who saves the group. From there, there are a ton of branching paths that you can take that affect some of the details of the story and character interactions that you see. There are several different endings that gives the otherwise roughly one-hour game a ton of replayability. The fact that you can play this co-op (and online if you have it on Xbox) makes this a fantastic feature.
The gameplay is like a bizarre amalgamation of beat ‘em up, RPG, and arcade games. The core gameplay is that of an arcade beat ‘em up like Turtles in Time or The Simpsons Arcade complete with a credit system at the top (despite having never been released in arcades), but as you defeat enemies, your chosen character gains levels, and after each segment, you get skill points that you can distribute to various stats to power up your character. Most games that don’t feel like they know what they want to be end up doing nothing well and just being mediocre at best, but for some reason, it works extremely well for Guardian Heroes, and the end product is extremely enjoyable.
The game plays and looks great, but it’s not perfect. The dialogue is painfully 90s, for example, and has aged extremely poorly. It might have seemed funny in a juvenile 1990s way, but in the 2020s, it’s just bad. The visuals, however, are top-notch, and the pseudo-3D movement style of the game with distinct horizontal planes between which you can hop has an extremely fluid feel once you get a feel for the controls.
As Colin said during our playthrough, this is the kind of game that’s only obscure because it was on the Saturn; if this had been a Playstation game, it would be remembered extremely fondly. It’s fun solo, but it’s a truly great experience co-op. With its availability on Xbox 360 and, via Xbox backward compatibility emulation, Xbox One and Series X, everyone with any fondness whatsoever for 90s beat ‘em ups should give this game a shot.