Game Of The Month: January 2016
Guardian Heroes - Sega Saturn / XBox 360
Creating a game that is great is hard, everyone in the industry has tried and overall very few developers have truly succeeded. Of the hundreds of thousands of titles ever created there’s probably in all truth less than a few thousand absolutely great games. To make something that goes beyond great to be a console defining experience coupled with standing the test of time is even harder, Welcome to when Sega through 'Treasure' nailed it!
In 1996 when the Sega Saturn console was already showing signs of massively failing against the might of the Sony Playstation the 32-bit console that far too many have shunned (to their own loss) was producing some of the greatest titles of it’s generation. With a bigger emphasis on 2D titles, especially top down and side scrolling shooters in Japan the Saturn console was a completely misunderstood beast that those with the courage to try would end up reveling in more fun than they could have ever dreamed possible. If the Megadrive is the famous console and the Dreamcast the popular/hipster machine then the Sega Saturn is very much the fine wine collectors choice!
Thanks to their previous success on the Sega Megadrive/Genesis ’Treasure’ who were arguably the premier third party developer of their time released what is most probably their finest hour, Guardian Heroes was very much a little bit of something you were already used too but done in so many new ways that it felt like they had just invented the wheel. Very much a side scrolling Beat ‘em Up at heart, inspired by the greats such as Final Fight and of course the Streets Of Rage series this was how a 32-Bit super console handled it’s business.
With an overly and deliberately pixelated design it took gameplay elements from one on one fighters such as the King Of Fighters series and brought it into a genre that up until then had not really seen the like, certainly not done this well at least anyway. Instead of just walking left to right on one level you could actively move between several layers on the screen meaning that enemies no longer came to you head on but in a sort of 3D way that constantly kept you on your toes. This introduced a completely new gameplay element into the genre and along with the power of the console and the sheer number of enemies on screen gave a total sense of being in the middle of epic battles. On top of this the player was also able to completely choose their own path through the adventure by means of certain actions during the cut scene moments where dialogue was optional, this gave enormous amounts of replay value meaning that no two games were ever the same (at least not for the first 20 or so playthrough’s anyway)
The story tells the tale of a supreme being who goes on to create two opposing factions to see whom is the stronger and to create warriors for him to use as his own. One of the factions (Sky Spirits) then bestows massive powers on humans in order to have them do their work for them and it proved very successful. After a time though the same spirits then decide mankind is too dangerous and seeks to wipe them out. With banishment from the realm one Wizard returns to essentially set up a prophecy about a time of the Sword where humans will once more return and those who sought to banish them would be defeated. A decree to outlaw all swords is given by the spirits however one extremely powerful one is missed, a sword that belonged to a anonymous warrior which nicely sets up the quest to bring back said warrior and his sword and fight to reclaim what is in fact your destiny. There’s much more to it however to keep things simple that’s essentially the games story in a nutshell.
With multiple characters to play as, each with hugely varied attacks and special moves you join forces with the resurrected warrior who acts as a companion or a protector as you hack ‘n’ slash your way through the massive amount of levels in the game. With multiple endings and insane amounts of characters to unlock for the other gameplay mode it’s a videogame that just gives and gives. The real stand out element however was the introduction of levelling up your characters abilities meaning that this was also a very basic RPG, just another awesome string to the already impressive bow. Character design and enemy characters were unbelievable with huge sprites sometimes taking up the entire screen giving a real sense of panic and danger. Everything this game did was bigger, better and faster than anything else in it’s class.
Later re-released on the Xbox 360 in full HD with more new features such as online play the game showed how it had aged perfectly and a whole new generation of fans were completely blown away by it all. Guardian Heroes is simply put a perfect videogame. You will play it again and again and each time with a massive smile on your face. When it ends, you want more and that’s the essential component of a world class game. This isn’t just a great game, it’s a console defining moment, it’s a generation defining title and it’s a game that gives the impression it invented everything it does, that takes real design class! Grab a pad and some friends and jump into a world you won’t ever want to come back from, this is special, this is Treasure, this is Sega Saturn… Your move Playstation!