Many wondered what Treasure, creators of such Genesis classics as Gunstar Heroes, Dynamite Headdy, and Alien Solider would do on Sega's next platform, especially with additional horsepower. And their first offering did not disappoint: Guardian Heroes, at its core, is a side scrolling beat 'em, along the lines of Final Fight and Streets of Rage. But to say that it's the absolute best of its kind, a true pinnacle of the genre is not hyperbole but simple fact.
While not quite launch software, it was still one of the earlier signs of the Sega Saturn's power as it pertained to its ability to push pixels. You controlled a highly detailed and beautifully animated spite among many, moving left or right on a single plane, and with the ability to jump towards and way the screen, to two other fields. Which is necessary since enemies, sometimes LOTS of them, are all over the place. To aid in the fight would be a second, third, or fourth player. And no matter what was another non-playable character, a zombie knight that was on a quest for revenge.
Gameplay-wise, it's like the games I just mentioned, but with light RPG elements laid on top. First you chose a character from a group of several, each embodying a different attribute: you've got the warrior type, the comparatively weak with the sword, but super strong when it comes to magic, the swift and nimble thief-type character, and so on. And as you play, you build up points, based upon your actions, which can be used to strengthen various attributes. So that muscle bound guy may eventually have voodoo powers to be reckoned with as well, eventually.
There's also the aforementioned extra hand, a big dead guy that's pure strength. He works independently, but can also be somewhat steered in certain direction, via very basic commands: fight, hold back, etc. So even though one might feel hopelessly outnumbered at times, there's always someone watching your back. There's also a second, non-playable character (at least in the main mode; more on that later), but she only pops up whenever necessary to tell the story.
Speaking of, tale woven is unusually deep for. There's the first stages, to help set the scene, you're given options as to how to proceed further, and it essentially becomes a choose your own adventure game. There's countless levels in the game, offering several different paths, which all tell the same basic tale, but in slightly different ways. the basics is how you and a ragtag bunch of adventurers that must deal with a corrupt king, who seeks the power that is contained within a sword that was once used by a hero to the masses… and who is now back, since his assistance is needed once again, despite the fact that he's been deceased for some time now. As events unfold, everyone realizes that they've been pawns to a greater struggle, one happening high above in the heavens, as well as far below the surface.
It's ultimately not very deep, but the context provided is at least appreciated. There's like ten different endings, which again, is nothing mind-blowing, but at least you can tell the makers of the game tried to do something different. Outside of the main portion of the game is an arena mode in which one can assume one of the countless characters, but friend or foe, to go at it, with no rules or regulations. Given that there's like 40 some odd characters, each with their own unique attributes, it's quite the fun little bonus.
The game as a whole was a lot of fun back in the day, especially the main scenario, among four friends. But this was before the N64 made four controller ports a standard with consoles, and given how the Saturn was, again, hardly the most people kid on the block, the chances of being able to play alongside three other people was pretty rare. But all those technical issues are a thing of the past, making the XBLA version superior to the original, for the most part.
Another neat improvement has been the visuals; there's an enhanced mode that smaooths out the pixels… if you're into that. Though most long-time/diehard fans are going to want the original, chunky as hell pixels. The HUD has also been refined, for the better actually. The only thing the game loses points for is the lost of the anime intro, which was really cool, but it's hardly a deal breaker.
But yeah, if you want one of the best side-scrolling, beat 'em experiences around, you can't go wrong with Guardian Heroes! Though what if you’re looking for the finest space ship blasting experience, ever? I'll cover that in part two, along with a review of Sonic Generations to ask if Sega really does have any of that old magic left in them?