"Just don't let the other reviews dissuade you by constant talk of slowdown. It's hardly as omnipresent as they'd have you believe, even in the multiplayer modes. Advance Guardian Heroes is an essential part of any GBA library, whether you're a die-hard fan of the original or haven't even held a Saturn controller in your life."
I've never been the biggest Treasure fan. From the awkward Axelay to the derivative Gunstar Heroes, their titles have hardly made an impression in the camp of bluberry. At least, not a very positive one. There were, however, some diamonds in the rough. Gems such as Ikaruga, which took the basic conventions of their genre and added something so original and exciting that it hooked you. Guardian Heroes was such a game. So much so that, despite a notorious hatred of sequels, Treasure deemed it worthy of another go-around. While it eschews the medieval style of the original in favor of a futuristic one, Advance Guardian Heroes manages to live up to its lofty name and ascend to the peak of the GBA (trash) heap.
The story opens in the middle of a rainstorm, where our hero slowly approaches a sword ominously placed upon a precipice. When he gets near it, a bunch of people kill him. Then, the sword possesses his lifeless body. You know what? Screw it. The story is ridiculous and poorly translated, but nobody cares. The point is that the villain blows up the cliff and then sends a bunch of his cronies at you during your descent, in which you hop between falling rocks in an attempt to not become a pancake when you land in the woods below. After some of your allies fire a salvo of missiles at a large enemy robot, the whole forest sets on fire, forcing you to navigate through it speedily while taking on all who dare challenge your awesomeitude. Welcome to the first segment of the first level.
At the heart of AGH is its semi-unique countering system. By tapping the right trigger just as an enemy attack hits, your character stops the blow, and your opponent is left stunned. If you'd prefer to just not get hit, you can hold the trigger down instead and put up a barrier that absorbs the decidedly unfriendly fire. While blocking may seem more effective than countering, the two are kept in check by the magic gauge. Properly timing a counter may be riskier than blocking or rapidly smashing the trigger in the hopes of getting lucky, but the latter choices will consume substantially more magic, eventually leaving you defenseless. You'd also be without a chance to use your lineup of spells, such as from a row of spears that arise from the ground or a homing fireball.
A variety of simpler methods with which to battle your foes are also at your disposal, thanks to the intuitive combat system. All of your moves, which range from a forward thrust to a roundhouse kick, are executed simply by a tap of the d-pad along with the attack button. There's also a set of aerial moves, which can greatly extend your combos and juggles. Nothing tops the joy of kicking your enemy upwards, uppercutting him, and then slamming him back down to the ground, all while a meaty throng of action sounds play. There's enough variety in the opposition to keep you on your toes, too. Whether you're fighting the simplest sword-toting soldiers or a bunch of exploding fire demons, beating on these guys never fails to amuse. Definitely a good thing, as this game isn't very boss heavy compared to other action games like the more recent Contra titles.
You'll eventually tire of battling bands of normal enemies, though, and just as you do, the upbeat electronic music suddenly stops. As your malfunctioning ship floats down a river, a ninja begins to run atop the water in pursuit. He slams into it, sending the troops flying, and then leaps into the air as the sun gleams behind him. After introducing himself as Ginjirou, one of the ancient heroes, he challenges you to a duel while an in-your-face guitar song is cued. So begins one of the many stylish boss battles, which range from machines with complex patterns to free-for-alls against other human opponents. The attack ship, for example, repeatedly rams into your platform from a variety of angles while spewing bullets at you, while Ginjirou employs a variety of ranged magic and an arsenal of melee combos. Oh, and about a dozen of his doubles join the fray.
And for the entirety of the hectic battles, some of the slickest visual effects the GBA has seen to date are churned out. From the raindrops that fall during the opening to the roaring river rapids, you'll wonder how Treasure got so much out of the GBA. The variety isn't limited to just the visuals, though, as the stages themselves carry as much diversity as the audience of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. For instance, the third mission opens with you riding a missile across the sky towards an enemy fortress. Not content to just rip a scene from Contra III, though, the game adds an extra challenge: enemies. The whole time, you'll have to manically jump from missile to enemy to enemy to missile while countering attacks and unleashing a can of whoopass. Later, your tour will take you through a dense fog, a self destruct sequence, and more!
Unfortunately, in spite of all the good points, Advance Guardian Heroes is far from perfect. My first qualm is that there are occasionally nemeses in the background that fire into the foreground; countering these shots is amazingly awkward. Second, the art design for the new characters is far from outstanding; the recurring cast look exponentially better than these Gunstar Heroes rejects. Additionally, the fourth level is balls, consisting of a boring stretch of highway and minimal opposition. And while one poor level normally doesn't muck things up too badly, that's where we get to the paramount of AGH's problems: it's way too damn short. If you don't count the final boss battle, it clocks in at a mere five stages, which is just pathetic.
However, the game won't be relegated to the shelf right after you beat it. One thing that draws you back are the harder difficulties, in which the enemies actually try to counter your attacks! And while the extra modes you can unlock are rather lame, the dozens of playable characters more than make up for it. As you play the different modes more and more, you'll begin to acquire a crew that encompasses both the mightiest ancient hero and the lowliest enemy soldier, all of whom entail a different style of play. A bevy of multiplayer modes have also been included, such as the versus mode that allows up to four people to square off. Even better is the two player story mode, which is just as much fun as you'd think!
Even if it didn't have extras to pad the play time, though, this would be a damn fine game. The counter system is simple and fun, while the combat is intuitive and complex. Variety is also an aid, whether it be the unique levels, the expansive cast of characters, or the myriad of foes. It also serves as an audiovisual showpiece, pumping out sublime visual effects and catchy tunes. Just don't let the other reviews dissuade you by constant talk of slowdown. It's hardly as omnipresent as they'd have you believe, even in the multiplayer modes. Advance Guardian Heroes is an essential part of any GBA library, whether you're a die-hard fan of the original or haven't even held a Saturn controller in your life.
Staff review by John L (September 26, 2004)
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