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The Guardian Legend (NES) artwork

The Guardian Legend (NES) review


"Optomon doesn’t initially seem so imposing. This circular, one-eyed mass of vegetation does little but float from one side of the screen to the other while emitting bullets and unpredictable, but slow-moving, lasers. But, while pummeling the monster with everything she has, the Guardian brushes one of those lasers and watches her life bar get decimated. Suddenly, this fight has become a lot more tense as she realizes even the smallest mistake could be her last. And take my word on it — it’s easy to get so focused on dodging lasers that this critter’s weak bullets are what deals the killing blow...."



Infiltrating NAJU was the easy part. All the Guardian had to do was speed down a short corridor, easily overcoming a small force's half-hearted attempts to prevent anyone from gaining access to the immense spaceship. While the security system at the end of this area may have been a tougher test for her, it still was simplicity itself to demolish each and every one of its cannons. Phase one of the operation was a resounding success!

But, like I said, that was the easy part. Upon entering NAJU, the Guardian was confronted by an ominous message left behind by the last of its former inhabitants. Alien forces had boarded and taken over in the blink of an eye. This brave soul had courageously attempted to thwart the invaders by embarking on a suicide mission to activate the ship’s self-destruct mechanisms. The fact NAJU still exists is all the proof needed to show his sacrifice was in vain. Now, it’s up to the Guardian to destroy it and prevent the aliens from spreading their evil throughout the universe.

For one person, this would be an impossible mission. Fortunately, the Guardian isn’t a person -- she’s a miracle of technology. While going from one room to the next throughout the 11 Zelda-like dungeons that make up the various sectors of NAJU, she might appear to be a heavily-armed human, but wait until it’s time to enter any of the ship’s 20-plus corridors. As she leaps into action, she'll gracefully spin in mid-air, only to transform into a spaceship capable to taking out the deadliest of foes. The Guardian never meets the poor fellow who failed to destroy NAJU, but it doesn’t take a great deductive mind to figure he was nowhere near the fighting force she is.

Despite being around since 1989, Broderbund’s The Guardian Legend still amazes me because it takes a typical sci-fi shooter and effortlessly turns it into an action-RPG. For much of the game, the Guardian will be in human form, running through NAJU's various (and diverse) regions while killing weak monsters and stronger minibosses. Her reward for these exploits is the large amount of booty lying in every nook and cranny. Only by exploring every room of this ship will she be able to collect all the power-up items and upgrade her powerful weaponry, which ranges from fireballs, lasers and grenades to my beloved Enemy Erasers -- destructive bombs that clear the screen of all projectiles, as well as the weakest of enemies.

And she’ll need to do this to survive the daunting corridors of NAJU. When the Guardian’s in spaceship form, she won’t be doing much exploring. Now, her only goals are to survive some manic shooting action, take out the boss at the end of the stage and get back to solid ground to find the next corridor -- tasks made far easier by diligent exploration of the ship. Unlike the standard shooter spaceship, she is helped out by the presence of a life bar, which increases both as she finds certain items and as she reaches various scoring milestones.

Believe me -- it’s definitely a good thing that the Guardian’s capable of taking a decent amount of damage before doing down in flames and it’s even better that life-restoring items are frequently dropped by enemies. Not only will she be assaulted from all sides by fast-moving foes while zipping through the corridors, she’ll also have to outlast a slew of powerful bosses like this diabolical duo....

Optomon doesn’t initially seem so imposing. This circular, one-eyed mass of vegetation does little but float from one side of the screen to the other while emitting bullets and unpredictable, but slow-moving, lasers. But, while pummeling the monster with everything she has, the Guardian brushes one of those lasers and watches her life bar get decimated. Suddenly, this fight has become a lot more tense as she realizes even the smallest mistake could be her last. And take my word on it -- it’s easy to get so focused on dodging lasers that this critter’s weak bullets are what deals the killing blow....

Much later in the game, when that boss (which does reappear a handful of times, as do most of them) is child’s play to destroy, the Guardian will encounter Grimgrin. This grotesque head will fire all sorts of projectiles at her, but as she takes out its many eyes, it seemingly weakens to the point where it's barely a threat. Then, her attacks blow up the huge eye in the center of its face and all hell breaks loose. Turning a sickly yellow, it desperately floods the screen with everything but the kitchen sink. The beast might know it’s about to die, but it has no plans to perish alone....

And those are only two highlights of a game that’s loaded with them. Musically, The Guardian Legend is as good as it gets on the NES, with several wonderfully haunting themes playing as the Guardian wanders throughout NAJU. Bosses are large, detailed and colorful and their stages provide enough frenetic action that even getting to them can sometimes feel like a worthwhile accomplishment. At times it seems like Compile, who designed the game for Broderbund, thought of everything! Anyone who’d rather not have those nutty RPG elements in their shooters can simply input TGL as their password and only partake of the corridors -- with all the game’s weapons and items doled out as rewards for efficient blasting.

Unfortunately, there was one thing neither Compile nor Broderbund considered -- giving The Guardian Legend battery back-up. TGL is the only password even remotely tolerable to use in this game, as the normal one consists of 32 characters, with certain letters and numbers designed to look remarkably similar to others. Sometimes when I go to my mom's house, I believe I still can hear my frustrated screams from screwing up a password and losing a day's worth of progress echoing off the walls. I put the blame for this on Broderbund, as their 1990 release, The Battle of Olympus had the same obscenely long passwords.

Regardless of how many issues I had with this game's password system, I never stopped coming back for more. Hell, I just played The Guardian Legend for the first time in years and had just as much fun with it as I did back in the day, which isn't something I feel about too many of those ancient eight-bit games. The manic action of the shooter stages perfectly mesh with the exploration and character-building aspects of the dungeons to create a special game I'll likely never get tired of playing.

Infiltrating NAJU was the easy part. Eighteen years later, I've finally come to the realization that getting out is what's difficult. There just aren't many other places I'd rather be.

Rating: 10/10

overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (August 02, 2007)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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