Only three words can describe the Guardian Legend for the NES: Classic, Unique, and Underrated. It leaves a wonderful and fun feeling from the time you press the Power button to the moment you savor sweet victory against the final boss and everything in-between. Personally, the title screen and music is an extraordinary moment in 8-bit gaming and seen few that can rival it.
The Guardian Legend (a.k.a. Guardic Gaiden in Japan) is a NES game released in the USA in 1989 by Broderbund, produced by Irem, and created by Compile. It is a combination of Metroid, Zelda, and scroll shooting games weaved masterfully together into a masterpiece with vast exploration, an array of powerful weapons, tons of boss fights, and an experience that which make every second worth its while.
You play as Miria (Alyssa in Japan), "The Guardian" of the Earth and its sworn protector. Before Tomb Raider, Resident Evil, and Super Princess Peach, most females in 8-bit games were either kidnapped, captured, held hostage, killed, dead, evil, or just none. Back then, females fitted best in supportive roles like the helper or the sidekick. It is quite rare to see the leading role fulfilled by a female, even better when with one that transform into a jet. (How many women do you know that can do that? :) )
One day, a spaceship, nearly the size of a planet, is found on a collision course with Earth. As the Guardian, you set out to infiltrate the flying fortress. Upon arriving on the surface, you come across the final message left by its remnants and learned that Naju, their home, has been taken over by evil life forms. To prevent Earth's destruction, you must find the 10 seals of the self-destruct mechanism scattered across Naju's labyrinth-like surface.
The story combines elements from both Zelda and Metroid in which you must search for the seals but, at the same time, shrouds the atmosphere with a sense of isolation since you are alone to fend against whatever horrors and dangers that lie ahead.
Here is where TGL truly shines as it plays like a shooter and action-adventure game, but so much more. Rarely do you find games that combine and execute multiple genres so well, and that alone does make TGL really stand out.
The game begins as a regular shooter, but with some key features. First, you have a life bar, but that's a misleading name cause you don't die when it reaches zero. Just when you're hit with zero life, either way, start worrying when life is low. The score counter increases the life bar as the more points are accumulated and does give itself an RPG-type twist. (Hint: Try to kill as many enemies as you can.) Chips serve many purposes in TGL as its used as currency, increase your regular weapon's firepower, and a requirement to utilize special weapons (More on that later).
All of Naju's corridors are going to be shooter-type stages. The pace of the game will change frequently as for some stages can start going fast then begin to slow down and vice versa. When reaching the end of level, you fight the corridor's boss and receive special items as a reward for beating him. Unlike typical shooters, the enemies here do more than just fire a huge buttload of ammunition. You have enemies that teleport out of nowhere, enemies that will fake out, enemies that can multiply themselves and barrage you, enemies that your regular gun can't destroy, enemies that attack from underground, etc. They do give the game a distinguishing yet exciting and classic feel to it compared to other shooters and another reason to love it more.
The other aspect is the action-adventure mode with 3/4 perspective overhead and, armed with a blaster, you must explore Naju for the 10 sealed corridors (Corridors 1-10). Think of it playing as Link but with the Mega Buster. A cool concept is Miria can walk and shoot in 8 directions giving gameplay a new level as I felt it gave more freedom and flexibility. It wasn't as restrictive as most NES games and some SNES games and shows that Compile created something that was ahead of its time.
By pressing SELECT button, a menu will appear along with a map indicating where the corridors and relieves the frustration in finding them. But opening them is a different matter as there are hidden message rooms that will tell how to unlock, making exploration a necessity. Use this opportunity to search for power-ups. Some clues are straight-forward, like shooting at the door, while others are cryptic and require some thought.
The corridors you seek are sealed in areas that require a key and can only be obtained by defeating a certain boss. It does give the game a much more linear-tone, but TGL makes up for it with additional corridors (Corridors 11-20). These corridors are optional, unlock automatically, and will reward you with a power-up. (Also, a good chance to harvest points to increase your life bar.)
Unlike the shooter stages, you can freely move around at your own pace. The enemies here aren't as difficult as in the corridors, but don't get cocky, they will take a big chuck of life if you let them. The best part for boss fights here is that you have the option to not fight them by simply moving to another room. However, it must be done before you're sealed in.
The game does help by providing additional weapon to help combat against your enemies, such as, a light saber, seeker missiles, fireballs, twin lazers, etc. These can be mainly found lying on the surface or bought from the Blue Landers (Compile's mascot) in exchange for chips. You can level-up all weapon up to 3 times, but as their levels increases, so does the number of chips they consume.
The Enemy Eraser is a super special weapon destroying all enemies within the screen, except for bosses and certain enemies. My advice is CONSERVE them for boss fights and only use them if it gets too hectic. Unlike other special weapons, Enemy Eraser don't rely on chips and can only be replenished by finding more Enemy Erasers, dropped by enemies very few often.
Despite the numerous power-ups and weapons, the game is still challenging. On top of that, there are 48 bosses in the Guardian Legend ranging from fairly easy to difficult. Some fights will have you fighting the same boss, with a different color each time, but don't be fooled. They are tougher. Strategies successful on previous forms may not work on their stronger counterparts. This forces players to think on their feet and come up with new strategies with what they got.
The beauty of it is your strategies aren't limited to using one particular weapon over and over again. For some bosses, I've defeated with either the light saber and seeker missiles and regular blaster, while others say to use fireball. It's okay to go with what float your boat and Compile programmed that well into their game. (Hint: If you're weapon are too weak, then I suggest searching surrounding areas for power-ups before fighting the boss again.)
Graphics and Sound:
For an 8-bit game, the graphic designers at Compile really did a marvelous job. They spared no detail in character, enemy, and background design and give each an distinguish outlook. But the graphics do flicker from time and time as the screen fills up with enemies, however I don't feel it impedes the gameplay too much. Also, they could have made some backgrounds a bit more colorful, but I'm not complaining.
The music, in short, is good, despite the fact the game has a limited sound track. Not for one moment did I feel it was repetitive or dull, and has a catchy tune that you'll most likely hum to while walking or driving.
The only drawback to this game are the password, which can be obtained by entering a save room (the pink room with the Blue Lander in it). The passwords are 32 characters long and consists of both upper and lower-case letters, numerics, and "!?". I felt they overboard with the password system, even with a password checker. It has become sort of a nuisance when writing and inputting them, especially for gamers that play this for short intervals. But I doubt it'll be that bad since you'll be too preoccupied fun on this thing for hours and hours on end.
For all pure shooter fans, if you input the password "TGL", the game will allow you to play all corridor stages (including the optional stages), without having to explore Naju. This password is shown after you've beaten the game for first time and adds replay value for those that love shooter games or just want a bigger challenge.
The Guardian Legend is a game combined with the great qualities from Metroid, Zelda, and shooter games, and still holds many endearing traits that allows it stand on it two feet alone. But in a sea of famous titles, it went unnoticed and become criminally unknown for far too long. The game can be bought on Ebay for as low as 3 bucks and I think that low. It is one the NES' biggest sleeper classics, and I feel it is a must have for any NES gamer.
The Guardian Legend is that awesome. On that final note:
Merry Christmas, Everyone!!!!!