Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!



#37 – The Guardian Legend

Two styles of gameplay collide in this legendary adventure!

A static title screen with some nice music!

To Beat: Reach the ending
To Complete: Beat both the main game and the special mode
What I Did: Completed the game
Played: 11/7/16 – 11/19/16
Difficulty: 4/10
My Difficulty: 4/10
Video: The Guardian Legend Special Mode Longplay

In 2012, Mike Matei of Cinemassacre published a now well-known YouTube video listing his top 10 obscure NES gems. The Guardian Legend is the first game I have covered that made his list. Now I won’t tell you exactly where this slotted in on the top 10, but most of the games on that list became instantly more popular overnight, including The Guardian Legend. So the game has a lot of hype surrounding it now, but does it live up to it?

The Guardian Legend was developed by Compile. They are pretty well known for developing shoot-em-up games. The game was first released on the Famicom in February 1988. There it was named Guardic Gaiden and it was published by Irem. The Guardian Legend was released on the NES in April 1989 and published by Broderbund. The game was later released in Europe in 1990 published by Nintendo. The box and label art are unique among all three versions of the game.

Much to my surprise, my research revealed that The Guardian Legend is actually a sequel. There was a trio of games released by Compile on the MSX computer in Japan. The first game was Final Justice which released in 1985 and plays similarly to Galaga. The second is Guardic released in 1986. In this game, each level is a static screen with enemies to shoot. You go to the next stage by flying upward into a scrolling section where you can decide which path and level you want to take next. The third game is Blaster Burn from 1990 which is a vertical scrolling shoot-em-up. The Guardian Legend is the sequel of the middle game Guardic.

There’s a lot going on even in the very beginning.

The Guardian Legend is a shoot-em-up game comprised of vertically scrolling shoot-em-up sections and top-down adventure sections. You play as the Guardian who can transform between a humanoid form and a spaceship form. The goal of the game is to destroy the planet Naju which is filled with monsters and set on a collision course toward Earth. Your mission is to explore the surface of the planet to locate corridors that are buried deep inside the planet. These corridors contain switches that can activate the self-destruct sequence when all of them are set.

The game begins inside the first corridor. Here the Guardian assumes her spaceship form and you play a vertical scrolling shoot-em-up stage. After clearing the stage, the Guardian switches back to her humanoid form and then you explore the surface of the planet from a top-down perspective searching for the next corridor. The game format resembles The Legend of Zelda in that you explore an overworld while looking for dungeons you need to clear.

The controls are pretty much the same in both perspectives. Use the D-Pad to move the Guardian in eight directions. The B button fires the standard weapon. In the shoot-em-up sections you can only fire upward but in the top-down portions you can shoot in any direction. Hold down the B button for a quite generous auto-fire. The A button is used to fire secondary weapons. You can pause the game by pressing Start and you press Select to open up the subscreen.

Information overload!

There is a lot of information available on the subscreen. The top portion of the subscreen contains the same information shown when you are playing and it is comprised of three rows. The top row shows your current score, the number of power chips you currently have, the number of shots for your secondary weapon, and which secondary weapon you have equipped. The middle row contains your health bar. The bottom row shows which area you are located and the X and Y coordinates of where you are located in the overworld. All of that is just the top part of the subscreen!

The left side of the subscreen shows the map. You can see your current location highlighted as well as the location of any reachable corridor. The right side of the subscreen shows which keys you have, the maximum number of chips you can have, your attack and defense power, the power level of the currently selected subweapon, and how many chips it takes to fire the current subweapon. The bottom of the subscreen shows all of the subweapons you have. Use the cursor to select which subweapon you want to equip.

The power chips are very important to your survival. They are the ammunition for your subweapons. Each subweapon uses up a certain number of chips for each time you fire it and you cannot use your subweapons if you run out of chips. The other important mechanic is that the chips also influence the firepower of your normal weapon. When you reach certain chip amounts your weapon will power up, but spending chips and falling below that amount will cause your weapon to downgrade. There is a balancing act between using your other weapons while also maintaining enough chips in reserve to have a more useful normal weapon.

It’s a tiny swarm of overworld enemies.

There are a ton of upgrades and items that you will encounter in the game. The most important items for making progress are the keys. As you explore you will find black circles on the ground next to walls that have some kind of symbol written on them. If you hold the key that matches the symbol, then you can stand on the circle and teleport to the adjacent room. The keys are found in the corridors and they allow access to new areas of the map. Each new area hides more corridors.

You will also gather subweapons. There are twelve unique subweapons and once you have one you can switch to it anytime you want via the subscreen. If you collect the same subweapon again you can upgrade it to a more powerful form. Each subweapon has three distinct power levels. These get really strong later in the game but they cost more chips to deploy. The subweapons have all kinds of different effects and patterns and they are a lot of fun to use. You can get grenades, a laser sword, circular shots, homing shots, and so on. If one of the enemies or bosses is giving you a lot of trouble, it is probably because you are not using the best subweapon for the job. Experiment to see which one is most useful for your situation.

Some items give you other types of permanent upgrades. The Blue Lander is a little creature that will increase your maximum health, and the Red Lander increases the maximum amount of power chips. The gun item increases your attack power, and the shield item increases your defense power. The item that looks like four upward arrows increases the rate of fire for your normal weapon. You can also find an energy tank that fills up your health to your current maximum. It’s worth pointing out here that you can also upgrade your maximum health by reaching certain score thresholds.

Look, a weapon lying on the ground!

Other items are found by defeating enemies. Sometimes when you kill an enemy a little explosion cloud will appear on the ground for a little while leaving behind a power-up block. Shoot the block to reveal the item. You can find a heart that will restore some of your health. The blue orb gives you 20 power chips and a tiny bit of health, and a red orb restores 500 power chips and a little more health than the blue orb. You can also find full energy tanks but they are more uncommon.

There are quite a few ways to find the upgrades and items. On the surface you can find shops where you can exchange power chips for a weapon or upgrade. Some screens contain mini bosses that hold an upgrades. When you walk into one of these screens an alarm will sound and all the screen exits will be blocked off forming an arena for the fight. These can be challenging but the reward is worth it. Some screens contain a powerup freely for the taking although it takes some maneuvering around the map to find them.

There are ten different areas spread out across the map that branch off of the hub area. Each one has its own theme such as a water area and forest area. Each area contains two corridors and they are numbered based on the current area number. Area 1 contains both Corridor 1 and Corridor 11, for example. Corridors 1-10 are required for clearing the game and each one of them is blocked off from entry. There is some kind of puzzle you need to solve to open up the gate. Exploring the area and talking with some Blue Landers will yield the answer for how to open the gate and access the corridor. The remaining Corridors 11-20 are optional but you get upgrades from clearing them that you probably will want.

One of many huge boss sprites!

The corridor stages can pose a challenge. Often they are teeming with enemies and there can be a lot going on at one time. The scrolling speed varies from crawling to crazy fast which can add to the excitement. Each stage ends in a fight with a huge, detailed boss that takes a lot of firepower to defeat. As mentioned before, choosing the right subweapon is critical to taking out the boss successfully.

All throughout the map you will find rooms with Blue Landers that will give you a password to save your progress. The passwords are really complex, consisting of 32 characters of capital and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. The passwords do track all of the items you have acquired as well as your score, but the length and complexity is just too much. Thankfully in the smartphone era a simple picture works wonders for capturing it just right.

This was my first time playing through The Guardian Legend but I have quite a few random memories surrounding this game. Growing up it was one of those games I would often browse at the local video store but never rented. I ended up buying my first copy of the game for $5 during my honeymoon. A couple of years later I got big into NES collecting again and The Guardian Legend kept popping up for me. My local game store chain was slow to update their NES pricing and they sold it for $3 when it was at least a $10 game. I bought several copies of the game just to flip. (Yep, I’m one of those “evil” reseller types.) I even picked up a cheap copy on eBay a couple of years ago when I saw it. Then right before I started playing through the game for my blog, my grandmother came across a lot of NES stuff with yet another copy of The Guardian Legend. This one however was a nice condition complete in box copy that I am keeping!

Such colorful death bubbles!

It took me a little under two weeks to finish playing The Guardian Legend with my normal rate of playing. The game definitely has some meat to it with all the areas and corridors, but I managed to make progress at a good rate every time I played. I didn’t get stuck anywhere for too long and even the most difficult corridors only took a few attempts at most.

The Guardian Legend is extremely generous with powerups. The item drop rate isn’t terribly high, but there are so many enemies around to defeat that you will get powerups on constant rotation. The top-down segments, corridors, and even most boss fights provide you enough to keeping going as long as you are reasonably careful and employ smart subweapon usage. For this reason, I don’t think the game is that difficult overall, but there were a few tricky sections that caused me to give it a 4/10 difficulty rating. One of the recurring minibosses became a war of attrition every time I encountered it, and the final boss was pretty mean and took a few tries to beat. This is the kind of game where you consistently make progress, and you can keep attempting the tough parts until you get it right.

I already spoiled this a little bit, but in case you didn’t pick up on it or don’t want to know, now is the time to skip ahead to the next paragraph! Upon beating the game and sitting through the end credits, you are given a very short password “TGL.” You can use the password to play through a special mode of the game that consists only of the Corridor sections. The levels are identical to the regular game but the big change here is how you are awarded the powerups. After completing each corridor, you are taken to a special screen where you earn powerups for meeting specific score requirements. You can get as many as five powerups after each stage even if you score high enough to be awarded more. This mode shifts the focus on scoring as many points as you can. It is also more difficult than the regular game because the rollout of powerups is slower than in the normal mode. It’s a fun way to play through the game again and a fitting reward for beating the game.

The Guardian Legend handles many enemies pretty well.

There is a very good hack of the game called The Guardian Legend Secret Edition. This is a complete overhaul of the game containing a new overworld, new Corridor stages, new Corridor puzzles, and even some new bosses. The difficulty has also been cranked up quite a lot, but that is to be expected with a hack like this. I started playing through Secret Edition once I completed the game and I got about halfway through before I stopped playing. If you like The Guardian Legend then you will really like Secret Edition. I really need to get back to it and finish it for myself!

The Guardian Legend indeed lives up to the hype. This is a really good NES game that I enjoyed playing a lot. The game controls well, the graphics and music are really nice, the myriad of subweapons gives you a lot of variety and power, the boss fights are well made, and most importantly the game is simply fun to play. I certainly got hooked! The only negative in my mind is the long password system, but if that’s the only thing I can find wrong with the game then Compile did a whole lot more right. I recommended that you give this gem a try!

#37 – The Guardian Legend

Gyruss Box Cover

#34 – Gyruss

Go ahead … give it a spin!

Yay starfield!

To Beat: Reach the ending
To Complete: Complete 2 Loops (maybe 3?)
My Goal: Beat 2 loops
What I Did: Reached about halfway through Loop 2
Played: 10/16/16 – 10/17/16
Difficulty: 7/10
My Difficulty: 4/10
Video: Gyruss Longplay

One way I have seen people try and describe a game is by forming it in terms of one or more other games that have shared elements. For instance, the term Metroidvania is widely used to describe a game that contains elements of both Metroid and Castlevania. Even though these comparisons may not always be the best, I think I can sum up Gyruss in this way. A cross between Galaga and Tempest, Gyruss is a fun shoot-em-up that is unlike anything else on the NES.

Gyruss originally is a 1983 arcade game developed by Konami. It was designed by Yoshiki Okamoto. He worked on only two games for Konami, Gyruss and Time Pilot. The arcade version was also published by Konami in Japan and Centuri in the US. Gyruss was later ported to five other home platforms by Parker Brothers. The NES version is not an arcade port, but a complete remake of the game by Konami. It was first released in Japan on the Famicom Disk System in November 1988 and in North America on the NES in February 1989, published by Ultra Games.

This is probably a good time to explain the relationship between Konami and Ultra Games. Nintendo decided to implement strict licensing agreements with companies that wanted to release games on the NES, and one of their policies was that companies were allowed to produce no more than five titles on the system per year. These policies were not in effect on the Famicom and some companies such as Konami were releasing many more titles. To get around the restriction, Konami created a separate publishing label named Ultra Games that received its own allotment of five games per year. So when you see Ultra Games on a cart you know the game is really developed and published by Konami. Nintendo certainly did a lot of hand waving here to let Konami release extra games, but I won’t complain since for the most part it works to our benefit!

Quite the generic story!

As I mentioned earlier, Gyruss borrows elements from both Galaga and Tempest. The game play is similar to Galaga in that each level has a few waves of enemies that enter in and all of them must be eliminated to proceed to the next stage. However the style is a tunnel shooter very reminiscent of the arcade hit Tempest. Your spaceship can orbit in a fixed circular path around the screen and enemies sit in the center of the screen moving outward toward your ship.

To beat the game, you must clear all 39 levels. You do this by planet hopping every four levels starting from Neptune going all the way to Mercury, and finally finishing off at the Sun. You can logically break down the level structure in groups of four. The game begins as you approach Neptune with the text “3 Warps to Neptune.” This level is the basic level type where four waves of enemies fly into the stage and you must defeat all of the enemies to warp to the next level. The second level “2 Warps to Neptune” has the same four enemy waves but with four enemy bases stationed in the middle of the screen. These take a lot of firepower to destroy so this type of level takes a little longer. The third level is “1 Warp to Neptune” which mirrors the first stage and includes a boss battle at the end. After reaching Neptune, the fourth level is a Chance Stage which plays out just like the Challenging Stages in Galaga. Here you get different enemy formations than the previous levels but the enemies cannot hurt you and your only goal is to defeat as many of them as you can for a point bonus at the end of the stage. This set of four stages repeats with the approach to each planet. There is no Chance Stage after the final boss so that sets the level count at 39.

When you begin the game you have the option of selecting either Control A or Control B. These determine how your control the movement of your ship. Control A boils down to pushing the D-pad in the direction you want to move regardless of where you are on the screen. So if you want to move to the left, you press left and you will travel the shortest path to the left side of the screen. If you keeping holding left you eventually will lock your ship in the farthest left position which can be handy at times. You can use up, down, left, and right to move to whichever side of the screen you want. Control B only utilizes left and right on the D-pad. Press left to move clockwise and press right to move counter-clockwise. Up and down do not do anything in this control mode. I have always used Control A and in my opinion I find it way more intuitive and useful than Control B. I think the only benefit to Control B is that you get continuous movement all around the screen by only having to hold down one direction on the D-pad.

Knowing where the enemies spawn helps you clear stages quickly.

You have two different types of attacks in Gyruss. The standard unlimited bullets are fired with the B button. You have a limited-use phaser attack by pressing A button. The phaser is a concentrated blast of fire at one position on the screen that plows through just about anything in its path. When you fire a phaser the screen pauses briefly for you to charge up and fire off the shot which is a nice touch to demonstrate the power of this attack.

There are a few powerups to help along the way. During the standard levels, a formation of three enemies in a row will appear on screen. The two outer enemies are cross shaped and the middle one is generally a powerup. The blue cross item upgrades your standard shot to a double shot. The orange cross item adds an extra phaser shot to your reserves. There is a round item with an orange center that gives you points. The round item with a blue center automatically destroys all enemies on screen aside from the enemy bases in the “2 Warps” levels. There is also a 1-up item that gives you an extra life. You also earn an extra life at 50,000 points and for every 100,000 points after that. You can have a maximum of seven lives and seven phaser shots in reserve.

The Chance Stages all have five formations of eight enemies for forty enemies in total. A few of the enemies in these formations will be a different color than the rest. These enemies bestow a powerup when destroyed so these bonus levels are good for upgrading if you get lucky enough with the item drops. You also get 100 points at the end of the level for each enemy you destroy. If you get all 40 enemies you get a 20,000 point bonus instead. Performing well at these stages goes a long way toward earning lives at a fast enough pace to keep going in the game.

That hairy blob enemy is really annoying.

The approach to each planet typically contains a unique enemy type or two in addition to the standard set of enemies across all levels. As an example, the approach to Neptune has indestructible asteroids that fly in a straight path at you. These special enemies can complicate clearing levels because they also must be dealt with before you can finish the stage. Several of them are shielded or have complicated movements, and that means they tend to linger around for awhile until you can defeat them. Others you simply have to wait out until they go away. You will have to learn what to do for each enemy to make progress in the game.

As mentioned previously Gyruss has a boss battle before warping to each planet. About half of these bosses are the same type consisting of a core surrounded by pods. These pods open up to shoot at you and that’s the only time they are vulnerable. The boss is defeated when all of the pods are destroyed. The remaining bosses are unique from one another and they are the ones I enjoy fighting the most.

Gyruss is a pretty difficult game on its own merits, but it is made more challenging due to the lack of continues. If you run out of lives you have to start over at Level 1. It is also frustrating that the stock of lives has a hard cap at seven. Granted, if you are maxed out on lives you are likely playing well enough to make a deep run, but it would be nice to have a larger buffer. I have had runs come crashing to a halt even with a full complement of lives. Gyruss has a lot of stages but they typically go fast so it isn’t that costly timewise to put in several attempts in a row to try and get the hang of it. I thought about going higher with the difficulty assessment, but perhaps fittingly I decided to give it a 7/10.

This boss has waving arms that are difficult to avoid.

Gyruss is one of the games I had in my childhood collection and I had played it enough to beat it many years ago. I had also beaten the game a few months earlier as part of the NintendoAge contest. Combining both of those experiences left Gyruss relatively fresh in my mind.

My first run of the game was one of those where I lost all of my lives in one spot. The boss at Jupiter I find to be very troublesome. Sometimes I can defeat him pretty quickly, and other times I simply can’t do anything to him and burn through all my lives. This time he wiped me out completely. Starting over, I managed to beat that boss and the entire rest of the game without much trouble.

Gyruss starts over after the final boss with increased difficulty. The enemies shoot more often and some of them move more quickly. The real problem for me is that one of the recurring boss attacks becomes significantly more deadly. I wanted to clear the second loop but I was not successful. I understand that some of the Konami games that loop like this actually have three distinct difficulties, and considering that Gyruss is basically a Konami game it figures that it could follow that pattern. Unfortunately I have not found any evidence of how many difficulty loops are in Gyruss, and I was not able to clear the second loop to find out for myself. I believe that completing all the levels once and getting the ending is sufficient for completion.

Hello, recurring boss of death!

I had recorded my winning run on video, but when I went back to watch it later I found out that the recording had a glitch in it near the beginning. It bothered me enough that I played through the whole game again to get a better capture. This time it worked and I managed to set a personal best in progression on that second loop. I was doing great until I had a complete meltdown on one of the bosses. It’s so bad that it almost looks like I was trying to fail out on purpose! I might end up going back to beat both loops one day just for my own personal benefit, but for now I’m satisfied.

Gyruss has a secret bonus! During the Chance Stage, if you manage to defeat the same number of enemies as the current level, you are awarded with 30,000 points. For instance, the first Change Stage is Level 4, so if you destroy 4/40 enemies then you get the bonus. This is more lucrative than the point bonus for shooting all of the enemies, and in some cases it is easier to pull off too. In my run I tried for the bonus every time as well as trying to hit as many of the powerup-giving enemies as I could. I only missed the bonus one time during the first loop. I abandoned that strategy during the second loop because I was more interested in the powerups.

I think Gyruss is a really fun game to play. I have always enjoyed Galaga so I already like the play style, but with the gameplay perspective, additional enemy types, powerups, and bosses, it makes it a more complete experience with significantly more depth. The graphics are very nice and the music is catchy as well. The game performs well with only the occasional slowdown, and when it does go slow it’s actually welcome. Finally, Gyruss is still a cheap cart to buy if you’re into cart collecting. If anything about the game sounds the least bit appealing to you, I think that Gyruss would be worth your time.

#34 – Gyruss