Two styles of gameplay collide in this legendary adventure!
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!