Released in April of 1989 here in North America by legendary publisher Brøderbund, The Guardian Legend stands in a class all of its own.
The Guardian Legend has its own rich history, shared by gamers around the world. Players control the guardian of the Earth, and have to set off the self-destruct sequence of a giant object hurled at Earth by aliens. Similarities with and inspiration from Blaster Master, Metroid, and The Legend of Zelda runs rampant, both in design and overall tone. The game is split into two distinct genres: a vertically-scrolling shmup and a top down adventure game.
The shmup sections are exceptionally well done. Featuring large bosses, impressive detail, and a real sense of speed, these parts of the game were my favorite. The “normal” enemy designs in these sections were also quite imaginative, with unique “flavors” that still taste the same today. Like most shmups from the time, the hitbox of your ship was a tad on the large side. Compared to the bullet hell shooters of today, the shmup sections of Guardian Legend feel somewhat empty. Don’t be fooled, though; these levels are tough.
The top down adventure portion of the game is where things go from tough to downright hard. Featuring the play style of Blaster Master combined with the exploration and “using new weapons/items to reach new areas” type of gaming seen in Metroid and Legend of Zelda, things can get confusing quickly. Keeping track of where you have been, what you have seen, and where you are going is essential if you want to get through this without resorting to Gamefaqs. Besides, if you are playing a classic game like this, you should struggle through it with handmade maps just like how we used to when these games were new. There is no straight path through this portion of the game, and getting lost can happen in seconds. While the stiff controls play a small role in making this portion of the game harder than it should be, the difficulty is still old-school; nothing you can do short of cheating is going to make getting to the end easy…you’re in for a challenge with this one.
I’m very happy to say that The Guardian Legend has not only held up over the years, but my memories of it reflect the game as it really is, not just as I remember it being. The art style still looks great, the music is still a rousing 8-bit epic, and the potential for exploration buries itself deep within your brain. I personally found playing this game with an NES Advantage controller to be much easier than a normal NES controller, so try to go that route if you are going to play the original cart. The joystick makes controlling the top-down sections much easier than using the d-pad on the regular controller.
Despite the high level of difficulty and the confusing path to completion, The Guardian Legend has a huge following. If you have never experienced this NES classic, I highly recommend you find a copy; this is one of those games that every gamer should play through at least once.