The Guardian Legend

Like any veteran gamer I sometimes find myself dusting off old cartridges and CD cases for the sake of nostalgic fun. And I have decided to begin writing (rambling really) about these games, particularly games which I feel either:

  1. Are not well known today.

  2. Were or are under-appreciated.

I begin this new category of posts by writing about one of my favorite games as a child, and one which I believe meets the criteria above. Not only that, I must admit that it influences my ideas for the game I’m developing more than any other video game: The Guardian Legend, made by IREM in 1988.

My Favorite First Level Ever

I was six years old when the Guardian Legend came out in the United States. The creepy box art intrigued me—in as much you can describe a child with such a fancy verb—and I convinced my parents to buy it for me. Probably by throwing a crying fit, because I was that kind of annoying child.

The beginning of the Guardian Legend remains one of my most vivid memories of video games during my childhood. From the moment you begin a new game you are thrust into space, spearing towards the unknown. Stone-like objects begin to appear in rings and you shoot at them in a natural panic, trying to gain your bearings. And then something beautiful happens: a defeated enemy leaves behind an item and it passes by you in a blur. That is the stark moment where the first level makes clear your tremendous velocity.

I love it. The Guardian Legend opens like a gun-shot. And then the first level winds down the momentum as you draw closer to your target: the planet Naju. The level begins at a frantic pace and ends with a full stop in the face of a daunting enemy, which wonderfully sets the tone for the rest of the game.

But Then it Becomes Zelda?

What happens after the first level in the Guardian Legend is also shocking. Suddenly the game is a top-down adventure reminiscent of the Legend of Zelda. There is a maze, locked doors, destructible blocks, and messages from alien NPCs.

The Guardian Legend was not the first genre-hybrid game. But it is the oldest I can think of, and one of the rare titles in general that mixed the shmup genre with any other. The hybrid approach has been a serious influence on my own game, which is primarily a shmup. But Jeff and I also introduce elements from role-playing games and even visual novels, and personally I reflect upon the Guardian Legend when thinking about how to mesh those elements together.

I also would love to mirror the opening style of the Guardian Legend, by which I mean the way it throws you into the gameplay immediately. Which is what we’re doing in our game; despite planning out a lot of heavy narrative concepts neither of us wants the opening to be bogged down with some introductory setup cut-scene or anything. As it is now the game goes directly into the gameplay.

Try it Sometime

You can play the Guardian Legend over at NESbox, which I strongly recommend if you’ve never played the game before. I admit that I have done little in this post but wax nostalgic about a game I love. But as I said, it is influencing my current game more than any other. So I often find myself thinking back on the Guardian Legend and playing it, chuckling at how I am ok at Touhou games on higher difficulties while the Guardian Legend typically beats me in the ground.

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