User Rating: 9.5 | Advance Guardian Heroes GBA
Advance Guardian Heroes was somewhat of a sticky subject when it launched. Having completed the game three times with two different characters, I can say that this game is worth my time and money. It's reminiscent of its Saturn forefather -- it plays very differently mind you, but overall the satisfying feeling I get from destroying all the enemies around me brings back memories of the old Saturn classic. However, as addictive as it may be, there should have been some more polish applied to this game. Some more "editing room" work, if you will.

The first thing some discerning gamers might notice is the rabid throttling of the Engrish language in this game. For to imagine the reading of my review of this game! It will be unstoppable like the similarity. As you advance upon the fighting stages, you are given the sight of new story explainers to show how the people in the environment are of relationship to one and the other! This is being complete by the using of speaking lines dialogue and the scene cut them away.

I don't have a problem with this language mishandling, but suffice it to say, if you cherished the story in the original Guardian Heroes you might be a bit disappointed in the strange near-180 this game does. It's weird, sometimes doesn't make sense, and is horribly translated by today's standards.

In the old Guardian Heroes, Treasure offered up a new way to control a character in a beat-em-up. You jumped between planes, and controlled your character as if in a fighting game. The control has since then shifted back to a more "traditional" style in the vein of Double Dragon -- you control your character's movements solely with the D-Pad and a button is designated towards jumping. For better or for worse, it removes some of the uniqueness that the original Guardian Heroes had. On the one hand, it feels familiar. On the other hand, I felt like I lost some of the ability to focus on the enemies immediately around me, because of the fact that enemies can immediately come at me from above and below.

Also a change from the prequel, spells also cannot be executed on the fly using special button Street-Fighter-esque combinations anymore; they must be scrolled through with the L button and activated with R+B. This may seem crappy, but in all fairness it isn't very difficult to get used to scrolling to the proper spell as you're moving around the playing field. Furthermore, the separate paths you could take in the original game are now gone. This in turn reduces the amount of levels you'll see throughout your experience -- subsequent replays of the game will shove you through the same six levels.

Separating this game from most other beat-em-ups, including its predecessors, is the ability to "counter" attack. It's more of a "parry". By pressing the block button right before an attack hits you (whether it be melee or projectile), you throw up your fist and the move is nullified. If it is a melee attack, the enemy is stunned. If it is a projectile attack, the projectile is sent back to the enemy who threw it (but it will hit whatever other enemy crosses its path first). It becomes crucial later in the game, especially since enemies learn to counterattack you as well. This makes Advance Guardian Heroes a more defensive game that most beat-em-ups, and will require more focus and timing because unlike other beat-em-ups, the enemies really do try to converge on you.

The problem with blocking and parrying, however, is that blocking takes up some of your magic meter. It gets easy to be block-happy and drain your entire meter before you know it, and when you drain it and attempt to use any magic (including just pressing the block button), your character starts to suck wind. I've watched as I parried 8 out of 9 moves, only to be hit by the 9th move because my guy ran out of magic power and was sitting there tired. I don't think blocking should penalize you, because casting magic spells in the outset of the game already takes such a toll on your magic meter. But that's just me.

There's also a new gameplay element I don't care for -- the double-jump. There are sections where you're riding missiles or trying to jump on pieces of falling debris to survive a long fall. Basically a targeting reticule appears on any "double-jumpable" platform, and if you press jump twice really fast, your character gravitates quickly towards that point. Almost no cognitive skill is required. Now, the missile-riding stage is a lot of fun simply because you're riding missiles, dangit. But everywhere else it seems to be an out-of-place throw-in.

And then here's where everyone groans about the game: the slowdown. I really have to say -- if you were fans of the original Guardian Heroes, then you shouldn't have a problem with this. There were sections of the original that brought the Saturn to its knees, and it's no different here except I feel that it's actually not as bad as the Saturn version. The "slow to a crawl" sections are much fewer and farther between than its predecessor, and it never becomes a chore to play during the slow sections.

Still, you'd think that there would have been more optimization done. The Gameboy Advance is an impressive but inferior piece of hardware compared to the Saturn Behemoth, but there's nothing much in this title to suggest that the machine should be taxed. The special effects and sprite rotation / manipulation isn't there; only the amount of sprites on the screen, and they do get very numerous, should serve some worry for causing slowdown. I suppose Treasure was still suffering some slowdown syndrome from Astro Boy.

Leveling up your characters is carried over from the original game, but not as simply as you'd think. You have to collect crystals left behind by enemies in order to raise your experience points, which you distribute to several different attributes (attack, vitality) at the end of the levels. I hated this. I liked being able to simply gain experience from beating on thugs -- if the game is going to make me pick up things, I'd rather it be weapons and such.

Visually, this game doesn't scream Treasure. It looks pretty generic, actually; the only stage which "wowed" me was the second stage. It is a generic blend of colors and sprites. The sprites, in my opinion, aren't drawn particularly well either, from a technical standpoint rather than an artistic standpoint.

The game also doesn't astound aurally, in fact the audio has very little personality in comparison with the original. Like the visuals, the audio is nothing to shout about, nor is it anything to shout at. It's there, it serves it's purpose, and it doesn't interfere. Overall the package comes together plainly.

For those who wouldn't want to stand for another full playthrough of the story mode, beating the game once unlocks a Time Attack where you hammer down on 50 enemies in as little time as possible. Every time you complete a session you gain "unlock" data in percentage points. Whenever you hit 100%, you unlock a new character playable in story and time attack mode and the progress cycles back to 0%. The characters include enemies from within the game itself, so you could go through the Story mode as a big lumbering cyclops. This is ultra cool, as they all have their own full movesets.

Advance Guardian Heroes is worth your time if you're a beat-em-up fan or if you just want a solid 2D action game. It never deviates from the left-to-right formula with mostly bland stages but like the original, the focus is more on the heaps of enemies the game throws on your back. If you absolutely cannot stand slowdown, or feel that the 2D beat-em-up is dead, move on, because I won't lie to you -- it won't bring you back to the genre. It feels like UbiSoft rushed Treasure to complete this title, and there's nothing that puts it above the rest. As for me -- I like it, and I won't put it down until all of the characters are unlocked. Synopsis? Worth my time. But addictive as it may be, there should have been some more polish applied to Advance Guardian Heroes.