You Think Samus's Ball Trick Is Sweet? Feh.

The Guardian Legend

     Sometime in the future, the great question of life on other planets is answered rather directly when the artificial world of Naju comes hurtling towards Earth from beyond the Solar System. Assuming the impact alone doesn't put the blue ball in the Solar pocket, Naju is also packed to the rafters with murderous alien organisms. Enter the unnamed Guardian of Earth- you! As a gun-toting brunette in a red armored bikini. Using your battle suit's ability to transform into a starfighter, you have to dive deep into the surface of Naju and hunt down the planet's self-destruct triggers, which are either guarded by or manifested as twisted boss monsters.

     The Guardian Legend was my favorite game out of the NES's library, and I still play it off and on. The two diverse play modes, the Zan/Gun-Nac-esque Corridor shooting sequences and the exploration of the Labyrinths were perfect for me, as someone who likes wandering an alien landscape and gathering keys and items but need plenty of chances to excercise my trigger finger. The basic layout of Naju consists of a relatively harmless overworld with portals to the different environmental Areas. Each Area is a maze inhabited by different creatures (and a few palette-swapped Overworld monsters, like the Spider With Too Many Legs, and the Hockey Pucks of Doom.) Within these Areas, you'll find occasional hatches leading to the Corridor shooting stages, which are fast, furious, and hard as hell. Especially the bosses. Though the Guardian gains no less than 20 special weapons, TGL doesn't have a 'shot absorbtion' trick to fall back on, which makes battles with giant, suprisingly-mobile bosses that fill the screen with small, usually homing projectiles a challenge no matter how many times you've creamed this game. It's not enough to know what weapon damages the boss the most; you have to really figure out how to use the thing to keep yourself from getting cornered and exploded violently.

     I don't know what they did, but the way this game handles its graphics is pretty impressive too. Somehow they managed to keep slowdown to a minimum through most of it, in spite of the volume of attackers at any given moment. The only noticeable slowdown I remember was in the forest and 'biological' sectors, where scads of spores and particles are flying all over. And really, in those sort of situations, slow-motion isn't necessarily a bad thing. The sprites are pretty nice, with the Guardian as a two-tile tall character with a stiff walk. (I guess toting around a small aircraft on her back and a gun isn't the ideal chiropractic situation for a presumably human soldier. Such is the world-saving business.) There are actually sort of cut scenes when you enter a Corridor that feature the Guardian's actual transformation. Strangely, her face peeks out from the rear underside of the plane when you start rolling with damage. Maybe she's a Go-Bot. As for enemy graphics, I'll just say that they range from colored moving boxes to a giant floating head that starts vomiting a hail of eyeballs after you explode its own eyes. There's an odd creature in the undersea Area that bursts out of the ground and tears up the ground as it follows you; a nice touch. The worlds are all made from a limited tile set, as per most NES games, but are mostly laid out (or at least infested enough) that they feel natural. The exception being the Space Area, which was presumably created to simulate the living conditions of animals that live in the vacuum of space(?!). You think it'd be easier to give them a cell on the planet's surface instead.

     Another gratuitous example of how ahead of its time TGL was, it features RPG ELEMENTS (you gather items to advance, and there are oddly-translated hints scattered about on monitors) and even some traces of Survival Horror (running off the screen as quickly as possible when your Power Chip supply runs low and something nasty is on your tail.) One of the simulataneous pluses and minuses of the Labyrinth scenes is that enemies are restricted to a single 'room', regardless of whether or not there are actually obstacles to keep them at bay (like the wide open spaces/single screen overworlds in Zelda.) I suppose that's to make the creatures seem more 'territorial' or something. And of course, let's not forget the fact that the titular Guardian is a female girl lady of the opposite sex, not to mention a DAME. I personally don't really see how Samus Aran gets so much credit for being the First Lady of Alien Slaughtering when suited up head to toe in armor plating. The Guardian didn't need a hidden ending or JUSTIN BAILEY code- she wasn't afraid to let us know she was a woman from the start. Er, after she was done pretending to be an airplane. I guess you could still give Samus credit for breaking the ice, anyway. Compile's Guardian still has her outgunned. Plus she was slicing up the scenery with a dual light saber long before Darth Maul was an ink blot on George Lucas's steno pad.

     There was even a bonus play mode in this thing: the so-called "TGL Mode." By putting your password in as TGL, the rest all blank spaces, you could play through all of the game's shooter levels with the difficulty tweaked up slightly and your Special Weapons doled out sparingly between stages. Of course, the difficulty of some of the later stages being 'tweaked' is like taping a straight razor to the front of a German tank. If the description slips past you, that just means that you're going to be so swamped with killer mushrooms and homing eyeballs that a random extra flying fish isn't going to mean much to you.

     Are any of you big companies listening? We got a wide array of futuristic weapons, diverse play modes that complement each other better than peanut butter and nails, and an attractive, powerful woman in a battle-bikini surrounded by dozens of slathering beasts. Some of them even have tentacles (Tecmo, paying attention now?) And to top it all off, it's a name that's been sitting idle for the better part of fifteen years and just waiting to be dusted off, and remade with tender loving care. Just a thought.

     Oh, and Acclaim need not apply, kthx.


The Guardian explores the 'undersea' Area.

I didn't even have to shoot this one. Or enter and exit a Lander's room seventy-odd times.

The Landers are willing to help you out. Just try not to make eye contact with them.

Got a 'Nac for shooting stuff?

Though not in blood or continuity relation to TGL, Compile's prior two great shooters unmistakably lent to the game's feel.

Zanac had dated graphics, but the wealth of power-ups and high-speed scrolling gave it a sense of intensity that some other shooters were lacking in. It was in many ways like a stripped-down test run for the TGL corridors.

Gun-Nac was a lot like Zanac with a sense of humor. This is made most apparent from the opening sequence of giant rampaging bunnies and the way you buy upgrades at an intergalactic convenience store with a wide-eyed, triangle-mouthed cute anime girl. It has the Zanac vibe to it, but the challenge level is a lot lower than it or TGL.