The Bin: Heavenly Guardian

Some games aren’t worth the $60 release price. Or half as much, for that matter. How many times have you bought a game and told yourself that if it’s terrible, it was only five bucks?  This brings us to the “Bargain Bin” realm of gaming, a second glance at games far enough down that they don’t see light. Guilty pleasures are a blast — so long as no one’s watching.

Approach with caution. Heavenly Guardian is a rough around the edges 2D scrolling shooter that might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but it can make for a fun little romp into the old school days of gaming for those who give it a shot. This game is for those who enjoy two words: “NES hard.”

Heavenly Guardian for the Wii (and PlayStation 2) was supposed to be a sequel to the much beloved Pocky & Rocky from the SNES, but drama ensued, licenses were lost and the developer Starfish SD was stuck in “spiritual successor” mode without the support of Taito. The lack of big publisher support is obvious as everything about Heavenly Guardian screams low budget. The cover art, the title screen, the story boards, the music, and most notably the in game sprites, all feel as though they could have benefited from an extra injection of monetary enhancement. The thing that manages to save Heavenly Guardian, however, is its gameplay, which is solid if you are able to look past the not so polished exterior.

That’s not to say that the package Heavenly Guardian finds itself confined in is bad. It’s just not polished. You get the feeling when playing that development stopped at a point that it was just finished enough to get it out the door, which is unfortunate because of the potential this title had. Heavenly Guardian could have been much more than a bargain bin oddity that only few will buy and even fewer will give an actual chance.

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Just to make sure you aren’t under any false impressions about the quality of this game, let me lay out the following for you. Despite coming out in 2008, the game is in 4:3 aspect ratio and has a slight blur to everything due to the fact that it is most decidedly not in high definition. The game is 2D, and while that isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, every sprite including the main character could use some level of touch up or rise in quality. Some of the enemies look mostly finished, but at the same time some look incredibly basic as if they were thrown in at the last second. The music isn’t exactly award winning, but passable, though it can get a little repetitive.  This game is a “bin” title for a reason.

Still here? Excellent.

The main draw to Heavenly Guardian is the old school shooter action, which when looking past all of the games obvious faults, is actually good. The controls work well, with the Nunchuck and Wii Remote being the only option available. The game controls are exactly what one would expect, with the stick controlling the direction you face and the A button being the firing button. There is of course weapon power ups to be had, which are different colored gems to be found around the stages.  Collecting multiples of the same color upgrades the power up even further, maxing out at five, and at which point no matter what power you’re using,  Sayuki (the main character) becomes a walking cyclone of icicle death. Should you chose to change power up, that works too as the color will change, but the number will stay at whatever level you had collected the previous power up to. Have 3 gems of the bomb and pick up a 3 way? You’ll have 3 three way power ups. It’s simple and useful.

There’s also a quick dash, where the main character Sayuki rolls herself into a snowball and rolls a short distance becoming invincible during the process. Sayuki can also call snowstorms with the waggle of the remote. The storms are only a portion of the screen, and their direction is determined by the direction in which you “swing” the remote, and you will find use in the fact that not only does it help by freezing enemies in its path, but also will reveal “secret” creatures that are littered around the stages. There’s also a “pet seeker missile” (for lack of a better description) shot which is accessed by holding the B button and pressing A, which causes your little ice bunny helper to seek out and freeze enemies and their projectiles in place.  The Snowstorm and “pet seeker missile” are fueled by snowballs which appear when you defeat certain enemies or enemies that are frozen. If you want, you can also point your Wii remote at the screen to “aim” your shots, but it’s awkward at best. Just stick to the classic controls.

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The stages are pretty large, and despite there being only eight stages, there’s enough to keep you busy for a good amount of time. There are secret areas to explore and you are rewarded with power ups that extend your life bar, or give you lives. Yes, there are lives, and while the punishment for the depletion of your lives is only a reset back to the beginning of the stage you were attempting to beat, the stages are long enough for this to be an actual motivation for you to not want to lose lives.  Also there are no saves.  Yeah. So when you’re done, you either start from the beginning or should you beat the first half of the game, you get a stage select.   The problem with the stage select is that you don’t have any of the power ups you would normally collect in a play through, and you will certainly miss them, especially when facing the bosses. The bosses, which are fun and engaging, go from being just difficult enough (depending on how well you use the weapons at your disposal), to mind numbingly difficult should you chose to forgo the extra life bar power ups hidden around the stages.  Otherwise the game has a good challenge to it without being cheap.

That is until you beat the first half of the game. Ripping a page out of the original Super Mario Bros. playbook, Heavenly Guardian pulls what is basically a “sorry but your princess is in another castle” and puts you back at the beginning of all the stages you just beat. This is where the developers pull out the “cheap” and crank the difficulty to 11 by having most enemies (unless frozen) emit a fireball after death. A fireball that fires directly at you with dead on accuracy. This means either you are constantly dodging fireballs coming right at you, or you’re constantly using your special ice powers.  It’s hectic and can get frustrating very quickly. The bosses are also beefier this time around as well. You want challenge? You got it.

When Heavenly Guardian first came out, it was absolutely destined for the bargain bin. At $15, most balked at the game, if you could even find it, and for good reason. This is a very niche title, and lack of budget bleeds through every pore of this game. But for the right gamer it can be fun, and now that it can be easily had for much cheaper, it warrants a look if old school Pocky & Rocky style action is your thing.

Dig deeper into The Bin. Head here for more guilty pleasures in gaming.