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Review #172

Review: Heavenly Guardian (PS2)

Heavenly Guardian
Publisher:UFO Interactive
Developer: Starfish
Genre: Action
Release Date: 2/26/08

Talk about your rare titles. Heavenly Guardian was so under-produced it took a month for me to get my copy of this game directly from the source itself. So if you don’t have the title already (and I think only fellow DHGF staffer Mark B. falls under that category), be prepared to spend a long time looking for this one if you don’t want to Ebay it.

I originally agreed to check out Heavenly Guardian because everything was saying it was a side-scrolling shooter. Gamefaqs, Gamerankings, Gamespot – they all listed this game as such. Unless you’re new to my writing or the site, you know I’m a bit of a shoot ‘em up aficionado, and for $19.99, I was of course going to do what it took to get my hands on this little gem.

So imagine my surprise when the game wasn’t a shooter AT ALL. It was actual a 2-D action game that pretty much followed the layout and gameplay of the old NES “classic,” Fester’s Quest. Just more proof that you can’t trust any of the aforementioned sites for quality journalism. Especially as Ufo Interactive;s own website lists the game as an ACTION title. Idiots.

As there are no reviews of this game anywhere on the web, it’s our job at DHGF to ensure you get educated about indie publishers and obscure titles. God knows the larger websites only care about the larger publishers as that’s who pays their bills.

So how is Heavenly Guardian? Is it a quality budget title appearing in these death throes of the PS2, or did I waste a lot of time and energy tracking this sucker down?

Let’s Review

1. Story

We have a nice simple old school plot here. You’re playing as the snow goddess Sayuki who is trying to cure a mysterious magical illness that has befallen a mortal that she loves in a nearby town. In order to cure this young man, she must collect seven items and brew them together to make a miracle cure. For some reason though, a legion of demons stand in her way. You’ll have to go through seven levels to obtain all the items and defeat the master demon behind each stage. Luckily Sayuki has her friend Toto, the snow rabbit to help her out.

This is a fairly cut and dry plot, and past the opening cut scene and ending, there’s no real discussion of the story. The opening cinematic is pretty long however and goes into a lot of detail, so you get all the story you need right there.

If you’re doing 2 Player Co-op Sayuki has a sister named Koyuki who is challenging her for the title of “Snow Beauty Queen.” 2 Player mode is just as much a Vs. mode as it is a co-op as you’re competing for a higher score. This doesn’t really add anything to the plot, but it’s nice to see an extra layer laid down,

if you’re looking for something substantive or gripping in the plot, you won’t find it here. The emphasis is on exploring and clearing each of the seven stages, and the plot is more or less an afterthought. Still, the story is nicely done and has a great old school feel to it. Enjoy the cut scenes when you get them and then focus on the sheer bedlam about to befall you.

Story Rating: 5/10

2. Graphics

Heavenly Guardian is not the prettiest title out there, but it has its charms. The character designs are all hand drawn and quite cute. Each of the monster types are distinct and as adorable as they are deadly. The entire game reeks of cute, even if it isn’t taxing the graphical capabilities of the PS2. The game has a strong 80’s anime feel to it that pervades every aspect of the visuals and makes it a treat to play.

I really like the boss designs. They tend to take up half the screen and are well designed. They’re not intimidating by any means in appearances, due to the fact the game is geared for a younger age visually, but they are highly detailed and do give a sense of “spooky evil boss thingie.”

If you track down this game and give it a whirl, I think you’ll find the visuals enjoyable even if they’re not stunning. There’s a lot of action constantly going on and you can have up to 100 enemies on the screen at once without the slightest bit of slowdown. That’s highly impressive.

Graphics Rating: 6/10

3. Sound

The music in Heavenly Guardian is average at best. The entire score is easily forgettable and easily qualifies as generic. The sound effects however are quite nice and each character type has their own specific nosies and effects. Even Sayuki has four different noises that follows her normal ice crystal shots and the four variants she can collect. Some enemies, like the witch on a broom has a trade mark “tinkle” before she appears on the screen, giving you warning as to what is coming.

One special note is the amazing fire noises in the game. On the rare occasions you encounter these, it really does sound like a conflagration and I was highly impressed by the level of detail put into these effects.

You’re not going to find anything bad here aurally with Heavenly Guardian, but there’s nothing that will stick with you or truly impress you if you’re just giving the game a once over.

Sound Rating: 6/10

4. Control and Gameplay

As I’ve said before Heavenly Guardian is basically a Fester’s Quest clone. The game plays exactly like the old NES title. You’ll travel through seven very long stages, each with hidden nooks and crannies containing special power-ups and rewards if you can get past the enemies guarding them. The levels are VERY long for this sort of a game, and as the difficulty is quite high, don’t be surprised if takes you 30-40 minutes to pass each stage.

You’ll use the left analog stick or the D pad to guide Sayuki across the stages. According to the back of the box you have “total 360 control as you blast enemies from all angles,” but in truth aiming can be a bit of a pain, as Sayuki will often be slightly off from where you are actually aiming, but your ice crystal shots don’t always follow a straight line. You’ll find trying to properly aim in this game annoying and vexing at times, and only after a few playthroughs will you be able to adjust to the oft-kilter controls.

You’ll be shooting ice crystals via the X button, but you’ll have a choice of four different power ups. You can collect each power up up to five times for added power, but the colour of the power-ups are as random as when they appear, meaning you have a good chance of getting a power up crystal that gives you a different power than what you are collecting. Two of the power ups, Homing and bombs are more worthless than your standard shot so avoid the green and red crystals. Blue and yellow crystals are what you want to go after, as they give you rapid shot and spread shot respectively. Both are invaluable against the bosses.

Sayuki also has other moves available to her such as her blizzard attack. In order to use blizzard, you’ll have to collect flaming snowballs. These snowballs fall from defeated enemies or when you uncover a hidden snow boy/ The blizzard attack costs five snowballs from your inventory, and it will freeze anything in the direction you are facing or whatever direction you hold down on the right analog stick. Much like normal aiming this can be a pain at times, but the move is amazingly effective at clearing ghosts hordes, which occur several times per stage.

If you’re playing in single player mode, you’ll find one last move in your attack arsenal. By expending 25 snowballs, Toto can attack in a circular pattern, doing damage and slowdown to all enemies it touches, including bosses. This is a great tool against those giants and you’ll use it often.

There’s one last move to speak of, but it’s a defensive move that just doesn’t work quite right. By pressing the R1 button, Sayuki turns into a snowball that supposedly lets her avoid attacks. Well, although you’re supposed to be invincible in this form, there is an issue with the frame rate and every so often, even when doing the snowball thing, you will get hit and die. Even worse is rolling the snowball. You’re supposed to be able to steer the snowball but in fact all you can do is pick your direction BEFORE you activate the dodge and then Sayuki will roll as far as she can in that way until the snowball effect ends. This is a horrible way to do a dodge attack and on occasion, the computer will lay a trap for you that hits the spot you are rolling towards a millisecond after the snowball rolls off. Boo.

The game definitely has its control issues in regards to dodging and aiming, but there’s nothing so awful that makes the game unplayable. It could have used some fine tuning, but as a budget title, you are basically getting what you paid for.

Control and Gameplay: 5/10

5. Replayability

There’s a lot to do in this game for its cost. Not only do you have two player co-op mode, but you also have a boss battle option (which you really should practice in) that also allows for a two player co-op mode! This is a great way to hone your skills. There’s even more that you can unlock in the game, including a much needed level select. Until you unlock this you have to play through the entire game stage by stage from the beginning. You unlock all these options by collecting hidden snow boys. There are ten per stage and they can only be uncovered by using your blizzard attack. Once they appear, they leave you a ton of snowballs and once you pass a stage the game saves them into your collection. Nine out of the ten are generally easily to find, because all you have to do is look for an isolated snow fall. It’s that tenth on each stage that can be a pain.

You can also adjust the amount of lives you have and the game does offer unlimited continues, so I was quite impressed at how much replay value could be found in this budget title.

Replayability Rating: 7/10

6. Balance

Although the graphics for Heavenly Guardian implies it is for a younger audience, the difficulty level is quite high. Expect to die often until you figure out enemy attack patterns and how to dodge properly. I enjoyed the degree of challenge, but parents will look at this, think it is for kids and then a few hours later will be wondering where their children learned such colourful profanity. Even older gamers used to FPS’ and 3rd person action games will probably be shocked at how hard this game can be.

I also have a problem with the fact that you need a LOT of snow boys to unlock the Level Select option. I wish they had switched this around with Boss Battle Mode, where you only need to have found ten snow boys to unlock, as a level select is going to be quite important as the game doesn’t let you save either. That’s a huge strike against the game unless you’re an old school masochist like myself.

Factor in the fact that the levels are WAY too long and that checkpoints are few and far between, and you have a game that is bound to alienate a lot of younger or more casual gamers,

Balance Rating: 4/10

7. Originality

Every aspect of Heavenly Guardian is basically a retread of something else. There are countless games that involve you having to battle your way through stages to take out a boss at the end. The story is also nothing truly original, as it’s just a character fighting to save their romance interest. A lot of the monsters are takes off of other monsters from previous video games or folklore, and as I’ve said before the engine plays exactly like Fester’s Quest. There’s not a lot here that smacks of originality. I do like the graphics and the whole good snow demon angle. That was a touch I don’t believe I’ve seen before.

HG is an homage to old action games from the 1980’s and it shows. It does put its own touches on the genre, but for the most part, the game emulates even more than it pays trubute to the classic games of yesteryear.

Originality Rating: 4/10

8. Addictiveness

I’ll admit it – this game bored the crap out of me. The levels were too long and meandering for my tastes. It took forever to get to the boss and you had to pretty much search out every nook and cranny of the level in order to collect enough snowballs to stand a chance against the, especially later bosses. Another problem was that on one hand, you could get a ton of extra lives in the game, but on the other, once you died, you had to go back to your last checkpoint, which was generally quite far from where you died. This mean a lot of backtracking and replaying sure to bore even the biggest fan of retrogaming.

I just could not get into this game. I could appreciate its visuals and what it was trying to accomplish, but in the end I was constantly bored with the game and was quite happy to put it down.

Addictiveness Rating: 3/10

9. Appeal Factor

Here’s the thing. If you’re a small publisher and you want to get knowledge of your title out there, you need to do so sort of marketing. I found out about this title only by a click through a click through a click on Amazon.com. Then the game took a month to arrive after its release date and no websites are actually covering it. This is not good business my friend. Thankfully this title will be hitting the Wii later this year. Let’s just hope that re-release will prompt UFO Interactive to give it more attention.

Very few gamers will have heard about this title, and even less will probably have fun with it. It tries to harken back to the golden age of 2-D gaming, but the controls are a bit off, the levels are too long, and the graphics are kid friendly, but the difficulty sure isn’t. Even now I have no idea what could be considered the target audience for this game.

Appeal Factor: 3/10

10. Miscellaneous

I find it amusing that I’ve reviewed more games for the PS2 in 2008 than the PS3. I’m also happy to see the PS2 is still home to decent budget titles that give you a lot of bang for your buck. Although Heavenly Guardian has some gameplay issues, it is quite cute and I wish it had received more exposure. It shows there is still life for 2-D gaming outside retrogaming. I also liked all the unlockables and options packed into the title, when most budget games are bare bones titles these days.

The game is by no means a must buy, nor is it worth the effort I went through to track it down, but it’s not a bad game either. If the screenshots, the theme, and the prospect of playing an old school NES style adventure game sounds up your alley, then by all means go on to Ebay and pick a copy of this up.

Miscellaneous Rating: 6/10

The Scores
Story: 5
Graphics: 6
Sound: 5
Control and Gameplay: 5
Replayability: 7
Balance: 4
Originality: 4
Addictiveness: 3
Appeal Factor: 3
Miscellaneous: 6
Total Score: 48
FINAL SCORE: 5.0 (MEDIOCRE)

Short Attention Span Summary

Heavenly Guardian is a cute little budget title that has its charms, but also some issues that may turn a lot of gamers off. Instead of trying to track down this version of the title, which is under-produced and quite hard to find, I suggest waiting for the Wii version of the game due out this summer as the control issues may be fixed with that port.

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