Review: Sword of the Guardian – Brawlin’ Like the Old Days

When I saw Sword of the Guardian, my interest was piqued. For one, it had a dwarf in it, and I am a lover of all things dwarf. Secondly, I noticed that it was created by a single developer – Billy Chan – based in Hong Kong. I’m a sucker for indies too, and I find that when a sole developer is working on a project, it’s a labor of love. And you know what? I think Sword of the Guardian has the charm that only a single developer can convey in a game.

Sword of the Guardian is a side-scrolling beat em’ up. I detected hints of Golden Axe, or even Double Dragon. The former had the fantasy aesthetic like magic and monsters, while the latter brought co-op play into the mix (like many other arcade titles).

In this game, you can choose from three different characters: a monk, a swordsman and a dwarf. They each have different attacks and strengths. Playing off of these different strengths is the combo system; each character having different attacks based on the combos. The designated button to attack is “J” while you jump with “K” and block with “L.” A standard combo is mashing the J button like a mad man, but you can also do a few more here and there by using the arrow keys. One attack as the dwarf propelled me into the air and had me slam into enemies, which was as devastating as it was satisfying.

Sword of the Guardian, screenshot 1That brings up another important point. The gameplay has weight to it. I feel like a lot of games fall short when you feel like you’re just punching an enemy but there’s no visual and auditory feedback. In Sword of the Guardian, not only do my attacks feel like they pack a punch, but it shows. There’s little visual effects that indicate that you hit an enemy, and knock-backs that show they are forceful. Sound feedback is certainly there too.

You’ll be brawling your way through several different zones, from simple fantasy villages to dark caves. Admittedly, these weren’t too impressive nor were they bad, they just served as a setting for the battle to break it up and add variation. And you’ll be going against plenty of enemy types. There’s guys with swords that act as your standard enemy you’ll encounter, and lance-wielding knights that can poke you from afar. You’ll encounter undead and monsters along the way too, so you’re not fighting the same enemies the whole time.

At the end of every stage is a boss that is actually quite a challenge. They don’t just have a lot of health, they have unique abilities, too. I encountered a shield-wielding knight that would charge at me and certainly tested my patience. But then again, what’s a game without a little challenge?

One way to tackle a challenging enemy or level is with the use of items. There’s throwing axes that are tossed in an arc, and daggers that go straight forward but do smaller amounts of damage, among other items. There’s magic as well. I could summon a tornado-like gust attack with scrolls that I picked up. These abilities all add to the combat because you can use them to enhance your combos and pull off some cool moves. Every character also comes with a unique special ability that does massive damage. This attack can be done after a gauge builds up.

More aspects I liked about the game: I really enjoyed the animations of the enemies and your characters. It reminded me of old-school games that Sword of the Guardian takes inspiration from. They have those frame-by-frame animations that aren’t made to look realistic on purpose. They move like they’re pixel sprites, but with high definition, 3D models. The backgrounds and environments could look better, but characters are the main focus in brawlers.

The music was pretty solid. I really liked the tracks that accompanied each level. Normally I don’t pay too much attention to music in games, but if I notice it, then it’s usually good. And I have to say, this left me impressed. They’re not overly long tracks, but they’re catchy enough that the loop they go on isn’t a problem. It’s a nice, fantasy-themed soundtrack that keeps you pumped up.

Sword of the Guardian, screenshot 2Unfortunately, there are some shortcomings. These mainly concern the UI and options available. There appears to be no keybinding options, which every PC game should have. I forget controls a lot of the times, so button-mashing to find the right command was not ideal. Further, the menu in the game isn’t very user-friendly. Once I pressed “start game” I couldn’t back out to the main menu. So if you accidentally press that instead of continuing with your saved file, you’ll have to either go into the tutorial and quit, or close the program.

There is a story here, but English isn’t the developer’s first language, so for me it was hard to follow. I think that it could be much better if I knew the developer’s native language. That said, the dialogue was quirky and a little goofy, so you might actually find something to like here. Overall, though, gameplay trumped story here. In other words, much was lost in translation.

I didn’t encounter any bugs while playing, although my save file did get deleted earlier on for no discernible reason. Had this happened later in the game, I would have been pretty disappointed, and I still can’t quite figure out what happened there.

Overall though, I found it to be an enjoyable experience. There are some hiccups here and there, but I have to consider that the game is made by one person. For a single developer to deliver something that runs and plays smoothly, has good music and fun gameplay, is impressive. I think that, once the kinks I mentioned are worked out, the game has a lot of potential for those who are itching for that classic beat em’ up experience.

Austin reviewed Sword of the Guardian on PC through Steam using a code provided by the developer.

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