Guardian Legend is one of those games that I never played much back when it was new, and only got around to checking out maybe in the late 1990s when I was buying cheap used NES games. Its anime-mecha style was certainly appealing to me, but there was a problem: I never really understood how to play it. I’ve always intended to figure it out, and I recently finally did! It’s not that it’s complex, it’s just kind of a jarring mashup of styles without a whole lot of direction. So if you’re another gamer who never quite got how this shmup/Zelda hybrid is supposed to work, maybe this will help.

Aaaaaaaand GO

When starting the game, it immediately launches you into a lightning-fast-paced vertical shoot’emup, with no story or explanation. It’s pretty hard right from the get-go, with the hordes of small enemies beelining for your ship, itself equipped with your standard first level shmup pew-pew peashooter excuse for a weapon. Upon reaching the end of this introductory level, you are greeted by a boss made up of nothing but circular pods that all try to kill you simultaneously.


So far, so good! It’s a pretty standard shmup with nice graphics.

Should you beat this first boss, though, you are suddenly confronted with what appears to be a whole different game.

Wait, this was a vertical shmup a second ago

Now you’re a feminine android in a room with a message about finding stuff and self-destruction being displayed. There are four blocks, and shooting them opens doors to more rooms. At this point, the game becomes a roaming, multi-room adventure ala Zelda or Metal Gear.

It was at this point that I always became a bit overwhelmed, not understanding what I was supposed to be doing. But when I recently acquired a copy of the original instruction manual, everything became clear! (Imagine that! #RTFM)

So what you have to do is press Select to bring up your subscreen, which has a map on it. There is a blinking room that represents your goal for that level. Now, you can head straight there if you wish, but it’s actually in your best interest to explore the whole level first, because you can obtain powerups that will make what you will encounter in said goal room more manageable.

See them there blinking rooms? That’s whatcha wanna go for, don’tcha know

So, off you go, roaming about, shooting enemies and picking up weapons and health. You can also obtain powerful secondary weapons, which should be used sparingly.

Once you finally decide to head to the goal room, you shoot open another passageway and launch into another shooting level! Aha, so that’s how this all goes together. And when starting a shmup level, the intro animation shows your ship spinning around, and lo and behold, there’s a female robot face on the bottom. Turns out you’re a transforming mecha spaceship girl with heavy weaponry! So that’s why this game is so rad! The weaponry you pick up during the roaming levels carries over into the shooter levels, so that’s why you wanna pick up as much as you can before entering those goal rooms.

Finish the shooting level, get a symbol “key,” and you can open new doors in the adventure levels. Some levels have more than one goal room, and there are upgrades you can buy, and rooms that will give you passwords to save and continue. So get to work!

The game is really rather tough, and the enemies always seem to move a bit faster than you can reasonably shoot, so I do recommend using a turbo-equipped controller (I’m a big fan of the NES Advantage, always have been), as it will make your experience so much more enjoyable. And, even though I always prefer to play on original hardware, playing Guardian Legend on an emulator and using savestates would be a whole lot more efficient than using the 32-character passwords to save your progress.

So now that I “get” Guardian Legend, will I ever actually finish it? It’s a tough game to be sure, and one that will take some effort to beat. My hat’s off to you if you’re a veteran at this one. So I dunno — I feel somewhat accomplished finally just knowing how it works. But if I do finish it, you’ll find out here on Retro Game SuperHyper!