A good centre, but the rest of it makes it not worthwhile.
I want to like this game, I really do; and to some extent I really did. However, despite an engaging and very well designed core mechanic, Guards has so many small issues that eventually add up and topple it over from being a fantastic game. Its lacking presentation, frustrating punishments for dying and pricing make me hesitant to recommend this game – unless it is found for very cheap.
Guards’ core mechanic of swapping characters around the board for turns to progress is an extremely fascinating and appealing one. It forces you to think about who is on the field, where they are on the field, as well as the placements of enemies. The interplay between your heroes’ various abilities and their positioning is absolutely fantastic and forces genuine thought in to your strategies. Additionally, different heroes have different ranges. Heroes who are being benched behind your main three can unleash a special attack when brought forward, and the fact that additional unlockable heroes are available all adds up to a simple yet fun core mechanic. Furthermore, you are able to upgrade your favourite heroes, thus giving you further incentive to play the game through. All in all, you are given a very well designed core mechanic that may make you want to play the game more and more.
However, the rest of the game may make you want to play the game less and less. The first striking issue with the game is its overall presentation and visuals. It could be called minimalist; however, I think the aesthetic of the game is far too simple to be interesting in any way, shape, or form. The heroes look extremely generic and lacking in personality, the environments follow suit and the UI is very bland. It all just feels so derivative of generic fantasy games and really didn’t compel me to further my quest. Simply put, the game just really looks boring in stark contrast to its great gameplay.
Yet I found some issues with the gameplay as well, apart from the fantastic core mechanic. This mostly revolved around the progression or the lack there of as you make through the game’s levels. You see, every time you die, you have to restart the whole game again whilst also losing all the incremental per-playthrough upgrades you collected over the course of that play session. Now I understand that this is a legitimate design and genre of games that can be extremely engaging; however, the fact that you lose all progress but the core upgrades to your character make the game quite sluggish to play after reaching a high level and then dying.
You are forced to go through the earlier levels like a chore and regain all the per-playthrough upgrades you gained prior, but even then you won’t get the perfect combination of those to finish the game, since every playthrough’s upgrades are different. One session could lead you all the way to the final boss since the right combination of upgrades became available to you, but the next could offer you a poor combination of them, thus leading you to death and failure earlier than you wanted. This rougelike design would be a welcome challenge except for the randomness of the availability per-playthrough-upgrades in each session. The progress in the game is so dependent on random chance sometimes that it becomes extremely frustrating to play after losing a session. In short, the implementation of rougelike elements in the game feel like a forced lengthening of the playtime and eventually becomes too frustrating to play in fear of dying and losing progress.
Another gripe I have with the title is the forced lengthening of playthrough due to the scarcity of a particular currency in the game. Now, in the game, there is a permanent currency that allows you to buy items and upgrade your characters permanently prior to every playthrough, which you can only gain through playing more and more levels. This currency is quite scarce, and you can only build up enough/a worthwhile amount through many, many playthroughs, again making the game feel like it’s being artificially lengthened; grinding for the permanent currency as a necessity to progress is frustrating and made me want to play less of the game. If they made this currency more available, I’d feel more compelled to play more of the game since I would not have to grind to gain any progress.
Again, I want to reiterate how much I enjoyed the core strategic mechanic. It’s so well thought out and fun to play that I would recommend the game based on that alone. However, the huge amounts of frustration with the progress in the game as well as its extremely bland presentation makes it extremely difficult to recommend. Additionally, it is an extremely simple game, and its asking price of £6.99 is a bit much. If this game were to end up on mobile as a free-to-play game, I would have been far more forgiving and willing to suggest this title. If it does end up being cheaper, I would wholeheartedly recommend it as the core mechanic is wonderful, but again, its lacking presentation, general sense of forced lengthening, frustration in progress and general simplicity makes me hesitant to recommend the game at its current price.