Review by Tobalman
"Roll up your windows kids, we're going through the bad part of town"
The year was '92. Sega and Nintendo were leading the way for video games. Other Japanese companies were outperforming Atari too. As a consequece, Atari was brought to its knees and in the process of going through bankruptcy. Using its only creative property involving intense violence, Pit Fighter, Atari thought they could translate the mechanics of Pit Fighter into a beat 'em up format to seriously compete against the big beat 'em up makers. Or, perhaps as an insult to its very own supporters (for not supporting Atari enough?), Atari decided to release a real flop of a game called Guardians of the Hood. I warn my viewers now, this game is not for the feint of heart. When I say it's bad, I mean it's really bad. This game is the digital equivalent of getting beat to the ground, and as one is coming up, one unsuspectingly gets kicked in the teeth. This is perhaps the best way to describe how Guardians of the Hood will make one feel when playing it. There really is no story, except that a group of fighters are determined to keep the neighborhood of their gym safe from any crime. There is a leader of all the crime happening in the 'hood, but we're not given any background about him, so we don't know who he is or why he's "taking over their crummy town." So, it really isn't worth dwelling over.
I can understand, and even appreciate, the style Atari was going for. The screenshots I saw of this game are actually what made me want to try it out. Under the right circumstances, digital sprites can look good (e.g., Mortal Kombat by Midway). However, it certainly isn't the case here. What one will immediately see is that everything on the screen that moves is missing a noticeable amount of frames. I mean they're really missing some frames, like this was an attempt by a high school programmer. It's pretty painful to witness, especially when this is supposed to be a work of professionals. The backgrounds are too drab, which is probably unintentional, and the enemies are too repetitive. Not including the bosses/main characters, I believe there are a total four or five unique enemies. They often receive the palette swap treatment. Everything is rough around the edges due to the digitized images; however, the game was released in '92, not '90, like Pit Fighter. There really was no excuse to be releasing games with jagged-looking digitized sprites in '92, other than laziness or lack of skill. The graphics should've improved since Pit Fighter, but, they have not.
Bloops and bleeps. This was simply unacceptable in the mid 90s. It really makes one wonder what was going through the "composer's" head at the time. The voice acting at the beginning of the game could be a serious contender for the worst voice acting in video game history, period. The presentation of the final boss (who really is a chick oops, spoiler alert!) at the beginning of the game is rather insulting even to the average gamer's intelligence. He looks like a costumed wimp and is pointing right at the player saying, "I'm taking over this crummy town." The moment is supposed to be scary. Lastly, the sound effects are mediocre, and can get repetitive very fast.
Gosh, where do I start? The controls, in general, are very confusing. The game consists of five buttons: two for punches, two for kicks and one for blocking (Mortal Kombat, anyone?). There is no jumping. One would think that with all those buttons, there would a simple command for picking up a weapon, but, noo. Picking up a weapon is actually frustratingly difficult, and it hampers the game so much that it considerably affects gameplay, thereby making the gameplay even less enjoyable. More details about the weapon scheme will be discussed in the gameplay section. Even the most basic commands, though, such as sweeping, throwing and ducking, are unintuitive. They require odd button combinations that the player must figure out on his own. One should really brush up on Pit Fighter moves since virtually all the moves one can do have been ripped straight from that game. If one can pull off a lot of the cheap moves over and over, one can actually do decently, but that requires performing a lot of input commands over and over, without fail.
In other words, moves that are actually worth a damn are special moves, not regular moves. Therefore, this game requires lots and lots of practice. This wouldn't be a problem, if the game were fun. Here's a little hint: the very special moves discussed later, in the gameplay section, require doing a half-circle forward and button one (Since there is no FAQ for Guardians of the Hood anywhere on the 'Net, I figured it out on my own). The hit detection system is a whole other headache. Hit detection is as bad as in Pit Fighter, if not worse. Enemies always seem to have priority, even when the player's hit has clearly connected first. Button mashing doesn't help because the enemies always set the rhythm of hit exchanges. Not syncing with this rhythm (and counter attacking) will cause one's attacks to lose priority. The only saving grace of the controls is blocking. Somewhere in this very murky control scheme is an adequate fighting system that involves blocking the enemy's attacks, then counter attacking. However, I couldn't figure it out. I didn't have the patience or feeling of a masochist for it.
Imagine facing several Pit Fighter-style enemies across a strip of street; once the "stage" is over, one does this again, against a stronger set of foes. Rinse and repeat, as they say. This analogy is basically what Guardians of the Hood is all about. There are four fighters to choose from, including a girl. They vary slightly in speed and strength. Additionally, defeated bosses become selectable. There are four "normal" stages: the streets, the subway, more streets (in an Oriental part of town), and the dock/carnival. The weapon scheme is a joke. Weapons are scarce to start off with. When one happens upon a weapon, the player is actually required to perform a combination involving four input commands just to pick up and start using the weapon. Weapons don't really make a difference anyway, considering enemies will make sure the player drops a weapon within seconds of acquiring it, a la Vigilante by Irem or Crime Fighters by Konami. The shoddy weapon scheme only adds to the frustration of game's unfinished presentation. Unfortunately, if you can believe it, the game gets worse. Apparently, someone at Atari thought the story wasn't edgy enough, so magic was included.
That's right, magic. These magical moves act as special moves a la Street Fighter II: they are projectile based. Each character has different magic. Admittedly, when executed, they are pretty cool looking and powerful. Magic is earned by continuing and beating a level. One can store magic throughout the game. Here's another tip: the game is nearly impossible to beat without using magic at the right times. It is best to save up for bosses and the gym fights. To top off the half-assed approach of this monstrosity, someone at Atari thought it was a good idea to throw in the literal concept of Pit Fighter in the mix. See, after each "normal" stage, the player doesn't just go on to the next "normal" stage the way one would intuitively imagine. No, the player must go back to the gym (a small area to fight in) and fight one of his/her companions in front of a blood thirsty crowd, a la Pit Fighter. At first, one might just assume this is a bonus stage, but it literally must be passed to continue to the next "normal" stage. The fights are just as hard as the boss fights, if not harder, because one can't continue in the middle of a fight (one must attempt to win the fight from the beginning again). Magic is best saved up for these mandatory fights, especially the last one. The referee of these fights actually says the prize for winning is continuation of play. Gee, thanks ref.
At least certain points in the game feature tongue and cheek moments: nonchalant prostitutes, homeless bums that can be picked up and thrown, and flashers who choose punk chicks as their targets. These moments demonstrate that the designers can laugh a little at themselves and at their work. Aside from these tongue and cheek moments, there is not much else to say about the gameplay. It's like Pit Fighter, the beat 'em up version, with magic and gym fights (a la the actual Pit Fighter) thrown in for good measure. There is even an advertisement for Pit Fighter within the game, but my reader will have to dare play the game to find out where it is! If anything, Guardians of the Hood, curiously, explored the hot topic of racism in America. The issue of racism has largely been ignored in video games even to this day; I found it to be a good thing Guardians of the Hood at least tried to bring this issue out with inclusion of skinheads in the subway, for example. It is quite a satisfying gaming experience to beat the living daylights out of a few digitized skinheads.
Since Guardians of the Hood was one of the last game they released, it was sort of sad to see Atari go out like a ball of poo hitting the ceiling. With games like Guardians of the Hood, it's no wonder why Atari went out of business. Games this horrible even make me, as a retro gamer, ashamed to be a fan of American game companies of old. I understand Atari was going through a bankruptcy around the time of this release, but there simply is no excuse to release a game that is unfinished. Every aspect of the game is telling of this: the frame-less graphics, the bleeping and blooping sounds, the confusing controls and especially the half-assed gameplay. The game doesn't really know what it wants to be, and I'm sure neither did the designers know what they were going for. Aside from beating up some skinheads, there really is no redeeming factor of Guardians of the Hood. I can't think of a single practical reason why I would recommend it to anyone. I can't even recommend it just to see how bad it is. The game is not one of those "so bad it's good games," it's just bad, like Mug Smashers bad, and that's all there is to it. Therefore, without hesitation I give this game a 2/10. I've played a lot of games in my time, and this is easily one of the worst games I've ever played.
Reviewer's Score: 2/10 | Originally Posted: 11/04/10
Game Release: Guardians of the 'Hood (US, 12/31/92)
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