When I first booted up Color Guardians, I was struck by just how cute the game is. The music is fun and bubbly, the characters are colorful and goofy, and the world is bright and sunny. It seemed like the perfect game for a little kid, or maybe even the perfect game for someone who is just having a really, really bad day. After about 15 minutes into Color Guardians, I realized I was completely and totally wrong, and that beneath its cute exterior lies a brutally difficult and challenging game.
Run, Run, Run!
Color Guardians is side-scrolling, endless runner type of game. Players play as one of three different characters, each of whom are only cosmetically different, as they run through myriad levels, collecting little colored orbs as they go. Almost every level presents the player with three lanes, and the player has to push the up and down arrows to switch between these lanes to either avoid obstacles or collect the orbs. As you might guess from its name, Color Guardians heavily focuses on color — specifically, red, blue, and yellow. Each one of the orbs, of which there can be hundreds of in each level, can be one of these colors, and the player has to change the color of his or her character to match the color of the orbs, otherwise they cannot be collected.
It sounds simply enough, and for the first couple of levels it was simple enough. I ran through the first five or so levels collecting every single orb, resulting in three out of three stars for the first few levels, and even managed to get some pretty high scores in the process. Scores go up on the world leaderboards, and are created from a combination of how many orbs are collected, how many times the player died during the level, and how many times the player either changed lanes or changed colors. At the same time, players are also charged with trying to collect each orb with “Perfect” timing, meaning that the player has to switch the color of the character at the same time that the character runs into the orb of the same color. I found that mashing the color changing buttons will easily result in “Perfects,” granted that the player is spamming the correct one.
Die, and Die Again
While I was able to easily get high scores and collect all the orbs in the first few levels, I found that I could do neither in any of the other levels. See, while there are a few assorted obstacles that need to be dodged in the first several levels, every level after that is simply filled with them. Players need to quickly dodge huge amounts of obstacles, weaving in between them in order to collect all of the orbs or to simply make it through the level. What makes this even trickier is that some obstacles cannot be dodged, and instead have to be passed through by matching their color. For example, a few levels have gates that are either blue, yellow, or red. In order to get through these, the player has to run into them while taking on the same color. It doesn’t sound all that bad, but when there are, say, 10 gates in a row, each with a different color, it can be extremely difficult to match up the colors correctly and not splat into one of the gates.
Luckily, if the player does run into something and die, Color Guardians is fairly forgiving. There are a number of checkpoints set up in each level, strategically placed directly before or after difficult areas. Having to restart at one of these won’t impact the number of orbs collected in any way, but it will slightly decrease the player’s overall level score. But if you only care about collecting the orbs and getting three stars for that level, dying and restarting at the checkpoints really isn’t all that bad. Still, Color Guardians assumes that players will instantly understand how some of these obstacles work, and does not offer much advice or help when these things start popping up. For experienced gamers, this isn’t a problem. But, for casual gamers or for children, both of who this game seems to be targeting, a few more tutorials would have been nice.
Watch Out, Boss Man
There are seven different stages, and each stage has 11 levels and its own theme. One stage takes place in a cave, another takes place in the forest, and still another takes place in a factory of sorts. To clear each stage, the player has to face off against a boss. Or, actually, the boss, since it is the same creature in every single stage. While the story is a little unclear, it seems like some bad guy came along and took away the world’s color and made things gloomy and evil. This bad guy then shows up at the end of each stage looking for a fight, but always runs away after the battle. The story, and this boss, are both a bit underdeveloped, and they feel more like afterthoughts than anything else.
However, the boss battles are genuinely fun, and help to shake up the main gameplay. For boss battles, the bad guy throws colored bombs at the player, and the player has to match the color, pick up the bomb, and toss it back, all while dodging obstacles and other bombs. Compared to the normal levels, these are actually a bit easy. That’s okay, though, because they are much needed break from some of the more brutally difficult levels. After the boss gets defeated, a bunch of fairies get released into each one of that stage’s levels. One fairy is hidden in each level, and if the player goes back through the levels and finds them all, a secret level will appear. It provides a nice incentive to re-try all the levels, if trying to get all three stars wasn’t enough of an incentive anyway.
I don’t often play a game and immediately go through it again after finishing it, but I did that with Color Guardians. Thanks to its fun and bright graphics, truly difficult levels, and different scoring systems, I found myself playing each level again and again in an effort to get all three stars or get a high score for the leaderboards. While the side-scroller could use more tutorials and more story, it offers up challenging and fun gameplay. That said, Color Guardians is a game that probably shouldn’t be missed.
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