There is a magical median in video games that houses those that somehow manage to fail at nearly everything, but still manage to be enjoyable. Affectionately categorized as ‘So bad, it’s good’, Guardian of Lore, a largely inept 2D platforming adventure, might just be one of the lucky few to find refuge there.
As a self-important prince who’s bestowed an ancient duty to protect knowledge (yes, all of it), you play out South American folk stories as stages from a library hub world and aim to correct changes made in these stories by a nefarious individual. It’s not made immediately obvious why but each level has hidden sections within its linear structure that contain enemies that must be defeated to complete the missions, doing it the normal way will just end the stage, which any normal game would make you logically think that you’ve successfully completed the level – well, this game isn’t exactly logical.
For better or for worse, instead of adding to the mystery of the story, confusing gameplay mechanics and their crude implementation transform the title into an unpredictable platformer which initially bemuses, before morphing into something quite amusing, regardless of whether it’s ironically or unironically awful.
Inconsistency might be the game’s saving grace as you never quite know what to expect. Finding a bug that makes you fall through the level to your death might be frustrating in any other game, but is actually the only time you’ll receive falling damage in Guardian of Lore, as falling from ridiculous heights results in zero damage whatsoever. Jump into a branch with broken damage physics though and you’ll die from banging your head on it. Will your character be flung across the screen from a slight hit or will it cause the previously solid platform which you are aiming for to lose all its physical properties causing you to fall straight through it to your death?
For some reason, it is genuinely amusing to find out. Thankfully the communication between characters and the enemies themselves also do their best to contribute to this like the cheetah boss who can only run forwards and if attacked from behind can do very little to stop you as it sits there motionless or the main character who expresses extreme confidence in himself and then moments later loses all confidence for no real reason.
The 2D platforming action calls back to the SEGA Mega Drive/Genesis platformers of the past and so it’s perhaps intentional that the storybook illustration environments have water effects that look like static theatre stage props lifted by two people hidden behind them and hit with a fake cartoon punch sound effect.
This booby-trapped game does have a few good features though, in that the character animation and attacking moves are actually quite smooth in their movement, so despite the character’s ridiculously poor interaction with the world, it creates a strangely satisfying yin and yang combination and has me questioning what is up and what is down and whether or not I’m in some sort of alternate Interstellar dimension of opposites.
As well as wielding a weapon and a shield the game bizarrely opts not to use a ‘weapon wheel’ feature for its magic abilities, but instead uses a 3-button input menu. Why it ignores an industry-wide feature that games have now used for decades is puzzling, but in order to provide some clemency, we’ll it slide, even though accessing your abilities this way slows the gameplay down unnecessarily. Other than playing as the prince you can also control a bird in a side-scrolling shmup section which unfortunately is only moments long as it’s the best part of the game by far.
I am more than a little sympathetic to the difficulty of creating something even remotely playable and wish to support indie titles wherever possible, but Guardian of Lore has me in two minds. On one hand, it’s clear that few will persevere to see this short and objectively awful title to its end, but on the other, its unironic charm is impossible to ignore and because of this, I write ‘buyer beware’ with an asterisk, because it might just become your guilty pleasure.