In the far-flung future of 2XXX, humanity uncovers the Spheres, objects that grant them massive technological advancement. From there, they discover alien lifeforms throughout the galaxy, forging interstellar alliances. Certain races that interact with the Spheres gain abilities and powers, which come in handy as a new alien race invades Earth, prompting these superpowered Guardians to leap into action and protect us all.
It’s here where Guardian Sphere picks up. Developers Pixel-boy (@2Pblog1) and AAA (tumblr) lay out a meaty shmup that treads the line between typical vertical shooters like Xevious or 1942 and the more frantic danmaku titles (the Touhou influence is particularly strongly felt, given the player controls individuals rather than ships of some sort). With gorgeous pixel art that would be right at home in the most vibrant of GBA games and a soundtrack equally silky, Guardian Sphere offers sleek presentation full of kinetic animations and beautiful worlds.
The more interesting aspect of the game is in the main gameplay loop. Unlike in a typical shmup, the player manages a pool of Spheres that act as hit points. With a cap that increases either from defeating bosses or through upgrades (more on that in a minute), the player finds themselves scrambling across the playspace to grab these spheres from fallen foes while avoiding oncoming bullets. Once hit, the player drops a number of the spheres, and a hit at zero spells death. Much like Sonic games, you drop a number of spheres in your immediate vicinity, allowing you to regain some.
Along with trying to keep stocked on spheres for your own survival, there are frequent Labs that you’ll encounter in each level. Here, you can pull off for a pit-stop and peruse four randomly selected upgrades, paid for in spheres. This creates an interesting risk/reward system where you have to weigh the cost and utility of an upgrade against how quickly you believe you can restock your spheres. This becomes especially nerve-wracking when you immediately get thrown into a boss fight following a big purchase, and have to narrowly dodge massive attacks with barely a sphere in your pocket and moments to replenish few and far between.
All in all, Guardian Sphere is a surprisingly enjoyable game. It never comes off as punishing or frustrating, with a perfectly sensible difficulty curve. There are a multitude of characters to choose from, including the developers themselves, and each has specific quirks that can enhance or detract from a certain player’s style, such as different bullet paths, shape, or spread. The game also features offline co-op, making this a hefty package for a free title. It’s definitely worth giving a go, and can make an excellent entry point for those unsure of their abilities in the genre. Don’t get complacent, though, or you’ll find yourself a smear on the ground underfoot the alien invaders. Eyes up, Guardian.
Guardian Sphere is currently available on itch.io.
Catherine Brinegar is a trans game developer and filmmaker who explores the surreal and abstract in her work. Beyond her creative endeavors she enjoys losing herself inside other worlds, interactive and not. Finding inspiration in everything, Catherine aims to see all the world has to offer, through the continual conversation of art. You can keep up with her on twitter @cathroon.