Heavenly Guardian (Wii & PS2) Review – A Good Kiki Kaikai-Style Shooting Game from Star Fish

I wrote this review a couple of years ago.  I’ve now updated it for posting here; it was already good, but it’s better now, as always!  This is a pretty good classic run & gun game for the Wii!  Absolutely worth getting.  On PS2… it has problems.  But the Wii version is good.

      • Title: Heavenly Guardian (US), Legend of Saiyuki (EU), Yukinkoto Daisenpuu: Saiyuki to Koyukino Hie Hie Daisoudou (JP)
      • Developer and Publisher: Star Fish
      • Platforms: Wii (all regions) and PS2 (US/EU only)
      • Released: 2007 (Wii, JP), 2008 (Wii, US/EU; PS2, all regions)
      • Review originally written in 2012 and updated and improved on 9/8/2014
JP Box

Japanese cover. The US one doesn’t show the main character Saiyuki on it, unlike the Japanese or European covers.

First — for anyone stuck, in level seven of the Wii version (this level is not in the PS2 version), you freeze the steaming purple lakes with your ice magic.  I got stuck there for quite a while, and eventually did find the answer on the internet, but it wasn’t easy.  I should probably have thought of that myself, but somehow I didn’t.

Heavenly Guardian (Wii) Review

Introduction

Heavenly Guardian is a top-down 2d run & gun game from Star Fish.  It’s a fun but flawed game.  The game does some things right, some things almost right, and some things poorly.  It’s really a very mixed bag, and for every upside there is a flaw.  I’ll try to go through all of the game’s good and bad points here, but I did enjoy the game overall, so I do think it’s more good than bad.  I can see why people wouldn’t agree, but I liked it, ultimately.

Heavenly Guardian started out as a Pocky & Rocky (Kiki Kaikai) game titled Kiki Kai World, meant to be a new game in that classic Taito franchise.  Star Fish also made new Devilish and Monkey King (Cloud Master) games and also made a remake of Steel Empire, so Star Fish was making several reboots of second-tier classic games.  However, Taito decided it wasn’t good enough and canned the project.  Star Fish redesigned the game and released it as a stand-alone title, with a snow goddess as the main character instead of Pocky the shrine maiden.  She’s little more than a slightly altered recolor, graphically, but the story is new.  It’s too bad that Taito dropped this, because this is the best of Star Fish’s classic reboots!  The Wii shmup The Monkey King is pretty bad, and Devilish for the DS is mediocre.  The Monkey King’s original-title sequel of sorts Saint is widely hated too, though I think it’s kind of okay.  Still, this game is far better.  Heavenly Guardian has issues too, but it’s a fun Wii game of decent quality.

Kiki Kai World

Kiki Kai World, the original, cancelled, version. In the final game, that magic was replaced with snow and ice, and it encases the enemies in ice instead of stunning them or blowing them around as it seems to be doing there.

Options and Modes

The game is, much like Pocky & Rocky, a 2d, overhead style shooter.  Levels are more open-ended than most Pocky & Rocky levels, but it’s the same basic kind of game.  It supports one or two players.  For modes, there are only the basics.  There is single player, two player co-op, unlockable level selects for each, unlockable Boss Rush modes if you find all the hidden things in the game, and a very basic options menu.  This is a challenging game, made much harder by the fact that you cannot save while playing, so you need to play through the whole game in one sitting.  There is a level select, but you only unlock it AFTER beating the whole game, a very poor design decision.  Making it worse is that you need to play through two loops in order to beat the game, which means sixteen stages without being able to turn off your system or play another game, but it was fun enough to be worth it.  This took me a few days, so I just had to leave it on.  It was fun, but would have been better without this irritation.  Another very annoying design decision is that single and multi player are separate modes which unlock level select separately, so if you finish both loops and beat single player mode and unlock level select, don’t expect to be able to select a level now in the two player co-op mode, you can’t.   You’ll need to beat that from the beginning in one go.  And yeah, that means finding a friend willing to play the game with you for the multiple hours of play it will take to finish the thing through.  Fun, thanks for not including a normal save option, designers!  I’m not sure if the two player mode is one loop or two, because I haven’t played it much.  I presume it is two.  The lacking save system is one of the worst things about this game.

In the game, you play as the snow goddess Saiyuki, aided by her pet rabbit.  The single player mode story is that she is trying to save a sick human boy by collecting the parts of a healing potion that happen to all be guarded by monsters.  The story isn’t much, but you don’t need much plot in a game like this.  I’m not sure when in time this is supposed to be set — the levels almost all look like ancient Japanese settings, but then you’ve got girls in sailor uniforms in the human town in the cutscenes, and some modern vending machines in one of the levels too.  It’s kind of odd, but it’s not explained.  It seems to be set in modern Japan, but with classic settings in the actual levels (apart from that one part) or something?  I don’t know.  In two player mode, the plot is that Saiyuki and her sister snow goddess are having a competition to see who can score more points while going through the levels, or something like that.

Controls and Weapons

The game controls well on Wii, but does take some getting used to.  The PS2 version has a critical flaw here, unfortunately.  On Wii, in the primary control scheme, you move with the analog stick on the nunchuck, and aim by pointing the Wiimote at the screen.  The analog stick moves, A fires, and C does a dodge roll.  Don’t forget the roll, it can be extremely useful in boss fights!  Swiping the Wiimote across the screen does a blizzard attack; see below.  There is an alternate control scheme where you have to hold down the Z button in order to use the point-at-the-screen aiming, but that just leaves you with “shoot in the direction you’re moving in” and nothing else, so it’s not too useful.  This is a Robotron-style game, so you really, really want to be able to move in one direction while you shoot in another.  On PS2 you can only shoot in the direction you’re moving, so it’s a broken port.  On Wii, Saiyuki’s pet, or familiar, Toto the rabbit is with you as well, and functions as a cute little cursor.  He’ll also occasionally freeze an enemy, though not while you’re using him as the cursor, I think, so point away from the screen to make that possible I guess.  When aiming with the Wiimote you do need to be careful to point directly at the screen in order for the game to pick up where you’re aiming, which is kind of frustrating — regularly it’d lose track of where I was aiming, and I’d have to find the screen again.  When the cursor is offscreen you’ll just fire in the direction you’re moving in.

Saiyuki’s magical blizzard attack is activated by a quick swipe of the wiimote.  This shoots out a snow magic blizzard that freezes all enemies in a wide path on the screen in the direction you swung the wiimote, either vertically, horizontally, or either diagonal, pretty much, centered on where you are standing.  Wiimote detection is kind of iffy here too, and it’d frequently not go in the direction I was hoping it would.  Of course you’ll also have to re-find the screen with the cursor after each swipe, which can be annoying.  Still, it works well enough to be playable, and I do like the concept.  The controls just needed a bit of work on precision.  Each time you use the snow magic, it costs you five snow magic points.  You get magic either by killing snowman enemies, or by making Combos by destroying large numbers of enemies at once after freezing them with your magic.  So yeah, be careful not to run out of magic — unless some snowman enemies are near, you might be in trouble.  Magic is really helpful, given that it freezes enemies for a few seconds and also allows you to increase your magic stores, too.

There are pickups scattered around the levels.  Some special waves of many small enemies serve as places to get points and some extra magic, if you aren’t out.  There are also health and magic refill items and health bar length increase powerups.  You start with only three hit points, you see, and will get one more hit point per level until you reach the maximum of eight by the end of the game.  From loop two on, you stay at eight.  This makes the early parts tougher than the later parts, sometimes; yes, they’re not as hard objectively, but since you have less health, you don’t have as much of a margin of error either.

L1

The first level. Saiyuki is in the center, with the greenish robe.

Saiyuki attacks enemies by shooting ice at them.  Her basic shots only go partway across the screen, but there are powerups, and several different weapon types.  By collecting several powerups of the same color in a row, you can level up your attacks, up to a maximum of level five.  Collecting a different color switches to that color, but doesn’t change your attack level, so choose carefully.  When you die, your attack level is reset to one, which can be a SERIOUS problem at times — presuming that you got to the end with powered-up weapons. bosses will often be much harder if you die at them the first time, because of how much harder they are with just one powerup or so instead of four or five.  Your range and damage will both be limited also, because with all weapons, your firing range increases with your powerup level.

The first weapon is the blue Rapid Fire weapon.  As it sounds, this speeds up your shots, which still fire in a straight line.  It’s a very good weapon, and its powerups seem to be the most common.  Next is the yellow Three-Way Shot, which as it sounds shoots three ways.  It fires much slower than the normal shot or rapid fire, so I don’t think it’s as good as rapid fire or bombs.  Third is the green Homing shot.  While homing might sound good, this too has a slow firing speed, and the homing ability is somewhat limited.  I would say avoid green powerups almost all of the time, it’s a pretty bad weapon.  Last is the red Bomb powerup, which is a strong, medium-slow speed, straight forward firing attack.  This is a very good weapon, and generally I’d say stick with Rapid Fire or Bomb at all times that you can.  Obviously different people might disagree, though, so try them all.  Different weapons will be better against different enemies, and more importantly bosses, though, so you might not want to just stick with one all the time.  I generally always used those two unless only one of the  other powerup was available, but still, some bosses were definitely easier with one, and others with the other.  Experiment.

Levels and Enemies

The game has eight stages (per loop) on the Wii (the PS2 is missing a level and only has seven levels per loop), and as I suggested above, you’ll need to play through them all twice to get the true ending.  On the last level you re-fight the bosses of all of the previous levels, with short stage segments before each boss, before you then fight the final boss.  Each level has a different graphical theme, and the entirely 2d artwork looks nice.  The visuals do repeat within each stage — you’ll see many of the same background objects (buildings, bridges, etc.) over and over, looking exactly the same each time, and there are only so many types of enemies too — but it does look nice enough, so that’s okay.  The backgrounds don’t animate, either, so don’t expect that lava to bubble.  They try to cover this with some effects — steam rising from the lava, lights flickering, etc — but you can tell.  Still, the visuals are good, I would say, and each level does look completely different.  The levels are decently designed and straightforward enough that you won’t get lost despite the repetitive elements, and there is some exploration to do, particularly if you want to find the ten hidden snow boys in each level, which you have to do in order to unlock that level’s boss in Boss Rush mode.  These are well hidden, and their locations are only given away by a small swirl of snow around their location.  When you see that telltale snow there’s usually one, anyway.  They can only be revealed if you use your snow magic.  The game doesn’t tell you how many of them you have collected until after you finish the level, though, so if you’re trying to get them all, you’ll need to keep track yourself.  And of course, if you get nine, you’ll need to start all over next time.

The levels are long and mixed in difficulty.  I like the visuals, the different settings, and many of the levels.  Some are more linear, and others more open.  Generally there aren’t puzzles beyond “find the key in a chest that goes in the next door”, apart from that one I mention at the top of this review, but that’s something, anyway — you’re not just always moving up, there is a bit of exploration.  Level seven is particularly open, and allows you to wander around a larger area collecting some needed items, instead of following a more linear path like the other stages.  It’s a fun level, one of the better ones.  The hot springs town level (level four) was one of my less favorite stages, though — the stage is too straightforward and basic, and the boss is a pushover.  Overall though I think the level designs are okay to good.  The gameplay, as you explore the level, fight the enemies, and perhaps also look for the snow boys, is fun, when you’re not dying that is. :p

However, the levels aren’t consistent in difficulty — the game is unbalanced.  The second and third stages are some of the hardest in the game, while some of the later levels are much easier.  While I was playing through the second loop for instance, I got game over in level two, and then again in level three, but then didn’t get game over again until I reached level two again after beating the game.  Now, I wasn’t trying as hard at this point to stay alive, but still it was kind of funny that I got through level eight without running out of lives, but got yet another game over in level two… I’ve gotten more game overs in level 2 than any other stage.  When you die, you start from the last checkpoint — so shortly before the boss, and such.  There are enough checkpoints that it’s not too frustrating.  When you get a game over, though, you start the whole level over from the beginning.  Levels are long, and can take 15-26 minutes each, at least, so this is really frustrating!  With practice you can get through the levels faster, if you hurry, but still, it’ll take at least 7-12 minutes each.  You really don’t want to get game over.  In level eight particularly, game over makes the game much more challenging… I was pretty lucky, the second loop, to beat the first four bosses without dying, because having to fight the level 2 and 3 bosses with the much lower-powered weapons I’d have had if I had died would have been tough.  Fortunately, I played well and didn’t die until the fifth boss.  I wish I’d gotten even farther of course, but oh well, I did beat the stage. 🙂

The enemies are varied and each one has a clearly different attack pattern and set of actions, but there are only so many types of them, so enemy variety is a little lacking.  Still, they are different enough to keep things interesting, and you will see different amounts of different enemies in different levels, and later levels introduce more enemies as well.  You will see a lot of some of the basic enemies, but it’s not too bad.  While most enemies die for good once you kill them, thankfully, certain enemies, such as the witches, or small enemies which spawn on the sides of the screen at certain points, will return each time you pass them.  The witches can be annoying at times because of that, but at least it’s only one enemy type, the others stay gone.  The sprite work is solid as usual.  The one issue with enemies is that you have to get pretty close to the edge of the screen in order for it to start scrolling, so you have little reaction time — I’d recommend holding down the fire button while moving, a lot of the time, and listening for enemies, so as to not get surprised.  There are certain points where a warning symbol appears on the screen, and then a large wave of tiny enemies flies in.  Here, use your magic to try to freeze as many of them as possible, for points and snowballs (magic refills). Larger enemies won’t be so easy to kill when frozen, though, and there is an invisible cooldown on your magic use, I believe, so you can’t just keep an enemy frozen permanently.

L2

Level two, just before the boss

Each level has a boss at the end, of course.  While the stages themselves do have some mixed difficulties — the second level is pretty tough, for instance — an important part of the difficulty curve issues is because of the bosses.  Now, overall, I like the bosses in Heavenly Guardian.  They’re pretty cool, overall.  Each one is distinct from the others, and has entirely unique attack patterns and styles.  Some can be slowed by your magic, but others can’t; magic is always important, though, because enemy projectiles and spawns can always be frozen with magic.  Vitally important, that!  The bosses are fun and challenging, and I like the designs of some of them too.  I like how different each one of them is.  But, yeah, the difficulty is all over the place.  I already mentioned that the second and third bosses are hard, but I’d say that those two and the fifth and eighth level bosses are the hardest, while the fourth level boss is the easiest.  There definitely isn’t a smooth upwards difficulty curve here — it’s kind of stacked against you in the early going, then gets easier later.  I think game balance needed some work.

Also, if you’re playing for score, the only way to record a score in the top 5, and that’s all it saves, is to choose not to continue when you get a game over screen — if you continue, your score is wiped and you can’t enter it.  I hate games that do that, particularly ones like this without saving!  It’s a real pain, at least until you beat it and unlock the level select.  Even then though it’s kind of annoying.

Once you finally beat the game the first time, as I said before, there’s a cutscene which Ghosts n Goblins you and forces you to play again.  The second loop is harder, and enemies now shoot revenge bullets at you when they die — that is, when enemies die, unless they were killed while frozen by the snow magic, a bullet will shoot at Saiyuki from the enemy’s location.  Once you beat it again, you get the true ending (true love, it seems) and the credits, and then it loops again.  There’s not more story though, and it doesn’t get harder I think; it’s just for if you want to keep increasing your score.

Conclusion

Overall, Heavenly Guardian is a fun and challenging game.  It has some very frustrating elements, and it is a real pain that it required me to leave my Wii on for something like three or four days in order for me to finish it because of the lack of a normal save system, but still, despite the design problems, unbalance, and other issues, I had fun with it anyway, and would say it’s something worth checking out.  The game has nice 2d graphics with good art design and a female protagonist, plenty of challenge, decent controls, and a decent variety of settings and enemies to face.  I like the somewhat open level designs as well, the game is fun to explore.  It’s also great to finally get another game somewhat like Pocky & Rocky.  This game may not be as great as the original classic, as Star Fish can’t match up to early ’90s Taito, but it is a good game which provides a fun oldschool challenge.  Motion control aside the game feels like something from ten to fifteen years before its actual release date, but if you like older games, or are up for a challenge, definitely try out Heavenly Guardian.  The game is cheap and easy to find, so pick it up for sure!  I give Heavenly Guardian a B.  It’s a decently good game.  It has some issues, but I like classic games, and this is a decently good classic-style game.  If you don’t like classic-style shooters or Pocky & Rocky, drop the score some, to a B- or C, mostly thanks to the save system which is sure to frustrate casual gamers today.

The Playstation 2 Version

There is also a PS2 version of the game.  I have both versions.  The Wii version was made first, so the PS2 version is the port.  It’s got a few changes, though they’re not exactly for the better.  Most importantly, as I mentioned earlier, while you’d think it would have Robotron-style twinstick controls, it in fact does not.  Instead, on the PS2 all you can do is just fire in the direction you’re facing.  This is a huge, HUGE problem in this kind of game, and pretty much ruins the game right there.  The right stick is used to do blizzard (snow magic) in the direction you press it in, not for normal shots.  This does mean that you won’t need to lose your firing angle when you use a blizzard, which is nice, but that’s not too big of a deal on the Wii.  It’s only a slight advantage, and does not come even CLOSE to matching the disastrous flaw that is the lack of twinstick shooting, or even a firing direction lock button.

Also, one of the levels, level seven, was removed from the PS2 version.  That level, the Halloween-style village stage, is a fun one and one of the more complex stages, and not in a bad way, either.  It’s one of the better levels in the game, really, and here it’s gone.  Removing that level makes the game easier for sure, with one less level, and one fewer boss in the last level, too.  That doesn’t make it better, though, it makes it worse.  I think the Wii version has slightly sharper graphics as well, though that could be the system and not the game, I’m not certain.  The PS2 certainly does always have major problems producing a sharp picture, a problem the Wii (or the Gamecube before it) do not have.  Apart from those things, though, the versions are otherwise pretty much the same.  They are the same game for the most part.  Still, if someone was only going to get one version, I would definitely say make it the Wii version.  The PS2 version just isn’t as good.  I do have both versions, but there is no good reason to get this version, really.  I give it a C-, and that’s being kind.  Again, drop it by a good grade level if you aren’t a series or genre fan.

About Brian

Computer and video game lover
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