Earnest intentions don't always form into worthwhile entertainment. Considering the rut everyone – especially children – have been in since the pandemic, I can understand Debbie Petry Artt & developer The Toolshed wanting to craft a game about improving one's physical & mental wellbeing. That's all well and good. At the same time, that message will uniformly fall on deaf ears if the audience suspects your title of being unabashed shovelware. This is why The Guardians of Peace utterly fails.
As either Diego or Sierra, you assume the role of a young squire hoping to become a Guardian of Peace: a renowned paladin in an ancient order sworn to defend The Kingdom of Hastina-Poora. Fortunately, you're just in time to put yourself to the test. After a millennium of dormancy, Commander Selfish and his Darkling forces are corrupting the land far and wide. Now, you must venture to seven unique islands, learn about the universe's seven unique energies from each mentor, and use them to vanquish these foes.
By The Book
You can tell where this is going. Each island harnesses a specific concept (passion, mind, spirit, etc.), some of which are overlapping, and you're meant to revitalize what's been lost. That means Strength Island is – you guessed it! – infested with Darklings making many citizens slothful; likewise, Mind Island's citizens have been corrupted into eventually accepting a fascist leader. It's all boilerplate moral lessons ranging from eating healthy foods to don't be cruel to someone with a different skin color.
These surface-level lessons on their own are fine, but they're told in the most boring way imaginable. They feel like an injustice to the term “allegory.” Even compared to terse stories like Aesop's Fables, Guardians is a hollow lecturer saying you should do good things. It's also not very kid-oriented when completing these islands feels like an interminable slog: get debriefed on the situation, meet island mentor, meditate to acquire the first special move, learn the second move after some fights, learn the final move after a few more bouts, fight boss, extol a basic virtue, and repeat. Even kid’s programming knows to spice things up.
On top of banal ethics seminars pretending to be profundities, Guardian's presentation further detracts from that. Not all of the voice acting is bad per se, but still consistently dull. Despite the supporting cast being diverse (a la Captain Planet), I believe one guy (John Bohbot) handled all of the male mentors' voices. This means he's sincerely trying to do a couple of ethnic accents and sounds like he’s doing a bad parody. This is likely the case for the female mentors as well, but that's disguised enough to not be as grating towards my ears. The cherry on top is the frequently-absent audio during dialogue as if a portion of this script was simply never recorded.
Guardians' Uncoordinated Chaos
Guardians' gameplay is barely held together by shoe strings and bubble gum. Before even understanding combat, I have to emphasize how visually grating it is to watch my character run at any time. Her run animation feels like its missing frames, resulting in a constant sense of stuttering; moreover, since the camera tracks this movement in tandem the camera continuously bobs with her finicky running. This two-tiered problem means the camera has what I'd call a "stuttering bounce." What this eyesore means is I had to train myself to look around Sierra as much as possible to avoid a minor headache. I'll tell ya... the lengths I go for reviewing awful games.
Once this absurd mental hurdle is crossed, the rest of the game will bore you to tears. Combat is more fitting for mobile than a standard action-adventure game. Each island awards you color-coded variations of a similar move set tied to three buttons. Since these offensive strikes are on cooldown, the flow against enemies is either dodging or blocking attacks before you can hit again. For such a simple template, this has to be the most uncoordinated third-person combat I've seen in years – even beating out Warrior Boy! Since certain moves come equipped with a generous stun, sometimes you're either waiting for the basic attack cooldown to replenish or the enemy to wake up. It's a somnolent game design.
I'd be less antagonistic if it was consistently dull but still functional. Such isn't the case here. The latter half incorporates some half-baked variety, like barebones stealth or restrictive platforming, but these moments lead to some of its worst bugs: waiting minutes for a cut scene transition to finish (with everyone t-posing in the background), being awarded a victory despite leaving a boss at half health (his health bar remained until I left the island), and so on. The weirdest example was of me failing a stealth segment and resetting previously-stated dialogue, despite the game allowing me to press forward. Previous dialogue and stated objectives melded with new material until I escaped that hell. It’s like you’re walking on eggshells, unsure if a non-death fail state will break the level and force you to restart.
Shield Your Eyes & Cover Your Ears
Beyond its storytelling presentation, Guardians is a thoroughly rough sight to behold. The seven "islands" are basically color swaps. The first half in particular feels frontloaded: generic sci-fi town square with recycled citizen models, a dirt road with surrounding foliage, a cave network with large gemstones, and brick-laid ruins. It's genuinely surprising when you visit a semi-unique location. Even if you give a scintilla of credit to a couple of areas or the different mentors, the "cheap Fortnite knock-off" aesthetic is so uninspired. There's not an inherent issue with store-bought assets when used as a springboard to add to the world; however, it's not license for you to mindlessly smatter the same things to justify a purchased texture pack bundle.
As you'd suspect, technical graphics earn a fair share of scrutiny too. Tied with the godawful camera-bobbing, combat is visually uncomfortable when the framerate hovers in the low-to-mid 20s (sometimes lower). These offenses typically occur in condensed spaces when multiple low-resolution visual effects are going off. There's also one island in particular that looks especially awful; imagine the entire landscape filled with less-detailed trees and they're all covered in Vaseline for some reason. These issues tied with frequent visual glitches result in a consistently unpleasant time.
The less said about audio design the better. The one nod Toolshed can net here is the appropriate sound foley for the different surfaces you walk on. It sounds low-quality, but at least they got that part right. Besides that, the persistent audio drops during combat, the hilariously over-done hit reactions by enemies, and other weird occurrences are there from beginning to end. Some of these issues could've been ameliorated if I had the ability to adjust any settings. Only after I'd completed the campaign and this write-up did a title update release that included basic audio adjustments.
Among The Worst
Even though this doesn't add to what I simply think of the game proper, another clear sign of Guardians' shovelware status is the outrageous $30 price point. Even from a strategic standpoint, it's a tall price hurdle for its targeted demographic when cheaper or actually functional options exist out there. It's aping the tactics of other asset-flips. More importantly than price, the chief issue is it’s not worth a second of your time.
To its credit, underneath this sham of a game are some ostensibly sympathetic intentions. I can understand wanting to craft a kid-focused game that has some basic life lessons and encourages meditation. But that should compel you to do more than a horrendously boring and thoroughly unsavory title. From top to bottom, The Guardians of Peace is among the worst games I've had the displeasure of playing.
TechRaptor reviewed The Guardians of Peace on Xbox Series X with a copy purchased by the reviewer. It is also available on Xbox One & PC.
- The Menus Properly Function
- Terrible Camera
- Awful & Unbalanced Combat
- Egregious & Buggy Audio-Visual Presentation
- Generic Story With Milquetoast Moralizing
- Repetitive & Boring World Design
- Overly-Recycled Assets Highlight This Being Shovelware