Perhaps there was a time when the use of the words “dark” and “souls” in the gaming world was an innocent notion, but that time is long gone. As such, when a game called Dark Guardians chooses the tagline “Save Your Soul,” I know to ready myself for a challenge. I know to prepare for anything.
Yet for all my caution, Dark Guardians inspired in me a curious sensation I certainly did not anticipate. The desire to…tap my feet.
That’s because Dark Guardians is actually more of a rhythm game, operating under the guise of an action-based endless runner. In it, you take control of a constantly moving hero on a 10,000 meter quest to defeat the minions of darkness. To do so, you have to wait until they are in your relatively small attack range, and then tap the elemental attack that corresponds with the enemy type.
Getting ahead in Dark Guardians requires you to submit to the beat of the game’s action. Much like the Guitar Hero series, merely waiting for the right moment to tap the appropriate button only works to a point. Rest assured that the difficulty hinted at by the game’s choice of words is more than a mere suggestion, as Dark Guardians will challenge even the quickest of players. Killing enough enemies may grant you the coins needed to upgrade your health, attack range and starting position, as well as eventually give you a short invincibility boost, but for the most part, it’s your reflexes that separate victory from defeat.
At its best, Dark Guardians successfully combines the best of the rhythm and endless runner genres, resulting in an experience as intense as any on the mobile market. When a horde of various enemy types are descending on you an 1/8 beat behind each other, and your instinctively dancing fingers alone determine whether you will see the other side of their wave without missing a step, you truly are experiencing the sort of “dialed-in” intensity that few games can provide.
Unfortunately, Dark Guardians is rarely at its best. Difficult, but fair is a fine line to tread in game design, and Dark Guardians walks it with the finesse of a payday alcoholic. In lieu of preset difficulty modes, Dark Guardians instead chooses to alternate how challenging it is at random. This chaotic pacing prevents the player from maintaining any sort of rhythm, and often hinders the game from achieving the same. To make matters worse, the level backgrounds can often hide certain enemy types, making the already challenging prospect of distinguishing your foes in time a near-impossible proposition.
Even if you actually do manage to find your way past these considerable hurdles and see the game’s abrupt end, you’ll discover that there really isn’t much incentive to come back. Some sort of arcade mode, or other endgame addition, would have been welcome, but none is to be found.
Shortcomings aside, it has to be said that Dark Guardians is a beautiful experience. When the level backgrounds aren’t hindering your view, its hard to not appreciate how well crafted they are, and the various animations and particle effects compliment them well. But the highlight of the entire package has to be the music of Valentin Lafort. It’s a battle-driven, yet still somber, type melody that never wears out its welcome, and seals Dark Guardians status as a uniquely stylish game.
Unfortunately style can only travel so far on its own, and Dark Guardians reveals the meager extent of that journey. The passion that went into this game is obvious, and I’ll always cheer for an original concept such as this, but good intentions do not automatically constitute a recommendation, and ultimately I can’t think of a single type of player I’d unabashedly recommend Dark Guardians to, despite its finer qualities.
Dark Guardians has style to burn, but some serious design flaws make it a tough sell.