Runners come in all shapes and sizes, but often times, flashy is one of the many coats of colors it may wear. Dark Guardians ($0.99) is a beautiful game that looks very similar to the aesthetic design of the Kickstarter success Banner Saga, but sadly it doesn’t have the mechanical chops to prop it up beyond its pretty veneer.
Again, Dark Guardians sports an incredibly detailed visual sheen, lending itself well to the Nordic designs and the juxtapositions of shadow and light. It boasts a rather impressive color scheme, utilizing bright reds, blues and greens alongside of a misty backdrop. It’s a sight to behold while watching the screens scroll by, and it doesn’t even feel that repetitive if you’re just viewing it. But once you actually get into the core gameplay, its repetition starts to grate a bit.
As you’re running forth from the left side of the screen, enemies will come from the right. All you have to do is hit a specified attack for certain enemies — a standard slice, a toxic blast, lightning, or fire. Dark Guardians erroneously bills itself as part “rhythm game," but after playing it extensively, I can’t see where this influence is present in the slightest. All you’re doing is pressing certain attack buttons in a seemingly random order, with no musical cues or impact whatsoever in terms of the actual attacks. The soundtrack is pretty killer, but again, there’s no direct correlation to gameplay.
It also isn’t very comforting to newcomers, as there is no real explanation of what to do outside of a simple one-frame tutorial screen nonchalantly tucked away on the main menu. It would have done wonders to have a small on-screen miniature acclimation so you knew what the elements actually did, and I surmise that a lot of people will probably never find the tutorial.
The only real nuance is the fact that you’re granted extra score for “perfect" hits — that’s about it. I can think of around a hundred ways that Dark Guardians could innovate, but it doesn’t really end up following through with any of them. You can upgrade your health or swipe distance, as well as your starting point, but that’s about as unique as it gets. It’s nice that there’s a point to the madness, but it only goes so far given the middling combat. Thankfully, there’s no IAP involved, so what you see is what you get.
Dark Guardians may lure you in with its striking visuals, but don’t expect much more than smoke and mirrors. If you’re a huge fan of the runner genre and can’t get enough it may be worth it just to check out the epic drum slammin’ soundtrack, but everyone else can stay away.