I first encountered Guardians of the ‘Hood when I was 13 years old, and thought gay jokes were the height of sophistication. Implying that my friends might enjoy penis was my Frasier, and even I knew something was wrong with Guardians of the ‘Hood. I played my first game, turned to Soccer Scottie and, after first assuring him that he might enjoy balls if only he tasted them, then asked: “Is this exploitative, or at best, problematic?”
I knew neither of those words. It was not my voice that I spoke with. Soccer Scottie fled in terror and I endured six long years being vigorously exorcised by the Catholic Church. Guardians of the ‘Hood destroyed my life. It is time to revisit the source of my trauma.
Guardians of the ‘Hood existed in that fraught time where we knew video games should look more realistic, but had zero clue how to accomplish that. Some games tried FMV, some tried pre-rendered backgrounds, I’m pretty sure Guardians of the ‘Hood tried Santeria and nothing else. They sacrificed two cats to a picture of El Chapo and were mystified when the game still looked like garbage.
It looks like you blurred a better fighting game to protect its identity.
It looks like the store-brand version of Mortal Kombat, Kortal Mombat.
It looks like security footage of a hate crime.
But looks aren’t everything – it also controls like an abused child. It hates you, but it cannot fully escape your influence. Button presses are obeyed in only the most passive aggressive of ways. You requested a punch; you’ll get a punch. It might not be who you want to punch, when you want to punch, or even how you want to punch — you might press the jab button, then fully turn around and uppercut a homeless man instead of the racist caricature you intended, and you will forever wonder which option was worse. You’ll get a better fighting game experience making uncomfortable requests of Russian camgirls.
A Better Fighting Game Than Guardians of the ‘Hood
“Nadia, slap Katya”
…the silence of donation, impending
Limp-wristed slap. In the eyes a distance, a regret.
Here’s your cast of characters, each of which come with a set of unique abilities and one unique part of a shirt.
Clockwise from top, we’ve got your uncle trying to fix the air conditioner, the porn parody of Lisa from Saved by the Bell, a man using suspenders to keep his tits up, and the human equivalent of an IROC-Z.
We are next treated to an introduction of each character in stunning 2FPS video.
Connor and Chief look like separate camera angles of the same bootleg pornography, while Javier looks like you’ve only glimpsed a prediction of him in coffee grounds. Tanya, as with all women in ‘90s video games, is both the least and most developed. We are informed she is “cat-tall” and the screen desperately tries to advance before we can question that insane descriptor. She takes up eight inches on all fours? That is wildly disrespectful, Guardians of the ‘Hood.
The central plot of this game is “you guys work out together, might as well fight crime together.” That is sorely overestimating the bond between gym buddies. The closest I’ve ever felt to a fellow gym-goer is when I’m making hard eye contact with them on the Hip Abductor.
What could possibly stop these gangs?! The police? Systemic social reforms? A breakdancing competition where the true prize is brotherhood? No! Tanya has a bike and is cat-tall: She’s the hero we need right now.
And you know what? It’s a fair fight, because our central villain is a white female Michael Jackson impersonator.
But for my first playthrough, I’m going with Chief.
Listen: Somebody is going to get strugglefucked in this game. The opening cinematic guaranteed that. And it is my philosophy that if one must choose, it is best to be the strugglefucker, rather than the strugglefuckee.
My first mission is to ‘Beat the Dreads’ who are, of course, Jamaican. They’re named things like Nigel and Toots, and their lo-fi dialogue ranges from “hey mon” to “we be jammin” — that’s so basically racist it’s almost cute. It’s like grandma racist. That’s the example a kindly teacher uses to explain racism to first graders. But don’t take them lightly…
We are four seconds into the game and a purple Jamaican has already thrown a homeless man at me. This is how lunatics tell you to wear a hardhat.
And I’m already worried that Chief is not up to this challenge. He kicks like ghosts are trying to steal his shoes…
And he punches like he’s trying to show his girlfriend a weird growth on the inside of his elbow.
You do get special attacks, but only the enemies know when you’re actually going to do them. Your inputs are like desperate prayers to an unloving god. He might indulge you one of these times, and the hope of it is almost worse than its absence.
But all of these moves are irrelevant, because neither you, nor the AI want to be in this game. I spent the next five minutes chasing this guy around the car like two sexual predators reenacting a Bugs Bunny cartoon.
The only people in Central City are gangs organized around racial stereotypes, gym-rats who love justice as much as they hate sleeves, homeless people, and prostitutes. Here I am trying to throw a hooker — which is frankly insane but I learned it from watching you, game — and getting exactly what I deserve.
When you’ve finally assaulted enough spandex-clad dreadlocks to populate a hot yoga class, you get this guy:
My building superintendent on his day off, demanding that you Hunger Games your friend to continue.
I don’t have any friends, so I have to beat up a woman. I was prepared for the shitty graphics. I was not prepared for the cutting social commentary.
If you lose this mandatory match to your friend, then it’s game over. They continue on, you have to pay start again. The game actually stops just to spit on your relationships. Guardians of the ‘Hood hates friendship more than No Heart from the Care Bears, and it loves capitalism like a tech bro just discovering The Fountainhead.
Continue on and the levels are more of exactly the same. Really, the only thing that changes is the dinginess of the alley, which is the kind of revelation I’d expect to hear from a gutshot detective in a noir novel, not a ‘90s Beat ‘Em Up from Atari. You do get new enemies, but they get less visually coherent with every screen advance.
I believe what I’m looking at here is two fat skinheads having simultaneous coronaries, only to realize their souls are neon punk rock girls, while a Greek bodybuilder pulls the very spirit of business out of himself, for he is done with the workaday world.
Guardians does throw you for a loop once in a while. I found myself in a porno theater for one boss fight, albeit one that only catered to the niche fetish of blurry women turning to look at you with disdain.
I give the film 2 stars (very tough to masturbate to), but the audience gets top marks. I beat several minorities to death in that theater — our silhouettes blocking the screen the entire time — and at one point a shirtless man in chef pants burst through the screen to spin-kick me, and nobody even turned around to shush us.
Anyway, the game ends here, because I met Boris. He beat me like he was on his way to see his dying mother and I stole his bus fare.
He strangled me…
He punched my head into the ground…
He shot some kind of magic worm at me…
I tried to leap out of Boris’s sweat-lubricated orgy of fists, and the motherfucker jumped with me like his boot had lived in my crotch for so long the two couldn’t bear to separate.
When I finally, mercifully died, he apparently felt bad and tried to revive me…
Only to strangle me to death again.
Seriously, Boris fights like he might earn a promotion out of this game for it. This is what it’s like to survive a skinhead attack with such severe brain damage that your memories only come in 4p resolution. This was an excellent simulation of what it’s like to be mauled to death by a Russian superhuman overcompensating for impotence problems.
Guardians of the ‘Hood did have one killer mechanic: When you defeat a gang boss, they join your crew and become a playable character. It’s some kind of corrupted Dragon Ball Z logic: The only thing separating your enemies from your friends is one fist, liberally applied. Try it at home, kids! A bully is just a friend you haven’t hurled a hobo at yet!