Getting ahold of a GP32 was quite a harrowing process before the industrious folks at Lik-Sang began selling them. It took me $200 and a ruined friendship with a local dealer to acquire mine shortly after the Korean launch... that said, I sincerely hoped that the games would make the experience worth my while. Sadly, this old-school hack-and-slash is not *quite* the game with which to heal the wounds inflicted on my wallet. Nevertheless, playing the game did show some potential for things to come on the system.
Getting past the basic options screen you've a choice of four warriors with which to begin your quest. A knight, an archer, a cleric and a mage are at your disposal. Each has their respective benefits and drawbacks, from attack strength and distance, to the starting size of the life bar. The most usable character here is the knight, largely because he's the single character which can block(!). This is most unfortunate indeed. The Mage is the most powerful of the four, but can take little punishment. The cleric is perhaps the most fun to play, as he can combo very well, but he's rather weak, and those combos leave you open to enemy attacks. Each character has a few special moves they can execute (interestingly the knight's blocking ability is considered a 'special' move), and the cleric's are the only ones which you can really combo in and out of normal attacks. If only he could block he would be my number one choice. The archer has a huge range; he can shoot the entire length of the screen. But with low attack strength, no blocking ability and an ineffectual special, he's hardly worth the effort.
The character's life bar increases as you level up, but often this is not enough to keep you from death at the hands of the incredibly persistent boss characters. Experience is gained from gold and from slain enemies. You can use this experience to either level up, or to 'purchase' the various equippable items you encounter in each level. At least with the Knight (again since he can block and does not get hit as frequently), I've found it more useful to raise your stats with items than to go straight for the level up. In addition, with each level increase your character gains up to a total of four magic attacks. These can be extremely powerful and useful against boss characters.
So how does it look? That's a mixed bag to be sure. The intro cinema is not incredibly impressive graphically. Standard panning of images across the screen, but using the kind of odd blend of Chinese/European art style that Koei is known for (as in Romance of the Three Kingdoms). Dithered fog and low frame count makes for drab visuals. The character sprites are all very large, and have a decent amount of animation. At the same time, the movement is choppy, and horizontal scrolling can jerk about as well. The backgrounds can be a bit lacking in variety, but are high resolution and often animated. The magic effects can be nice, but certainly nothing spectacular. 'Transparent' effects are done with dithering as in the Sega Genesis days of old. I'm not sure if this will be the standard for the system or not. I've seen other GP32 games (notably Astionishia Story) which use a second layer of transparency ala SNES or the Saturn to decent effect. The graphical problems here basically feel like the result of sloppy programming.
Luckily the game plays a bit better than it looks. Controls are more responsive than the jerky graphics let on. At the same time, while they are intuitive, the moves aren't very interesting on the whole. If only every character could combo the way the cleric could, this game would be vastly improved. As it stands, Dungeon and Guarder is quite challenging, requiring memorization of boss patterns and item locations in order to maximize your experience and stats.
You've got one life bar for the game, so you must always play on the defensive and use health restoring items wisely. Your life bar is only refilled in full when you gain a level of experience. Since you can only gain four levels, this also requires a bit of tactical thought. The game takes a significant chunk of time to beat, largely due to untimely death at the hands of oft-overpowered bosses.
Perhaps the best thing about the game's production is the high quality of the music. The second stage in particular has an excellent symphonic sound, which almost makes wonder if they found a way to utilize the GP32's mp3 playing capabilities in game. But while the composition and compression may be good, the implementation is very poor. Unfortunately, as one scene segues into the next, there is an audible pop. This annoying blip in the soundtrack precedes all musical cues. It lends a very unprofessional air to the entire game. Indeed the audio problems do not end there, as the already drab sound effects often will have a muddled static effect at the start of a level. These errors gradually wane as the level progresses, but even so it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
In summation the game feels like a rushed product. There's a great amount of potential for depth, but the poor execution of the audio, the choppily animated graphics and limitations of three out of four characters hold it back. The bottom line is this: if you really want an arcade-style beat 'em up, I'd wait for a third party release. Her Knight, Forcing Out by Byulbram Creatures may be the title you're looking for. Until then keep your fingers crossed for some Capcom ports!!